The Corner

Who the Hell Do They Think They Are?

Far be it from me to suggest that Sarah Palin should be or is likely to be our next president. She has not shown the excellence of cognition or of judgment that would recommend her ahead of other possible candidates, nor does her path to the presidency look easy.

But as the nation celebrates the anniversary of the revolution of 1776, every presidential hopeful should realize that in the next election Sarah Palin — or someone like her — could be the vehicle for another revolution. The distinctions between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, are being overshadowed by that between what we might call the “Court party” — made up of the well-connected, the people who feel represented by mainstream politicians who argue over how many trillions should be spent on reforming American society, who see themselves as potters of the great American clay — and the “Country party” — the many more who are tired of being treated as clay.

As of July 4, 2009, Sarah Palin is the leader of the Country party. The fact that she did almost nothing to earn that position underlines that party’s nature and power. Neither did Ross Perot, who led that party in 1992. Perot, recall, never identified himself with any sector of American opinion or society. His appeal was simple and powerful: The U.S. government and the top rungs of American society, he argued, are filled with incompetents at best, corrupt losers at worst — people who make no sense and don’t like the rest of us. Unlike the rulers, he spoke ordinary English, like one of the ruled who had had enough. He sounded like Ronald Reagan without the conservatism. Until his eccentricities disqualified him, tens of millions were ready to vote for him simply as the representative of the “outs.” Just as in 2008, when Barack Obama won by adding a few Country-party votes to his liberal ones, Sarah Palin could win in 2012 by adding a potentially huge number of Country votes to conservative ones.

We can see the nature and power of today’s Country party by noting how little Sarah Palin did to become its head. The person whom candidate John McCain introduced on August 29, 2008, struck the nation like James Stewart in the 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: somebody like you, who speaks your language, unlike the politicians and bureaucrats who talk, act, and live as if they were better than you. To confirm that impression, Palin hardly had to do anything. The Court party did it for her, and she leads the Country party because highly placed people have demeaned her and everything she stands for more than they have anybody else. They heaped contempt on her for the unpardonable sin of being an ordinary American.

America’s “Best And Brightest” — the media’s haughty personages, the college towns’ privileged residents, affimative action’s beneficiaries, the “mainstream” politicians who supported billions for bailouts and “stimuli,” the upscale folks who look down on the rest of us and upon themselves as saviors of the planet — these are the people who made Palin into a political force by making her a symbol of everything they are not. They did this despite her lack of brilliance when it came to communicating her ideas on the issues.

The 2012 election’s potential for revolution, then, depends on whether Sarah Palin or anyone else lives up to the contemptuous caricature that the Court party has drawn of the Americans they imagine to be their underlings. Any leader of the Country party would have to challenge the Court party’s assertion of wisdom and morality, attack it for its privileges and corruption, and repeat the most damning of questions: Who the hell do you think you are to presume to rule us like this?

– Angelo M. Codevilla is a visiting professor of politics and a Madison fellow at Princeton University. His most recent book is Advice to War Presidents: A Remedial Course in Statecraft

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