What on earth has happened to Sarah Palin over the years? I felt tremendous sadness watching Palin’s speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit. It was not just her staccato delivery or the jarring pitch of her voice. And it wasn’t even her over-the-top and gratuitous mention of things like daughter Bristol’s nude pictures that got to me most. (Although that did made me cringe.) What really bothers me is that it didn’t have to come to this.
Within Palin are truly humane messages that would resonate with any person of good will. She implores us to live responsibly, appreciate hard work, love our families, and love our neighbors as ourselves. She honors those who serve us and protect our freedom. And as the mother of a son with Down Syndrome, she’s a living testament to defending vulnerable human life.
The Medium Is the Message
Unfortunately, Palin has become a very poor medium for Palin’s message. As Marshall McLuhan wrote so many decades ago: “the medium is the message.” His point seems exponentially truer today with social media than it was when he wrote those words. It especially applies to a person or persona.
I remember stepping off the plane in Minneapolis for the ‘08 GOP convention, wide-eyed because the first thing I saw was a TV screen with Sen. John McCain’s press conference announcing Palin as his running mate. I knew virtually nothing about her. That night one of the networks—I believe it was CNN—ran an old interview with a younger Governor Palin talking about energy policy in Alaska. Palin really seemed to know her stuff. I recall her having a thoughtful and well-grounded demeanor. She could even modulate her voice. I had very high hopes.
I don’t believe the whole nine yards of Palin’s current persona—the shrillness and the recklessness—was ever truly there to begin with. It certainly doesn’t look natural. Sure, she was feisty in her speech to the Republican National Convention in 2008, but the delivery was fine, smooth even. And it was electrifying. Not jolting. (Plus, feisty can be a very good thing. In doses.)
Media Pack Attacks Take their Toll
There can be little doubt that the smug and relentless Katie Couric treatment by the entire media was an intentional psychological attack on Palin. The vendetta was personal and clearly intent on stripping her of any shred of human dignity. It seemed to trigger something in her that drew out a caricature. There was enormous fallout from those attacks, not just for Palin herself, but for all conservative women.
It stands to reason that as our society spirals ever downward into group-think and ignorance, the medium will become ever more the message. And there will be ever-more well-regulated tarring-and-feathering of the sort Palin endured, in order to block conservative messaging.
Since the Left doesn’t really have a message that resonates with non-elites who are able to connect the dots, its operators have resorted to manipulating social psychology. Their policies require marketing and hype—with a good dose of punishment for dissent—to promote an innately unpopular agenda of central planning and control.
Of course, first they had to soften the ground by cultivating ignorance. Think back to the 1960s campus campaign slogan: “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go!” Getting rid of Western Civilization not only wiped out the study of Western history and civics, but also the Socratic method and the rules of civil discourse, which after all are a large part of what Western Civ is all about.
Then, once the slates of students’ minds were blank enough, the Left could nudge and condition the academy and the masses more effectively. Cass Sunstein’s prescription to “Nudge” us all into government-regulated lives is a good example of how this is working. (This is not a question of theory. It’s simply policy, for which the White House even has a Behavioral Insights Team.)
Understanding Social Psychology Is Key
Political correctness is not just about controlling everyone’s speech, and it’s not only about controlling the narrative or even images. It’s ultimately about controlling the relationships people have with one another. Through labelling, PC built a wall of separation between Palin and those who might consider her message. It can do the same for you and anyone else, too.
Conservative women must name and shame every cheap Couric trick they come across. Then move on. But it’s especially urgent to understand the psych-out methods of the Left in order to avoid getting derailed or pulled down a rabbit hole. Conservatives have grossly underestimated the effects of social and crowd psychology. At the same time, the elites on the Left have become masters of it. (What else to do when there is no “there” there?)
I’m not entirely sure what exactly happened with Palin. But it gives me the distinct feeling that we all lack much-needed insights into the mind games people play through political correctness and media handling. The messages of the day—whether political, economic, or social—are really just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface is a massive game of Nudge. Conservatives better start looking more closely at its inner workings.
Otherwise, as the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung warned back in the 1950s, “The underestimation of the psychological factor is likely to take a bitter revenge.”