Juan Cole has written a misguided article comparing the “right-wind populism” of Palin and Ahmadinejad. Thoreau at Unqualified Offerings, who should know better, buys into this and writes:

No doubt he’s playing up some parallels and downplaying some differences, but it’s nonetheless true that Red Province political factions around the world have a great deal in common.

This would be a lot more persuasive if Ahmadinejad were the leader of such a faction, unless we want to change what we now mean by “red,” which has absurdly come to be identified with the main faction of what passes for the center-right here. If you look past a few superficial and ultimately meaningless similarities, it becomes very difficult to see how Ahmadinejad is anything like Palin. Ahmadinejad is more like Huey Long with an engineering degree (not normally the profile of a right-wing populist), whose power base is the rural and urban poor, and who has pushed for redistribution of wealth in his campaign rhetoric and in his governing policies. In other words, when it comes to actual policy Ahmadinejad is an actual economic, and even left-leaning, populist. Because of the peculiarities of Alaskan sources of state revenue, Palin was able to play at this for a time with her tax hikes on oil companies, but in her incarnation as a national political figure she has become the antithesis of all of this.

The “right-wing populism” Cole disdains when critiquing Palin has no real populist policies behind it. Palin and Ahmadinejad have both railed against corruption in principle, but even here we see a crucial difference. Despite her reformer mantra, Palin has been the political ally of Ted Stevens, and Ahmadinejad has been a stern critic and opponent of Rafsanjani and the wealthy elite of the country. Superficial electoral stunts aside, on the national stage Palin was one of the candidates of a predominantly middle- and upper-class coalition, and Ahmadinejad has been the candidate of the lower-class majority arrayed against an alliance of predominantly middle-class reformers and wealthy establishment figures such as Rafsanjani. Would anyone seriously claim that Palin is a sort of American Hugo Chavez? No, not really. So we shouldn’t make a similarly silly mistake by comparing her to Ahmadinejad. Whatever they may purport to represent, their respective constituencies are as different as can be.

I suppose both do adopt a working-class Everyman/woman shtick, but once again when it comes to substance Palin endorses the usual pro-corporate economic policies of her party. Ahmadinejad’s tenure has been an economic disaster as he has tried to buy his way out of economic woes with easy credit and spending, but this is a function of his genuine, if poorly-conceived and even more poorly-executed, economic populism. Palin’s populism is purely rhetorical and symbolic: she is a journalism major who rails against journalists, and a politician who rails against the political class. Even if Ahmadinejad intends merely to replace one entrenched, corrupt establishment with his own cronies, and there is every reason to believe this is what he has been doing and will continue to try to do, this has much more in common with Chavismo than it does with Republican pseudo-populism.

Prof. Cole says at one point:

Both appeal to a sort of wounded nationalism, speaking of the sacrifice of dedicated troops for an often feckless public, and identifying themselves with the common soldier.

An important difference here would have to be that Ahmadinejad actually served in the Revolutionary Guards and trained members of the Basij militia during a very bloody war. As we saw in her resignation speech, Palin’s praise for the military is often enough self-serving: “soldiers risk their lives for your rights, so don’t say mean things about me in the press!” Whatever else one might say about it, Ahmadinejad’s “wounded nationalism” appeals to an entire generation that experienced a foreign invasion, while Palin’s conventional pro-military refrains are boilerplate for politicians of both parties as they back any and all uses of force around the world. In Palin’s defense, at least she does have one of her own children serving in wartime.

Cole’s comparison would work a lot better if Ahmadinejad were right-wing or if Palin were a populist.