Politics & Media

The Instant Folk Hero

Don't underestimate the tremendous redneck appeal of Sarah Palin.

Boy did the music managers at the GOP convention miss a chance last week. They played Heart's barely listenable number "Barracuda" to cheer Sarah Palin's viciously effective debut, drawing predictable complaints from the band's aging divas, who would like nothing more than to warble at a Barack Obama inaugural. This minor controversy might not be so bad except that Republicans missed an opportunity that should have been obvious to a party with its finger on the throbbing pulse of middle America: they must win red states.

After the Alaska governor finished speaking Wednesday, a female vocalist came on stage to sing the National Anthem. Her name is Gretchen Wilson and her most famous song is "Redneck Woman." Released in 2004, the hit single anticipated much of what our second female vice presidential candidate would have to say. The song's point of view is that of a generic redneck woman, "no high-class broad," who is a proud "product of my raisin’." She doesn't "give a rip" that some people look down on her. In fact, she'll "stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip" and you'll just have to deal with that, you awful snob. The redneck woman refuses to buy apparel from Victoria’s Secret when she can "buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half price." And if you think she's "trashy" or "a little too hard core"? Well, then she's not the one who's being narrow minded.

Wilson should have belted out her signature song then and there. It would have been the perfect compliment to the redneck war cry Palin had just issued. The Governor denied that she cared one whit about the "good opinion" of D.C. opinion molders, and played up her common sense fiscal austerity and love of her own small town. She gave several nods to her embattled family and dragged them—including her knocked-up 17-year-old daughter, her fiancé, and her young baby boy with Down syndrome—on stage to wave to the fired up crowd.

It was an amazing success. Polls shifted across the board in favor of a McCain-Palin ticket, and Democrats have so far proved that they don't really know what to do about this. At a rally in Michigan, Obama took the high road, calling her bio "compelling" and drawing boos from the crowd. According to Politico, he pressed on to explain, "I mean that sincerely. Mother, governor, moose shooter."

Per Obama's small joke, Palin is fast becoming a redneck folk hero. In the same vein as Chuck Norris jokes, "little known Palin facts" are being manufactured at a pretty rapid clip, and some of them have been collected on the website PalinFacts.org. Entries tend to come in two varieties: Palin the liberal slayer and Palin the demigod. For example: Did you know that Sarah Palin's suit is "made from 100% dead liberal skin"? And: "It's not over until Sarah Palin says it's over."??

Once the glow fades a bit—and it will—the Palin gambit could still keep the Republicans competitive where it really counts: turnout. Hillary Clinton's support in the primaries was much more pronounced among rural, poorer white voters. That didn't quite do the trick, but the makeup of the general electorate is different from that of the Democratic Party. Dems are most concentrated in old urban centers, underrepresented elsewhere. Palin's job is to get those located "elsewhere" to vote for someone they perceive to be one of their own.

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