Palin And Her Critics/Apologists


People keep pointing me to this Noam Scheiber piece on Sarah Palin's Alaskan past as conclusive proof that she's some horrifying combination of Richard Nixon and Greg Stillson, defined entirely by a mix of class resentment, machiavellian populism, and anti-intellectualism. It's a lively enough read, but basically my reaction was the same as Sam Schulman's, writing in this week's Standard, who noted that "Scheiber spoke to various people from Palin's past, all of whom have two things in common: Every one of them is smarter than Palin and none of them has been heard of since their encounter with her." 

But then Schulman goes on to argue that the principal challenge facing the McCain-Palin ticket is the fact that both candidates have "refused, by sheer cussedness, to fulfill the social expectations of others." (Er, maybe.) And then, inevitably, comes this:

This may make them poison to undecideds who suffer, more than most, from class anxiety. But do not despise the undecideds. Even conservatives can contract Scheiber Syndrome. Think of David Brooks, Christopher Buckley, David Frum, Peggy Noonan, and George Will. The symptoms? Curiously amplified, obsessively repeated, sometimes elaborately stage-whispered doubts about the Republican ticket.

There is no cure, but there is an etiology. All share a dreadful secret--their writing is driven by an anxiety to be tastemakers to the gentry, not merely thinkers and entertainers. There is nothing more anxious-making than striving to create taste for the classes, not masses, or even to keep up with it. (The struggle to do so is etched in the lines of Tina Brown's face.) But what the classes think is a matter to which the GOP standard-bearers are sadly but nobly indifferent.

Hey - at least he didn't mention those dreaded cocktail parties.

Seriously, though, from the way her candidacy is being covered, you'd think that Scheiber and Schulman were offering the only two possible readings of Sarah Palin, governor and vice-presidential nominee. Either she's the second coming of George Wallace, stewing from the slights she once suffered at the hands of "the more urbane members" of the Wasilla community and determined to have her revenge on uppity elites once and for all, or else she's a true-to-herself conservative heroine who's been unjustly victimized by the class anxieties of undecided voters and (especially) the conservative punditocracy. No more nuanced interpretation is possible. This is what polarization looks like, obviously, and it's all immensely wearying.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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