Bill Kristol's Little Brother Ross Douthat ~ Evidence of the Inherited Inability of Conservatives to Make an Argument
If Palin were exactly what her critics believe she is — the distillation of every right-wing pathology, from anti-intellectualism to apocalyptic Christianity — then she wouldn’t be a terribly interesting figure. But this caricature has always missed the point of the Alaska governor’s appeal — one that extends well outside the Republican Party’s shrinking base.Douthat, thankfully, does not try to save Palin from the obvious fact that she has more than proven inept at politics. Indeed, his lament would have no ground if that were not the case. But he turns to the conservative’s standard bogeyman as he casts about for someone to blame. When in doubt, it must’ve been “the elites.”
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.
That 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.
This ideal has had a tough 10 months. It’s been tarnished by Palin herself, obviously. With her missteps, scandals, dreadful interviews and self-pitying monologues, she’s botched an essential democratic role — the ordinary citizen who takes on the elites, the up-by-your-bootstraps role embodied by politicians from Andrew Jackson down to Harry Truman.
But it’s also been tarnished by the elites themselves, in the way that the media and political establishments have treated her.
This is hypocritical and tired. Why hypocritical? Douthat, of course, cannot quite bring himself to mention that he hardly comes from from a family of auto-mechanics, unemployed industrial workers, or Walmart greeters but, instead, from a family of lawyers and writers. He fails to mention that he attended a pricey private secondary school on his way to Harvard. He obviously now writes for the oh-so obviously plebeian New York Times. In other words, like his predecessor on The Times editorial pages, Bill Kristol, Douthat is simply a hypocrite when he whines about the nefarious “elites” and their patronizing views of America. There apparently is no mirror in the Douthat residence.
Why tired? Because like most conservative whining it is immune to basic facts. Lack of self-awareness aside, Douthat neglects to note - based on this own chosen poll - that a majority of Americans “without a college education” view Palin unfavorably. No doubt, he would complain, that is due to the barrage of bad press that the “elites” have directed her way. But might it not simply be the case that regular Americans know ineptitude and wackiness when they see it? To adopt that view would be to treat normal Americans as intelligent and sensible. Douthat instead wants to insist that they’ve been misled by their betters at places like The Times. Ooops! Is that your elitism showing, Ross?
And, of course, Douthat subverts his own defense of Palin too. He notes, rightly, that McCain chose Palin as a running mate at the behest of advisers, “the professionals who pressed [her] into the service of a gimmicky, dreary, idea-free campaign.” Just so. Those were the people who cynically exploited poor Sarah - an otherwise solid, family-oriented, god-fearing Governor of a little known state. But they were Republicans, Ross. Not the liberal elites whom you are railing against. The campaign was just as pathetic as you make it out to be. And Palin was just another gimmick. Which means that your syrupy narrative of American history - Jackson, Truman, and all that - is simply a well-worn, and not terribly compelling jeremiad.
But in this narrative of decline and disrepair, Douthat too looks down his nose at Sarah Palin. I wonder if he learned that at the private school? I wonder too when the people who run The Times will discern the strong negative correlation between the conservative leanings of their columnists and their ability to construct a plausible argument.