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Sarah Palin and the New White Ebonics

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For a generation, conservative culture warriors have raged at liberals for orchestrating the dumbing-down of America. From the new math to whole language to even affirmative action, they argue, progressives have emasculated our educational standards. Through a morally and ethically dangerous relativism, the left has destroyed the conventions of our culture on every level.

Meanwhile, it is the right who has been identified with a rear-guard action to defend an America where people speak and reason properly, where language doesn't devolve into the lowest common denominator, where phrases born in rap culture, like "shout out" don't find their way into a vice-presidential debate.

So let's play a thought game. Imagine if a folksy, inexperienced black woman was nominated to be vice president on the Democratic ticket. And imagine that instead of coming from Alaska she came from Alabama, and instead of dropping white aw-shucksisms like "Doggone" and "You betcha" into her conversation, she used the equivalent black vernacular.

Imagine, as well, if her sentences didn't come close to parsing, if they were wickedly ungrammatical -- no, anti-grammatical -- clouds of disconnected thoughts and sound bites. The right would rise up in indignation and disgust, and the most vitriolic, the Rush Limbaughs, the Michael Savages, would decry the presence of Ebonics on the national stage.

Were she black, Sarah Palin's performance would have been skewered by the right as undignified and demeaning to the office she seeks. But because she is a culture warrior in heels, she is hailed by the right as a breath of populist fresh air, and her use of what conservatives once sniffed at as "substandard English" is celebrated as a signifier of her glorious everydayness.

There was a time when you could be a progressive and still respect American conservatives, at least from a Burkean perspective. On one hand, intellectual champions like Buckley offered a worthy opposition and admirable erudition. And on the other hand, the left's willingness to become identified with an ideology that sought to warehouse spelling, long division, and Tolstoy, was dumb.

But with their combination of anti-intellectualism and over-injection of religion into the public sphere, as reified by the Governor of Alaska, the conservative movement has abandoned any claim on our intelligence. You betcha.

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