From: Deepak Chopra | Posted: Friday, September 5th, 2008
Sometimes politics has the uncanny effect of mirroring the national psyche
even when nobody intended to do that. This is perfectly illustrated by the
rousing effect that Gov. Sarah Palin had on the Republican convention in
Minneapolis this week. On the surface, she outdoes former Vice President Dan
Quayle as an unlikely choice, given her negligent parochial expertise in the
complex affairs of governing. Her state of Alaska has less than 700,000
residents, which reduces the job of governor to the scale of running one-tenth
of New York City. By comparison, Rudy Giuliani is a towering international
figure. Palin’s pluck has been admired, and her forthrightness, but her real
appeal goes deeper.
She is the reverse of Barack Obama, in essence his shadow, deriding his
idealism and exhorting people to obey their worst imp ulses. In psychological
terms the shadow is that part of the psyche that hides out of sight, countering
our aspirations, virtue, and vision with qualities we are ashamed to face:
anger, fear, revenge, violence, selfishness, and suspicion of “the
other.” For millions of Americans, Obama triggers those feelings, but they
don’t want to express them. He is calling for us to reach for our higher
selves, and frankly, that stirs up hidden reactions of an unsavory kind. (Just
to be perfectly clear, I am not making a verbal play out of the fact that Sen.
Obama is black. The shadow is a metaphor widely in use before his arrival on the
I recognize that psychological analysis of politics is usually not welcome by
the public, but I believe such a perspective can be helpful here to understand
Palin’s message. In her acceptance speech Gov. Palin sent a rousing call to
those who want to celebrate their resistance to change and a higher vision.
Look at what she stands for:
–Small town values — a denial of America’s global role, a return to
petty, small-minded parochialism.
–Ignorance of world affairs — a repudiation of the need to repair
America’s image abroad.
—Family values — a code for walling out anybody who makes a claim for
social justice. Such strangers, being outside the family, don’t need to be
–Rigid stands on guns and abortion — a scornful repudiation that these
issues can be negotiated with those who disagree.
–Patriotism — the usual fallback in a failed war.
–“Reform” — an italicized term, since in addition to cleaning out
corruption and excessive spending, one also throws out anyone who doesn’t
fit your ideology.
Palin reinforces the overall message of the reactionary right, which has been
in play since 198 0, that social justice is liberal-radical, that minorities and
immigrants, being different from “us” pure American types, can be
ignored, that progressivism takes too much effort and globalism is a foreign
threat. The radical right marches under the banners of “I’m all right,
Jack,” and “Why change? Everything’s OK as it is.” The irony,
of course, is that Gov. Palin is a woman and a reactionary at the same time. She
can add mom to apple pie on her resume, while blithely reversing forty years of
feminist progress. The irony is superficial; there are millions of women who
stand on the side of conservatism, however obviously they are voting against
their own good. The Republicans have won multiple national elections by raising
shadow issues based on fear, rejection, hostility to change, and
Obama’s call for higher ideals in politics can’t be seen in a vacuum.
The shadow is real; it was bound to respond. Not just conservatives possess a
shadow — we all do. So what comes next is a contest between the two forces of
progress and inertia. Will the shadow win again, or has its furtive appeal
become exhausted? No one can predict. The best thing about Gov. Palin is that
she brought this conflict to light, which makes the upcoming debate honest. It
would be a shame to elect another Reagan, whose smiling persona was a stalking
horse for the reactionary forces that have brought us to the demoralized state
we are in. We deserve to see what we are getting, without disguise.