Few things have bothered me as much in the past couple of years more than the Canadian commentariat’s reaction to former Alaska Governor and Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s emergence as a political force. The left’s vitriol is completely expected, as disgusting as it is (the true face of the left emerges, as the supposed champions of feminism savagely rape the reputation of a successful woman). But nasty attacks from the likes of David Frum, Margaret Wente, Diane Francis, and many in the National Post’s roster of otherwise sensible young libertarian commentators, had been mystifying and depressing.
Well, it took nearly two years, but finally – finally! – an intelligent Canadian pundit has figured out that the Sarah Palin phenomenon is a wonderful thing, and that her detractors’ primary source of animus comes down to the fact that she is an outsider working in an elite insider’s culture. In today’s National Post, Rex Murphy breaks it down in Understanding the Sarah Palin Effect. First, he explains why she is an attractive person and politician:
She is a cheerful human being, with a large family, an apparently easy-going and normal husband. She has a personality that would sell corn flakes — if not grow them. What career she had in Alaska, she earned. She’s at home indoors and out, radiates human warmth, seems to have some balance about herself, and has displayed over the last year or so a considerable fortitude under an avalanche of mockery and hatred. For the final stroke of this cameo I should note she is smart — smarter than 90% of the people who make a point of how rock-stupid they know she is.She, by rights, should be queen of the feminists. All that self-reliance, her takeover of Alaska politics, the rocket ride to a Vice-Presidential ticket, a public career she blends with her family life– these seem gold-standard credentials for a real feminist. But official feminism derides herewith an unspeakable intensity. Her early critics were not beyond the inane claim that she was somehow not really a woman.
Then, perhaps using insight gleaned throughout his career, as a Newfoundland-born-and-raised outsider with a funny accent who was likely often treated like the “House Newfie” by many elitist colleagues at the CBC and Globe & Mail, he nails what may well be the #1 reason why the political and cultural elite of both left and right hate Sarah Palin so much:
I side with those who venture that the nerves Palin hits have more to do with class — where she’s from, how she speaks, where she was educated, what she likes (the moose-hunting), than her politics or her gender. She’s rural, she came into national politics from (ugh) Alaska. She and her husband have the unerasable stigmata of the modern working class. She would not be embarrassed to be seen walking into Wal-Mart.
Those characteristics and attitudes, in themselves, are not objectionable. In fact, hymns to working class habits and virtues are the very songbook of most elite American politicians and journalists. That crowd sings lustily what it does not feel. Remember the aphorism ascribed to Lincoln: “God must have loved the common man. He made so many of them.”
But America’s professional public class, and the commentariat who still have some (though declining) power to police it, like to view Lincoln’s common man, or woman, as an object in the distance, as an object of their supercilious care and concern, but not as a player in the game. Palin is simply not supposed to be a player. She’s not only from the wrong side of the tracks, she’s so far over on the wrong side she can’t see the railway station.
But there she is, in all her roughness and candour, and her spiky wit and ability to irritate her self-nominated betters. She also happens to be the most naturally charismatic politician at the moment in the United States. She is the one major figure who can claim authenticity without morally choking on the word. That makes her the populist rallying point of a nascent rejection of the fervid partisanship and Washington insiderism that is eroding the consent on which American politics is founded.
No wonder Obama claims he won’t respond when she tweets. The Hope and Change President still owns Hope, but real Change in current American politics is on Palin’s side of the ledger.
By Jove, he’s got it: the elites (moneyed, educated, urban, effete) may claim to be “for the common man” – but their policies, almost universally, effect to keep the common man at arm’s length. Whether it’s “universal health care” (public hospitals for thee, private American clinics for me), public transportation (get these peons and their beat-up Hyundais off my roads!), or the false promise of sustainable public pension plans (we’ll pay you out if we can…we’ve still got our investments), the Marie Antoinettes of both parties wish for the good things in life to be reserved for them, without having to bear the indignity of rubbing shoulders with the great unwashed. For bringing this insight to the minds of Canada’s group-thinkers – thank God for House Newfies! And God Bless Sarah Palin, who understands that the world without a strong America is a very frightening place.