Camille Paglia on Classism, Language, and Sarah Palin

Camille Paglia puts her finger on something that has vaguely troubled me.  For years I’ve enjoyed reading Language Log’s posts on Bushisms — which as often as not included the reminder that we all garble our syntax from time to time, and even daringly suggests that Obama makes his own share of gaffes. Remember the gratuitous Nancy Reagan joke? (Of course, that’s not nearly as bad as Reagan’s “We begin bombing in five minutes.” But I digress.)

Paglia targets Dick Cavett’s Nov 14 NYT blog on Sara Palin,“The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla,” 
calling it

…insufferably
supercilious. With dripping disdain, he sniffed at her “frayed syntax,
bungled grammar and run-on sentences.” He called her “the serial
syntax-killer from Wasilla High,” “one who seems to have no first
language.” I will pass over Cavett’s sniggering dismissal of “soccer
moms” as lightweights who should stay far, far away from government.

I
was so outraged when I read Cavett’s column that I felt like taking to
the air like a Valkyrie and dropping on him at his ocean retreat in
Montauk in the chichi Hamptons. How can it be that so many highly
educated Americans have so little historical and cultural consciousness
that they identify their own native patois as an eternal mark of
intelligence, talent and political aptitude?

Paglia then recounts an anecdote about a talented and popular Yale professor who used class time to make a sneering, classist, sexist statement about a marriage between a well-heeled socialite and an italian-American mechanic.

Yes, that is the lordly Yale that formed Dick Cavett’s linguistic
and cultural assumptions and that has alarmingly resurfaced in the
contempt that he showed for the self-made Sarah Palin in “The Wild
Wordsmith of Wasilla.” I am very sorry that he, and so many other
members of the educational elite, cannot take pleasure as I do in the
quick, sometimes jagged, but always exuberant way that Palin speaks —
which is closer to street rapping than to the smug bourgeois cadences
of the affluent professional class.

English has evolved, and the
world has moved on. There is no necessary connection between bourgeois
syntax and practical achievement. I have never had the slightest
problem with understanding Sarah Palin’s meaning at any time. Since
when do free Americans subscribe to a stuffy British code of veddy,
veddy proper English? We don’t live in a stultified class system. In
the U.K., in fact, many literary leftists make a big, obnoxious point
about retaining their working-class accents. Too many American liberals
claim to be defenders of the working class and then run like squealing
mice from working-class manners and mores (including moose hunting and
wolf control). What smirky, sheltered hypocrites. Get the broom! — Camille Paglia, Salon

If I were still teaching Seminar in Thinking and Writing (which has units on topics such as education, race, class, and gender), I’d definitly assign Paglia, since she works so very hard [edited to insert the following word] not to fall into the kind of intellectual rut that leads students to try to turn a bumper sticker slogan into a five-paragraph essay.