My disdain for a certain class of American conservatism comes simply from the fact that they talk their talk, but rarely walk their walk. They make claims, for example, about being good Christians, but conveniently ignore the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. They talk a good anti-drug line, but aren’t averse to smoking the occasional jay or doing up a little meth. They talk about the importance of family, but cheat on their own.
This hypocrisy has been around for a long time, of course, and often noted. My favorite example came in an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati called “Real Families” that aired on November 15, 1980. In it, polyestered salesman Herb Tarlik is promoted as the “real” American—and a TV show comes around to profile his family. The tissue of lies that Tarlik and his family have presented to the outside world soon begins to unravel, however, culminating in a wonderful attempt to go to church—but they don’t know where it is (not having been for so long) and, besides, it’s Saturday.
One of the reasons for this hypocrisy is the image of the “real” American built by the media elite and reinforced each election cycle. The media denizens, however, really haven’t a clue as to how most people live; they decide (for example) that Iowans hang out in diners—so flock to diners to find the “real” Iowans. And they take what people say at face value, assuming that no one would be lying to them.
But people do lie. And few of us, anyhow, live up to the image we would like to project. We may want to be good Christians, or Jews, or Hindus, or Moslems, but generally fall far short of what we would like to be or imagine we should be. We may want to live clean and sober, but frustrations, temptations, and the realities of addiction often trump that desire. We may want to raise perfect children, but circumstances of job and the nature of the individual child may make that impossible.
And that’s in the best of all possible scenarios. Most of us live lives of unbelievable complexity where things—and people—constantly go wrong. The mistake of the class of conservatives I’m writing about here is to think that they can hide the wrong and, thereby, make it go away. They have come to believe the image of themselves the clueless media elite have promoted, though they also know—a bit of cognitive dissonance—that it’s all a lie.
Of course, the media themselves are also hamstrung by contradiction, able to parody the very self-image they promote, as happens in the WKRP episode.
All this is to say that what we’ve been seeing this week of Sarah Palin’s family is only what we would see if we rip the façade off of most families. The difference with her and those like her is that they’ve lived a holier-than-thou existence while wallowing in the muck with as much exuberance as anyone—only, behind closed doors. So, Palin is now living out the fictional Tarlik-family scenario, finding herself stripped and exposed in ways cruel to any of us, even if brought on by our own actions.
What is saddest of all is not that conservatives are rallying around Palin, but that they have so long refused to do the same for anyone else. If Palin were a Democrat, a Latina, or a Lesbian, these same people would be excoriating her.