The Collective
Monday, August 3, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Juan Cole has a piece at Salon that is worth a read: Sarah Palin, meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

His basic thesis is that both Sarah Palin and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad share a similar political style, which is a right-wing version of populism and he makes a compelling case. Indeed, anyone who has paid any attention to either of these politicians will have noted their populistic appeals and both are from the right-wing of their respective country’s politics. Both, further, base a great deal of their politics in a combination of nationalism and religion. Cole further notes that both attack the mass media in their countries and have contentious relationships with party elites.

The entire piece is worth a read, but his concluding paragraph does a good job of summing up the overall issues:

Right-wing populism, rooted in the religion, culture and aspirations of the lower middle class, is often caricatured as insane by its critics. That judgment is unfair. But it is true that such movements often encourage a political style of exhibitionism, disregard for the facts as understood by the mainstream media, and exaltation of the values of people who feel themselves marginalized by the political system. Not all forms of protest, however, are healthy, even if the protesters have legitimate grievances. Right-wing populism is centered on a theory of media conspiracy, a “my country right or wrong” chauvinism, a fascination with an armed citizenry, an intolerance of dissent and a willingness to declare political opponents mere terrorists. It is cavalier in its disregard of elementary facts and arrogant about the self-evident rightness of its religious and political doctrines. It therefore holds dangers both for the country in which it grows up and for the international community. Palin is polling well at the moment against other Republican front-runners such as Mitt Romney, and so, astonishingly, is a plausible future president. At least Iranians only got Ahmadinejad because of rigged elections, and they had the decency to mount massive protests against the result.

It is difficult to have an honest assessment of either of the politicians under scrutiny here and not see the above detailed issues being present in their politics.

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Filed under: Iran, US Politics, World Politics | |
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3 Responses to “Comparative Politics: Palin and Ahmadinejad”

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  • pt
    1. Chris Lawrence Says:

      A couple of observations: First, I don’t recall any serious controversy surrounding Ahmadinejad’s first election to office (I freely concede that the Iranian political system is rigged to only allow a narrow range of candidates, but I don’t recall any serious allegations of ballot fraud or the like), only his second. Second, Ahmadinejad is supported by his country’s mass media (at least to the extent that a “mass media” can be said to exist under heavy self-censorship and persecution), so I’m not sure that part of the analogy really flies.

      More generally, I think labels like “left” or “right” are relatively difficult to apply consistently across polities with very different axes of political competition. The ideological views of the “left” of the Iranian political system (at least as allowed to be expressed under the theocracy) are well to the “right” of the mainstream in any Western society. And the Iranian right (much as the Soviet dead-enders called “conservative” in the West nearly two decades ago) represents an economic populism much more akin to the Western left than the right.

      And if Sarah Palin wins a free and fair election in the United States, something I see about as likely to pass as the next North Korean ruler not being named “Kim,” I’m not sure that “massive protests against the result” would be a “decent” response, however unpopular the outcome might be in the faculty lounge.

    2. andrew Says:

      See kids, drugs can destroy your brain.

    3. Steven L. Taylor Says:


      I take the basic point about right/left comparisons across cases, but I still think that on balance that Ahamdenijad is on the rightward part of the Iranian political spectrum at the moment–he is an Iranian conservative, at any rate. Beyond that, though, I think that they are both quick clearly populistic politicians. They certainly both base much of their appeals in religious fundamentalisms, militarism and nationalism.

      I do agree: Palin is not getting elected President and I can’t see her getting nominated, either. As such in that way the comparison is strained.


      You will need to be more specific: you referring to me, Chris, Cole, Palin, Ahmadenijad or someone else?

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