Ross Douthat makes a half-hearted attempt to defend Sarah Palin against her enemies.
She should have said no.
If Sarah Palin’s political career ended last Friday, 10 tumultuous months after she was introduced as the Republican Party’s vice-presidential nominee, those five words will be its epitaph.
Had she refused John McCain, Palin would still be a popular female governor in a Republican Party starved for future stars. Her scandals would be the stuff of local politics, her daughter’s pregnancy a minor story in the Lower 48, her son Trig’s parentage a nonissue even for conspiracy theorists. There would still be plenty of time to ease into the national spotlight, to bone up on the issues, and to craft a persona more appealing than the Mrs. Spiro Agnew role the McCain campaign assigned to her.
Most important, nobody would have realized yet how much she looks like Tina Fey.
But she said yes. It wasn’t the right thing to do, in hindsight, but it was certainly the human thing. She was coming off a charmed rise through statewide politics. John McCain was offering her a spot on a national ticket. It was the chance of a lifetime.
He then goes on to defend her against the “elites” who sneered at her for her rural appeal, her idiosyncrasies of speech, and the fact that she didn’t work her way up from a poor background to go to Columbia and Harvard.
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.
Well, if that’s true, then I have two words for you: Hillary Clinton. She put up with all of what Sarah Palin went through and worse and not only didn’t quit her job as both First Lady or her marriage, but she went on to become a Senator, a presidential candidate, and now Secretary of State. Compared to what Ms. Clinton went through over the last eighteen years (and what Michelle Obama is already going through as well), Sarah Palin has had it easy, and she can’t even make it through ten months in the spotlight. That has nothing whatsoever to do with her gender or her looks or her “enemies” — a good deal of the “elites” attacking Ms. Palin were from her own party and within her own campaign.
So before we start working up the pity party for Sarah Palin, let’s remember that she brought all of this on herself. Not because she said “Yes” to John McCain (which reminds us to wonder what kind of judgment Mr. McCain used to choose an untested and unvetted candidate for vice president in the first place), but for what she said afterward. She invited all of the attention to her family and her tenure as governor, and then got worked up when people and the press had the temerity to actually look into them. It had nothing to do with her gender or her social class, and to make those the excuses does no favors to feminism or the struggle for the ordinary person to gain some political clout.
Sarah Palin is beloved by millions because her rise suggested, however temporarily, that the old American aphorism about how anyone can grow up to be president might actually be true.
But her unhappy sojourn on the national stage has had a different moral: Don’t even think about it.
I can’t help but think that Mr. Douthat and a lot of Republicans are secretly heaving a sigh of relief that Sarah Palin’s fifteen minutes may be over. While they may outwardly blame the MSM and the elites, they’re glad to see her go; it saved them the trouble of having to do it themselves.