Hating Sarah

Posted: Sep 02, 2008 5:38 PM
Hating Sarah

Sarah Palin works fast. She instantly became the object of the kind of partisan hatred that most politicians can raise only after prosecuting an unpopular war and lying about their misconduct in office (Nixon), after making sanctimonious dishonesty an art form and getting caught in flagrante with an intern (Clinton), and after winning a disputed election and botching a foreign occupation (Bush).

Palin-hatred is an artifact of who she is rather than anything she's done. Joe Biden famously rose from the working class to the U.S. Senate. Palin became governor of Alaska, but never left the working class -- with her old-fashioned beehive hairdo and librarian eyeglasses, with a husband who is a commercial fisherman and works on a North Shore oil field, and with her hobbies of fishing and hunting.

As such, she's the object of the cultural disdain of a left that loves the working class in theory, but is mystified or offended by its lifestyle and conservative values in reality. If there's ever been an exemplar of the rural America that, in Barack Obama's telling, "bitterly" clings to its guns and religion, it's Sarah Palin.

It's her misfortune to be a pioneer with the wrong ideology. So much bile was directed at Clarence Thomas because he was the "wrong" kind of black man. Pro-life, pro-gun and a down-the-line, if populist, conservative, Palin is a traitor to her gender and thus encounters the sort of fury always directed at apostates.

A popular liberal talk-radio host calls her a "bimbo," a Washington Post columnist compares her to Caligula's horse, and the left-wing blogosphere goes on a demented jag about how her fifth son, Trig, is really the son of her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol. The lunacy forced the Palins to issue a statement that Bristol is pregnant, setting off a feeding frenzy from the same press that went out of its way to protect the privacy of John Edwards.

In a less-poisonous atmosphere, Palin might have diminished the intensity of the "mommy wars." Here were traditionalist conservatives hailing a very busy working mom with five kids, including a handicapped 4-month-old. But the same feminists who ordinarily dismiss stay-at-home moms as benighted betrayers of the sisterhood now question whether Palin can juggle her family and political responsibilities. Washington doyenne Sally Quinn worries about putting "the mother of young children in a job outside the home that will demand so much of her time and energy."

A lot of Palin-hatred is couched in terms of her lack of experience. Fair enough, but there's a tone of contemptuous dismissiveness about the experience that she does have -- fueled no doubt by her career in "fly-over country" so remote no one really flies over it. The Obama campaign is loath to admit that she's governor of Alaska, pretending instead she's still mayor of tiny Wasilla, and the outraged commentary in the press makes it sound like the vice presidency is an office of such import that it would be better if the newcomer were at the top of the ticket and the wizened pro at the bottom -- just like the Democrats.

Is Palin ready to take over on Day One? No. But she's not being asked to be president on Day One, but vice president in what will probably be a post-Cheney, more traditional model of the office. She has no less political experience than John Edwards when he was a one-term senator who had never before held elected office when he was John Kerry's running mate in 2004. The difference is that Edwards, as a senator and a presidential candidate, had proven he could speak plausibly to national issues.

We don't know yet whether Palin can do that on a rapid, pressure-packed timeline. We'll find out in the next few weeks. Most of the country will be rooting for her, the likable and unlikely upstart. But not the Palin-haters, for whom she is already a woman only to be scorned.

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