In his latest column, Ross Douthat repeats an old canard from the campaign trail:
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….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.
Ross– Sarah Palin’s family makes better than five times the national median household income. Five times! The Palins own a huge mansion, four other properties, two boats and a plane! I will never be as rich as the Palins, in all likelihood. Hell, the odds are pretty good that any three readers of this blog combined made less than half what the Palins made last year. There is no earthly sense in which “lower class” can retain any meaning and include Sarah Palin.
So why does Ross say it? I imagine it has to do with this strange notion that we have floating in our national consciousness, that there are cultural cues which can somehow trump the financial realities of class. Yes, there are codes that we use to vaguely stratify people that aren’t based entirely on net worth or income. But they only work alongside good old fashioned monetary elitism. Ask anyone from a fallen house of aristocracy or some previously wealthy entrepreneur laid low. The right clothes, an accent and swagger can’t actually make up for not having the coin. It’s a consistent failure of American insight, or an artifact of the hyperactive American imagination, that we suppose that values can outmuscle value. In the actual day to day work of their lives, in what they actually do and the problems they experience and what they do and don’t have to worry about, I’d wager the Palins have much more to do with some affluent liberal black family from Bedford Stuyvesent than they do an impoverished white conservative Appalachian family. Not being able to afford medicine when the baby is sick can’t be duplicated with cultural cues. Being short when property taxes come due can’t be shared due to overlapping ideology. Having to choose between the phone bill and the food bill is the kind of shared experience that creates a fraternity religious affinity can’t begin to approach. We like to pretend that it’s not true, but in this country the bottom line is the bottom line.
“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.”
Actually, Ross, a great many of the people love Sarah Palin because she hates the right people and the right things. That’s not reason enough to write her or her supporters off, but it takes a willed blindness to have seen the rallies last fall and not detected the visceral anger and violence that undergirded them. And it would take a particularly myopic viewer to believe that Sarah Palin, by any relative standard an immensely wealthy woman, proves that anyone can become president. Actually, I think the idea that Ross Douthat can run a column (in the country’s newspaper of record) calling a woman whose family makes better than five times the national average lower class just goes to demonstrate to us all a little better than whatever we can be, President isn’t one of them. If you’ve gotta make 250K just to be called lower class, what hope do you or I have?
Update: I should point out that the term “lower class” doesn’t appear in Ross’s column. However, Palin is contrasted to the upper class Obamas and others, and the major point that the column makes depends on the notion that the Palins are somehow lower class than elitist politicians and the elitist media. (I wonder how many political reporters actually make more than Palin?)