She says it was the campaign that decided to run up mind-boggling bills to outfit her for the national convention and subsequent public appearances; that the decision was not hers. She says that campaign managers told her what to confess, what to deny, and what to stonewall in her public appearances. She says, in effect, that the person we saw last Fall was a puppet whose strings were being pulled by people who were dummies themselves and were running John McCain's campaign for the White House.
I have no way of knowing how much of this to believe -- McCain insiders deny it all -- but in a long career of watching, and being part of, political campaigns, including those of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, I have never seen another as inept as the one assembled by John McCain. At times the McCain campaign resembled a poorly-run race for sixth-grade class president. This predisposes me to believe any accusation of stupidity within that dingy and brain-dead quarter.
This does not excuse Ms. Palin nor prove the accuracy of her explanations, but it certainly places them within the realm of possibility. Not all of them, to be sure. There were certainly a sufficient number of eye-rolling statements coming from Palin's mouth to make it plausible to raise questions about her intellect and to render her at least semi-culpable in the formation of the unfavorable opinion that dogged her days on the campaign trail. What's more -- sorry, Sarah -- if one professes to be strong enough to hold high office, how do we square that with a self-portrayal as a poor helpless victim of mindless string-pullers? What, you couldn't say no?
But questions about Palin are not the same as questions about Palinism. And if Palinism extends beyond Sarah Palin, herself, as I suspect it may, it is Palinism that will matter most in the elections of 2010 and 2012.
What is Palinism? It is the suggestion that there is in Middle America a bubbling resentment against what is perceived as elitist snobbery against those who go to community college, shop at Walmart, view non-pet animals as food-in-waiting, read John Grisham novels and go to church on Sunday. It is not (or so I perceive it) a rebellion against affluence or superior education, but against what many in fly-over-land view as condescension and dismissiveness.
I'm not unaware of the tension, having received my own education in the heartland (journalism at the University of Oklahoma, law at Oklahoma City University) but having then taught at Harvard and Princeton for the past sixteen years, I have cheered rodeos as well as applauded in Symphony Hall. One can move in both circles, but Oklahoma and Cambridge are indeed distinct.
This may be disconcerting to some, but my guess is that by actual count (I'm not a statistician), more people shop at Walmart than at Bergdorf-Goodman (although some who don't shop at Walmart are voicing an ethical concern, not looking down their noses at discount goods) and more watch NASCAR than ski at Aspen. Clearly the two worlds can co-exist and political candidates can appeal equally to both (there are similar issues - involving jobs, health care, war - in both Americas) but they co-exist most readily where there is a mutual respect.