Palin and the democratic ideal

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In an heroic effort to mount a modest defense of Sarah Palin today, fresh-baked NYT columnist Ross Douthat avers:

In a recent Pew poll,
44 percent of Americans regarded Palin unfavorably. But slightly more
had a favorable impression of her. That number included 46 percent of
independents, and 48 percent of Americans without a college education.

last statistic is a crucial one. 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.

Palinpoll.gifNow wait just a minute. As of last October, equal proportions of those without a college education and those with at least a B.A. supported Palin. (Since then, she’s gained seven points with the no-college crowd.) That’s nothing to hang a class-based analysis on–especially when all these numbers are in the 40s. But look at ideology, and what you find are huge numbers for her among conservative and white evangelical Republicans. Her popularity does not have as much to do with class as it does with ideology.

And as for which ideal she represents, let’s not forget that the meritocratic ideal is the democratic ideal: You make your way forward on the basis not of family ties or wealth but by your natural abilities. What Palin represents is something else, call it the populist ideal. It’s found in the title of the song Huey Long made his slogan: “Every Man a King.” The song begins:

Why weep or slumber America
Land of brave and true
With castles and clothing and food for all
All belongs to you

Ev’ry man a king, ev’ry man a king
For you can be a milionnaire

It’s a dream of meritless success. You go, girl!

Oh and by the way, on the faith front, Douthat says that among the lessons to be drawn from the Palin experience for any politician sharing her background and sex is that “[y]our religion will be mocked and misrepresented.” Now, Mike Huckabee may not share Palin’s sex, but he came as close as any of last year’s GOP presidential aspirants to sharing her religious background. And his religion was not mocked during the campaign.

Was this because Palin isn’t a Baptist but a Pentecostal? Who knew, really, what her religion was? She’d switched churches, denied she belonged to any church, and declined to identify with with any but the most generic “faith in God” sentiments. Everyone, including her most fervent supporters, thought they knew where she stood. But she never made the slightest effort to define herself religiously. Maybe there’s a lesson from her campaign in that.