Here are lessons of the Sarah Palin experience, for any aspiring politician who shares her background and her sex. Your children will go through the tabloid wringer. Your religion will be mocked and misrepresented. Your political record will be distorted, to better parody your family and your faith. (And no, gentle reader, Palin did not insist on abstinence-only sex education, slash funds for special-needs children or inject creationism into public schools.)
Let me re-write that for him.
Here are the lessons of every national politician ever. Your children will go through the tabloid wringer (see Chelsea Clinton). Your religion will be mocked and misrepresented (see Barack Obama is a Muslim). Your political record will be distorted, to better parody your family and your faith (see id).
None of which is to say that Sarah Palin didn’t endure her share of sexism — she sure did. She was ultimately brought down by her own idiocy — a fate that didn’t befall her idiot compatriot George W. Bush. She was attacked for her looks and for her family choices in a way that male politicians aren’t — she also played on her looks and her family choices in a way that male politician’s either can’t or don’t. But what makes me the most uncomfortable about Douthat’s piece is this observation:
In a recent Pew poll, 44 percent of Americans regarded Palin unfavorably. But slightly more had a favorable impression of her. That number included 46 percent of independents, and 48 percent of Americans without a college education.
That last statistic is a crucial one. Palin’s popularity has as much to do with class as it does with ideology. In this sense, she really is the perfect foil for Barack Obama. Our president represents the meritocratic ideal — that anyone, from any background, can grow up to attend Columbia and Harvard Law School and become a great American success story. But Sarah Palin represents the democratic ideal — that anyone can grow up to be a great success story without graduating from Columbia and Harvard.
He’s sort of right about the “perfect foil” observation (less perfect, I suppose, in that she failed to actually foil Obama). What rubs me the wrong way is the idea that Palin’s “great success story” was at all democratic, or represents a democratic ideal. In truth, it represents an ugly truth in the same way as GWB’s rise — it’s the idea that a class of people, no matter how foolish or lazy, deserves access to power simply by virtue of being born a particular color and in a particular social class. “Anyone” cannot grow up to have a success story like Palin’s. While that’s certainly a comforting thought to the traditional right-wing base (read: disgruntled white people who are unnerved by the fact that others are getting a piece of the American pie), it’s not something that sits so well with the rest of us.
“The rest of us,” though, are growing demographically. Hopefully that will translate into a broader definition of the supposedly democratic ideal.
- The Answer to Your Question is “No.” by Jill October 6, 2009
- Shorter Michael Gerson: “Women are children.” by jamelle September 1, 2008
- Strip Club Holds Sarah Palin Lookalike Contest by Cara October 29, 2008
- Sarah Palin’s not-so-hidden extremism by jamelle September 2, 2008
- More on the Sarah Palin rape kit controversy by Jill September 15, 2008