The Lesson Of Sarah Palin

Ross Douthat has the best take on the Sarah Palin brouhaha out there:

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…

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.)

Male commentators will attack you for parading your children. Female commentators will attack you for not staying home with them. You’ll be sneered at for how you talk and how many colleges you attended. You’ll endure gibes about your “slutty” looks and your “white trash concupiscence,” while a prominent female academic declares that your “greatest hypocrisy” is the “pretense” that you’re a woman. And eight months after the election, the professionals who pressed you into the service of a gimmicky, dreary, idea-free campaign will still be blaming you for their defeat.

All of this had something to do with ordinary partisan politics. But it had everything to do with Palin’s gender and her social class.

Douthat has it exactly right: Sarah Palin was despised by the left because she represents a culture that is alien to the left’s worldview. She’s a female, she’s attractive, she’s actively pro-life, she’s rural, she’s plain spoken, and she’s conservative. To the left, such a thing just should not be. She embodies values that stand in very clear contrast to those of the left, and were she to obtain national popularity she could be very influential.

The former governor was not prepared for the race in 2008, and the McCain campaign did an extremely poor job of preparing her for what she would face. Douthat is right that she would have been wise to turn down McCain’s offer, although it is understandable that she did not.

But, Douthat notes, Palin is still relatively popular. She has a net positive approval rating, even after 10 months of constant fire. If Palin wanted to return to politics—and perhaps she does not—a Sarah Palin that had spend some time learning policy and crafting her positions could still be a potent political force.

Right now the lesson of Sarah Palin is that if you’re not prepared for the national stage you will be eaten alive. But there is a possibility, however small, that the lesson down the road might very well be that counting Sarah Barricuda out is a very unwise idea.