For an example of just how much Sarah Palin has terrified liberals, look no further than this hysterical piece from The Guardian from Jonathan Freedland.

Freedland is one of the reliably right-on types who make up Gruniad’s commentariat, who went early, and hard for Barack Obama — although much of their primary season anti-Clinton rhetoric now looks rather inconvenient as they cheer on the Democrats. In Freedland’s view, should America fail to elect Obama, it will be due to their racism and redneckery, and grounds for ethnic hatred towards Americans, who turned their backs on a candidate who is better than Gore and Kerry combined.

Then again, there’s plenty of people talking about the election with their ideologies rather than their brains, and not just amongst chai latte set. There’s a number of commentators in Australia who regard Sarah Palin as a better-dressed version of Pauline Hanson. I mean, she’s conservative and female, right? This is the sort of lazy thinking that says Kevin Rudd is Tony Blair, or that The Hollowmen is a good approximation of modern politics.

Hanson’s support was strongly drawn from middle-aged, low-income males — the socio-economic group that did worst out of the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s. Despite being initially preselected as a Liberal, she was a political outsider. Her views were essentially negative — they were about what shouldn’t happen, who should be kept out, who was to blame. And her inarticulacy and lack of education enabled her supporters to strongly identify with her.

Sarah Palin is none of those things. She comes from a well-established populist tradition — one shared by Democrats and Republicans, incidentally; she is all too articulate and her supporters are one of the core constituencies of the US political system. Pauline Hanson she ain’t. She’s far more dangerous than the serial electoral failure from Ipswich.

On the conservative side, there’s been considerable — and partly confected — outrage that Palin’s family has endured scrutiny and rumour-mongering, particularly regarding the contrast between Palin’s religious fundamentalism and her teenage daughter’s pregnancy. Rich indeed.

This is a presidential election and there are no rules — certainly not on the Republican side. Just ask John McCain. It was only eight years ago that his own party was circulating rumours he had fathered a black child. In comparison, Palin has got off lightly. Everyone can play nice once rightwingers stop claiming Obama is a Muslim with terrorist links.

The outrage is also rather poorly-balanced by the reaction of conservative men. Tumescent right-wingers the world over, and in Australia, have been wolf-whistling at the hottest governor from the coldest state:

“Am I the only bloke who finds something strangely appealing about a woman who is able to hunt and gather her own rabbits?” asked Liberal frontbencher Peter Dutton.

“She’s an attractive woman,” Tony Abbott felt obliged to declare, although he also thinks Barack Obama is “handsome” (it’s only a couple of weeks since he declared his love for Peter Costello).

“As an immigrant, I’m not saying I came to the United States purely to meet chicks like that,” said the Far Right’s village idiot, Mark Steyn, “but it was certainly high on my list of priorities.”

“Palin in fact looks much as Hollywood imagined its first Commander in Chief to be when it cast Geena Davis in the role,” thrilled Steyn wannabe Andrew Bolt.

Governor Palin is clearly conservative v-agra.

The boys might not find her quite so attractive once they understand where she is coming from ideologically. Many of Palin’s own views require some guesswork, but the sort of Republicans she draws support from do not. She is from the populist end of the GOP, the party of the likes of Pat Buchanan (who declared about her speech “a star is born”), rather than George W. Bush – or for that matter her running mate.

These Republicans tend to isolationism, even though they strongly supports the military. They regard the US military as a great career option — it offers blue-collar men and women a reliable, accessible job with good health benefits and opportunities for learning a trade. To be called to fight is a duty that is readily and patriotically accepted, but not for an extended period, and not in a pointless foreign venture like that in Iraq.

And hers is a Republicanism that is also protectionist, deeply concerned about the decline in US manufacturing and the rise of China and other workshops of the world. It is also angry about illegal immigration, which much of the Republican party establishment regards as a boon for American businesses and an endless pool of cheap labour. And it is also a party that is genuinely small-government, unlike the mainstream Republicans of the Reagan-Bush era, who have blown the US budget into 12-figure deficits, primarily on defence spending.

The neoconservative and big business Republicans, and their supporters in places like Australia, may find that Palin is every bit as much the outsider she claims to be. Who’s hot now?

Peter Fray

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