Yes, the world does need another unread commentary on Sarah Palin. Because I don't think anyone really gets this right. Too many people are still looking at this through the obsolete conservative v. liberal lens.
I frankly don't care that she resigned, or what it bodes for her political future, or what it means for the populist right or the Republican Party or any of that. Despite the attention she's received, she's a marginal figure in our political life. In 2008, people with a certain set of political views were looking for an alternative, and they saw in Palin something different. But in this, she is really little different from Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, or for the older among us, John Anderson.
What I think is important is explaining her popularity. Why does she capture the imagination of so many? Yes, there is the issue of the elite, and how she is not one of them. But what remains unanalyzed is the dynamic we are facing in the country regarding populism and elites.
The crises we face right now--the economic situation, health care, the environment, the failures in response to Katrina, we can even go back to the attacks on 9/11 and the ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--are all examples of elites making huge and costly mistakes. The conclusion one must draw, the unavoidable conclusion is that
THE ELITE DOES NOT KNOW WHAT IT IS DOING. IT IS DESTROYING THIS COUNTRY.
If you are a Democrat, or a liberal, you could comfort yourself that it was all Bush. But the seeds for all these crises, with the exception of the wars in the Middle East and Katrina, were sown long before Bush took office. For many in this country, the coolness of Obama is a kind of hope that we can solve these problems. But for many people, Obama is no more likely to have an answer than
Now in no way do I think Palin had any real answers to these problems. But to understand a Palin supporter, all you really need to do is to accept several not terribly difficult to accept premises.
1. The people running this country are not really determined by elections. We simply choose between factions of a single elite.
2. They are not competent, as evidenced by the problems we all face, and by the fact that their most visible members, the pundits, are wrong more often than meteorologists. In fact, it seems that most people who talk about these issues more or less make things up as they go along.
3. Since the "best and brightest" haven't got a clue, then maybe we can get someone who can at least sympathize with our plight.
Palin is in some ways much like Bill Clinton in the ability to draw upon sympathy for political support. Clinton was of course more optimistic, more positive. But I think a huge measure of support for Clinton stemmed from the fact that he had real people problems, as Chris Rock once said.
To those who believe that we live in a meritocracy, Palin seemed like a continuation of Bush style anti-intellectual conservatism. To those who think the powers that be are all equally clueless, Obama has more in common with Bush than Palin.