Palin and the Rest

“No less than 71 percent of Republicans said they would vote for [Palin] for president,” according to the USA Today/Gallup poll. This was after her resignation as governor of Alaska last week. Amazing!

In this Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Rich cites that poll, concluding that “she stands for a genuine movement: a dwindling white nonurban America that is aflame with grievances and awash in self-pity as the country hurtles into the 21st century and leaves it behind.” The commentariate rightly calls attention to how flaky and inconsistent Sarah Palin is, but Rich notes that “The essence of Palinism is emotional, not ideological. . . . The real wave she’s riding is a loud, resonant surge of resentment and victimization that’s larger than issues like abortion and gay civil rights.” (see She Broke the G.O.P. and Now She Owns It)

It may be a bit too early to identify a political movement, but the poll figures do suggest that the opposition to Obama is emotionally strong and deeply polarized. On an ideological level it is fragmented, off-balance. Politically it seems ineffective. Yet something powerful is going on beneath the surface.

It looks like many Republicans, demoralized and desperate, are engaged in a form of “splitting,” a psychological defense that divides the world into sharply contrasting spheres of black and white. Suffering from a form of panic, they need to affirm something, but they are hampered in thinking clearly and effectively.

This support for Palin is not likely to last. She seems to be truly undisciplined and illogical, lacking the skills to make it as a national politician. Sooner or later she will crash and burn – if she hasn’t already. And the “movement” Rich identifies may not outlive her. But the poll tells us something truly important about the American mood right now.

Democrats and liberals are slowly and inevitably discriminating their reactions to Obama. There are real questions about the stimulus package, Guantanamo, his commitment to gays, and so on. Gradually, inevitably the idealizations surrounding Obama are wearing away, and his approval ratings are in decline. But these are complex real problems and we are right to think about them, question them and disagree. The process is based in reality.

The Republicans, by contrast, are not only having difficulty crafting an opposition. They are having trouble thinking.