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Sarah Palin, Heroine Of Democracy?

Ross Douthat writes of Palin:

[S]he 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.

And then, after briefly acknowledging that Palin made mistakes, Ross goes on to blame her plight on elites' mistreatment of her:

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.

I just don't think it's possible, though, to neatly separate out Palin the person from Palin the symbol. Sure, there's bound to be some snobbery among some elites toward someone like Palin. And I think in the very early days after her nomination--when all that was really known about her was her CV--you saw that. But the anti-Palin sentiment didn't kick into high gear until a few weeks after her nomination--after she disappeared and refused to do interviews; after the interviews she did do (Gibson and especially Couric) revealed her to be completely out of her league; after her Agnew-like performances on the stump.

In other words, I don't think hostility toward Palin represents hostility toward the democratic ideal. The real problem for people who believe in the democratic ideal (and I include myself in this category) is when they allow someone like Palin to become a symbol of that ideal. Just because she grew up to be a great success without graduating from Columbia and Harvard doesn't mean she's a democratic heroine. In fact, making her out to be one just cheapens the ideal.

--Jason Zengerle