Tuesday night on Hugh’s program, we discussed the Vanity Fair article about Sarah Palin and why, eight months after the election, Palin still arouses such fury amongst liberals and so many rank-and-file Democrats.
After all, even if you think her election to the vice presidency would be the worst disaster ever to befall the Republic, Palin has, by and large, gone away. She’s mostly focused on her work as governor of Alaska. She doesn’t appear on many talk shows or do many interviews. She’s been outside of Alaska . . . four times? Once to the National Governors Association meeting, once to a pro-life dinner, once to the Alfalfa Club dinner, and once to Auburn, N.Y. for an event raising money for a museum honoring William Seward, the 19th-century U.S. secretary of state who acquired Alaska for the United States. There’s no clear sense of her future plans; the near-daily denunciation seems to be just in case she decides to run for national office, a far-from-certain event that would occur, at the earliest, three and a half years from now.
My first thought was that it tied heavily to her appearance. In liberals’ minds, conservatives are supposed to look like the couple from the painting American Gothic: Dour and joyless, aged, spartan and frail. Political leaders aren’t supposed to be young, really good-looking women, full of energy, smiles, and winks.
Hugh suggested it tied to the contrast between her lifestyle and her critics: “She is the embodiment of the anti-choice, the opposite of every choice that lefty elites have ever made — as to going back home instead of moving to the west coast, having children, having a child with Down’s, staying married to one man the whole time, choosing rural or suburban over urban and living a generally conservative lifestyle, working with her hands . . . That everything she is is the antithesis of everything that liberal urban elites are, so it’s not just enough to say, ‘I disagree with you,’; she has to be repudiated and crushed.”
And now, I would submit a slight refining of that idea, that the seeming happiness of Palin’s life is a 24-7 irritant because it challenges the way some liberals see the world.
Liberals believe that their ideas, philosophy, worldview, and policies liberate believers, and that the conservative equivalents limit people. Liberals see themselves as rejecting outdated beliefs and obsolete ideas, overturning established orders, and discarding traditions established by superstitious and ignorant forebears who weren’t as enlightened as we are. Conservatives, in their minds, are runaway cultural superegos, always wagging their fingers about individual responsibility, dismissing excuses, reminding people that they can’t always do what they want because of the consequences to themselves and to others.
Conservatism, they suspect, will leave you in a marriage that doesn’t satisfy you, burden you with children you don’t want, repress your passions, and trap you in a empty, boring, and unfulfilled life, with no hand of government able to help.
Today almost everyone faces some sort of challenge in balancing work and family; I don’t know too many people who believe there are sufficient hours in a day. And then along comes this woman who’s made all of these “conservative” choices and now has an amazing career, a supportive husband, a beautiful family, and great health and appearance, and she bears it all, including the inevitable hard times, with pluck and a smile, as far as we can tell. (For all we know, perhaps behind closed doors, Sarah Palin screams into a pillow when it all gets to be too much. But what we know about her suggests she relieves her stress by shooting moose.)
A short while back, Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum suggested, only half-jokingly, that actress Angelina Jolie’s “entire Oscar-winning, serial-adopting, Brad Pitt-snagging, plane-piloting, unattainably hot-looking existence makes women around the world feel hopelessly inadequate and therefore unhappy.” Perhaps Sarah Palin is the Angelina Jolie of the political world.
In her opponents’ minds, Palin’s made all the wrong choices, and cannot, they insist, be very bright. Yet she’s happy and successful. She is an anomaly that invalidates their worldview, and for that, they attempt to immiserate her — regardless of whether she wishes to run for national office again.