Monday, November 26, 2012

The Intellectual Elite And Palin-A Comparison With Andrew Jackson: Redux


A study of the attitude of historians*, especially of the patrician sort, to the "crass democracy' which had produced, in combination with the new Jacksonian style politics, the Presidency of Andrew Jackson (and had ousted their upper middle class strata from that leadership role in society) has a firm resonance with the attitude to Sarah Palin by the historians and pundits from the right and left who inhabit that same strata today.

Those from this class on the right express the same ambivalence to popular democracy as exemplified by James Parton the Jacksonian historian whose 1860 "The Life of Andrew Jackson" is considered one of the finest biographies of our 7th President.

If we take the overview of Parton's work included in Charles G. Seller's Jr. ("Andrew Jackson versus the Historians" Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XLIV (March 1958), and where we have "Parton" substitute "David Brooks" and for Jackson substitute "Palin" we can see there is nothing new under the sun.

The elite will always show their true colors. With their nose in the air in the case of the liberal left-and with utter confusion in the case of the right-in fact the more conservative the pundit the more this confusion is expressed, as it is a battle against their inner nature, whereas with the liberals it is an excuse to vent their inner anger.

Or as Sellers stated it: " For Parton's view of democracy is essentially ambivalent. Like many intellectuals, Parton will, at one moment, excoriate the masses for their ignorance and for vulgarizing American life; but at the next moment he will turn around and extol democracy as the mark of an enlightened society."

Periodically in the Jackson (biography), Parton will rail against the vicious mob who could; "feel, but not think; listen to stump orations but not read...who could be wheedled, and flattered, and drilled by any man who was quite devoid of public spirit, principle and shame, but could be influenced by no man of honor unless he were a man of genius."

Then, a little while later he will announce that the "instinctive preferences of the people must be right" and that the "truly helpful men and women of this Republic have oftenest sprung from the cabin.... and worked their way up to their rightful places as leaders of the people, by the strength of their own arm, brain, and resolution".

That Jackson overcame this instinctive class based hatred and ridicule, to become recognized as one of the greatest of presidents, should be succour to the Palin supporters who, from time to time, wilt under the ongoing onslaught-especially when it comes from the right.

It is my "instinctive preference" to consider that in due course Palin will prove to these "lettered betters" that she can claim the mantle of Jackson. In doing so, there is no doubt that some future historian of our present period will make the same comparison to the commentators of our day, as set out here, regarding the, mistaken then as ours are now, historians of 150 years ago.

*James Parton "The Presidency of Andrew Jackson" from Volume 111 of the "Life of Andrew Jackson" Edited by Robert V. Remini. Harper 1965