are you kidding me?

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?)

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77 thoughts on “are you kidding me?

    • No, this explains it better.
      Demonic possession.
      Douthat obfusticates the truth as usual, so as not to alienate his base. It is not about “class”, it is the foreverwar between the haves and the have-nots, the aristoi and the commoners, the “natural aristocracy” and the Noble Yeoman Farmers, the elitists and the populists.


  1. I don’t know. I think Ross is merely pointing out that Palin’s upbringing was something to which most Americans can relate in a way that they could never relate to with McCain or Bush. While she may be quite well off now (though by politician standards, she’s actually low-income), his point is that she grew up with a middle-class background, went to schools that are disdained by the upper classes, and yet was able to rise to great heights politically.

    I think he goes wrong with his overemphasis on elite education – that Bill Clinton went to Georgetown, Oxford, and Yale had little effect on his ability to emphasize his roots in relating to people on the campaign trail. In many ways, Clinton was in fact a far better exemplar of the democratic “bootstraps” ideal – work hard in school, earn a scholarship to a good college, then earn another scholarship to an even better college, and become a successful politician.

    Palin’s story instead seems to revolve around the idea that anyone can be a success even if they do little to distinguish themselves for most of their lives and then find themselves in the right place at the right time.


    • I agree 100% with Mark. I believe Ross was refering much more to her upbringing than her current status. And also I don’t think one can overlook the perception surrounding her. Her story plays pretty well in middle America. That’s why she was drawn into the small town populism angle during the campaign. People ate it up.


    • This, in a sense, is my point. I think that we are a country that imagines that there is far deeper significance to things like upbringing or culture or “consciousness” than there actually is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that such and such person has “middle class consciousness”. Consciousness doesn’t pay the bills, and in terms of how we actually live, none of it holds the barest candle to the ability to write a check. It all seems so deep when you’re penning an op/ed or similar; when your car breaks down and you can’t possibly afford to fix it and you can’t work without a car, you learn how desperately irrelevant consciousness becomes. But we like to imagine away such divisions in the spirit of egalitarianism.


      • Oh I think upbringing is actually far underestimated with regards to political office. Look at Bill Clinton. Classic daddy issues. George W was easily influenced. Carter was weak. Ford was a Boy Scout.

        Playing armchair psychiatrist to President’s is a favorite pasttime of historians and for good reason. Nurture matters.


      • *sigh*

        I took a week off and reading this and the comments…oh it’s nice to be back.

        Anyway, the thing I’d like to throw out/add, is that maybe…just maybe…that’s just part of the human condition. We place value on consciousness, culture, and upbringing, because they’re necessary for fellowship.

        Sometimes and for some people, that can be more important than physical and material well being.

        Sarah Palin is – at this point – a brand, an image, a vehicle to project onto some emotional-political need. She says to hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of Americans, “you exist and you have a voice.”

        Certainly this doesn’t describe all of her supporters but neither does the anger and violence that is ascribed to them. I think there’s a fairly significant number of people who feel like an American aristocracy exists and that they are not part of it. Sure, President Obama is the first President of African-American descent, but all of his alma maters are society alma maters. Palin’s position on the national stage challenges that view, however correct or incorrect it is. She’s seen as an unconventional outsider and people like that as much for the identification with her as for the rebelliousness of her presence.

        Which is why I like Mark’s last sentence so much because it’s truly frightening. Sarah Palin’s “success” isn’t a story of skill, tenacity, and personal triumph. It’s identity politics of the worst kind, superficial and patronizing. Yet, it’s worked. To me, that’s where the story is. Not for who or what Sarah Palin actually is but for what Sarah Palin’s meteoric rise to national prominence has shown us about ourselves.


  2. Sometimes you can tell from the way a man talks about poverty that he’s never met a real, live poor person in his life.

    In this post, Freddie, you sound like the opposite — someone who has never met a real, live member of the upper class.

    At least, that’s the only excuse I can think of for believing the ridiculous notion that cultural cues don’t have important and material consequences.


    • Oh, they mean everything when you’re in an argument at the cotillion. They mean nothing when you can’t get a lease or a car loan. If the biographical details of my life mean anything, they show the limits of cultural consciousness.


      • Sure, but what about getting a job, which is largely a matter of who you know, who you are in a position to meet, and what impression you make? (i.e. Do prospective employers and contacts think you’re “one of them?”) That’s pretty important.

        Or, for another example, what about the national political dialogue? If some points of view are written off because they come from supposedly ignorant and narrow sources, that’s going to have some effect on policy, right? (As long as “Can I spin this in the press?” is a question politicians ask themselves, it will be.)

        Yes, at any given moment someone either has money or he doesn’t, but people get money from jobs, which are determined (at least to a meaningful extent) by cultural cues.


  3. I also think there is a geographical element to Palin’s “every person” dentity. There is a whole different American identity that has been forged west of the Mississippi, and Alaska (along with a few other libertarian havens in the Mountain West) are symbolic of this regional divide. That’s why whenever I call someone an “east coast elite,” I make sure to emphasize “east coast.”


  4. I think most of this focuses upon the obsession that Americans have with the notion of identifying yourself as “middle class” wheni n fact you’re either extraordinarily rich (and make 10-20x the median household income) or you’re really no better than working class. There’s a pervasive myth in American society that somehow it’s virtuous to be “middle class” while being poor is somehow a sin of sloth and being “upper class” is a sin of vanity.


    • Good point Nob. It’s quite true that Americans have put ‘middle class’ status on a pedestal. I guess it has something to do with our egalitarian dreams at the nation’s founding.

      (Now everyone pile on about how un-equal the Founding Fathers were to the rest of the country)


      • But the middle class is put on a pedestal in part due to a subconscious (but correct) collective notion that it is the backbone of society – that without a robust middle class we veer toward social instability, chaos, economic collapse, etc. So it’s fine to have this tendency, even if it is silly to think our national political leaders will ever be from the middle class.


        • I think the problem is that it’s the MYTH of the “middle class” that’s being peddled not an actual middle class. Because people like Palin are identified as “ordinary, middle class America” (When they are in fact part of something like the top 1% in terms of income and assets) policies that profit them are considered “good for ordinary Americans” while in reality they’re actually undermining many of the basic economic and social institutions that are necessary to keep a healthy middle class.

          An overbroad definition of “middle class” and this myth is extraordinarily problematic because it obfusciates the truth that these people aren’t by any definition of the word middle class.


    • I think you mean ‘stability’ not instability but that’s neither here nor there. I would say that class is inevitable and any attempt to change that will fail. However, a broad middle class is not impossible and is a much more sensible option than attempting to do away with class altogether.


      • Yes – I meant stability.

        Part of the problem is that our old definitions don’t work as well. ‘Working class’ (a subdivision of the old middle class) is now just as likely to mean someone doing administrative work in an office or manning a phone in a call center as it is to mean someone assembling washing machines at GE. The lines are getting blurry and perhaps it’s time to rethink our old class divisions.


  5. Jesus H Christ inna handcart.
    Ross and Reihan and the rest of the soi disant conservo intellectuals pimped Palin as Elle Woods.
    She would have been America’s darling if she had actually the chops to be able to lead.
    She didn’t.
    Shorter Douthat — can’t fake the substrate forevah.


  6. Actually, the Palin’s made $170,000 in 2007, when the national median income was about $50,000. You’re right in that she made more than most Americans, but it was closer to three times the median income, not five.

    I’m no fan of Palin, but, like it or not, the truth of the matter is the Palins are really in the upper middle class tier, and until her entry to politics they got there through labor jobs, not white collar ones. That puts her in the aspirational, if not real, experience of working-class Americans.

    I’m sure they make much more money now. I don’t entirely agree with Douthat, and I hate his columns most of the time because he makes faulty assumptions, but class and culture played a huge role in her appeal. Moreoever, even though poor white people and poor black people have much more in common on a lived level than the Palins do with either of them, they don’t necessarily see it that way. A good Marxist would argue that capitalism as it’s lived in America prevents the kind of class consciousness you write about.


  7. Part of her appeal has been to ramp up perceived cultural differences. She wants “her kind” of people to feel resentful and angry at The Other( liberals, east coast types, you know the type, Americans). That is the nativist trap the Repub’s are in. They accentuate cultural differences, which enrages and energizes some but turns off more. That is why she is so polarizing.


    • Do you really believe that Palin’s supporters hate the “east coast types” more than the east coast types hate them? This resentment runs both ways.

      And don’t give the Conor Friedersdorf response: “Sure, the elites hate the rubes, but the elite’s contempt is okay because they have good reasons!”


      • What is “an east coast type?” I think there are all sorts of people all over the country. I know plenty of people here in Alaska who dislike her. The sneer at the east coast is mostly a silly bit of bigotry. The east coast is just as much a part of the US as every other place. There are actually poor and middle class people on the east coast. There are evangelicals and everything. “East coast type” is a shorthand for something like effete, liberal, not real American. And why do people seem to care about being liked or disliked by people on the east coast?


        • I was on a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard on my honeymoon the day after Bush defeated Kerry in 2004. I overheard a woman say, “How can the rest of the country be so stupid?”

          Now I realize we were in serious liberal country where you can’t throw a frisbee without hitting a Kennedy, but it was an interesting moment. All myths have a little shred of truth in them.


          • Gee mike, i can’t even begin to count how many times I have heard people say they can’t understand how somebody like Obama could be elected. I think I have even heard people say Obama is a dictator or a socialist or that gays are trying to turn all our children gay or blah blah blah.

            One of the odd features of this debate is that when “east coast types” think the country is heading in the wrong direction or elected a twit, that is elitism. However when religious right preachers, for example, say liberals, gays and the ACLU led directly to 911 or that liberals are traitors or whatever the hell else, that somehow isn’t elitism.

            It seems the rule is if liberals dislike something it is elitism, but if conservatives dislike it , then is isn’t.


            • I think there is just as much a sense of elitism in middle America as anywhere else. Even in little Louisville, KY we have our elites we rail against just like everywhere else. But there’s definitley a certain type of elite found on the East Coast…just like there is another type found in Nebraska.


                • So-called “east coast” regional antagonism sounds like “We’re better than they are!”

                  So-called “redneck” regional antagonism sounds like “They think they’re better than us!”

                  It may not be an important distinction, but there it is.

                  (Who remembers this line from Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60? “Your side hates my side because you think we think you’re stupid. My side hates your side because we think you’re stupid.”)


                  • I think Helen makes a good point. Maybe the issue is that these are just basic liberal verses conservative claims. The question then is whether or not it’s fair to characterize the east coast as liberal and middle america as conservative.

                    One of those blue/red electoral maps seem to indicate that IS a fair statement to make.


                    • Except of course for niggling details, like: In the 2000 presidential election, about a third of voters in places like North Dakota and Nebraska voted for Gore, while about a third of them in New York and Massachusetts voted for Bush. And Iowa was split just about down the middle; Ohio wasn’t that far off. So, I mean, it’s totally fair, as long as one out of every three people or more doesn’t count.

                      GOD, NUMBERS. Always making it so hard to justify our sweeping generalizations. How will we blog without our sweeping generalizations?!?


                  • Helen, you’re blind if you don’t think that “redneck antagonism” (to steal your phrase) has a real element of “we’re better than they are.” Remember, they’re the ones that are “real Americans,” “salt of the earth,” virtuous, religious Heartlanders. It’s the old myth about the country being more virtuous than the city. At the same time, “elitist antagonism” wouldn’t have nearly the numbers it does if there wasn’t an element of “What, just because I live in the city/Northeast/ Pacific Coast, they think I’m not virtuous and not a real American?”


                    • I don’t know a single person who thinks NYC is better than North Carolina because they’re antagonized by the “salt of the earth.” Mostly, they just think it’s self-evidently better.


                    • No, because that radically distorts reality. Why should we make a characterization about an entire state or region based on the majority of voters? There are plenty of liberals in Alaska and conservatives in Mass. So what? We are far more diverse then a bi-polar view of the country as red or blue. The electoral college is a system for picking president, how does that connect with making generalizations about how everybody in a certain area thinks or votes. Are you arguing for broad generalizations?

                      I guess we have had a variety of experiences with rural folk. I have met plenty of them who are completely sure they are smarter and better then city or east coast people. In most of the small towns I have met people in they are often just they are more wholesome and American then others.


                    • What Greginak and Moff have said, basically: “There is no such thing as regional culture.”

                      Is that an unfair way to nutshell your argument against “broad generalizations?”

                      If that is in fact your argment, isn’t it kind of dumb? Of course there’s such a thing as Southern culture, or New England culture, or St. Louis culture! Each one can accommodate both liberalism and conservatism, but certainly each one leans in one direction or another.


                    • It’s a totally unfair nutshell, and a silly one, too. Regional culture is, uh, complex. Sure, there’s Southern culture; it comprises a whole host of phenomena, from Antebellum architecture to Nascar to the works of Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor to Waffle House to Goodie Mob to, uh, lynch mobs, and well beyond. If you’re going to argue that to be a Southerner, or a participant in Southern culture, you have to have some kind of interest in all or any of those items, though, I’m going to point you to the title of this post. There is such a thing as regional culture—but it’s awful nebulous, and maybe more appropriately invoked in the writing of travel guides, rather than allegedly serious discussion of the country’s political health.

                      I mean, it’s really useful for politicians to know how the majority of voters lean in a particular region (if there is a majority; again, some regions do not “certainly” lean in either), because politicians tend to deal in propaganda and pandering, and so engage in the sort of behavior that inflames an us-vs.-them mind-set. But since I am of the opinion that, ultimately, the best way to achieve our Maximum Potential as a country and a species is to treat with the questions facing us as honestly as possible—which means recognizing that people just about everywhere are often too complicated to pigeonhole—I’m gonna go ahead and say that, no, arguing against the deployment of sweeping generalizations is not at all dumb. If, however, some happy day our society reaches a point where folks are too slow to jump to conclusions regarding other people they don’t even know, and there is great fear across the land that the American experiment is being brought to a halt because our citizenry is just too darn busy asking if there is more than one, or even more than two sides to every story, I will consider amending my position as it stands today.


      • As a North Dakota native, University of Nebraska graduate, and recent former resident of Manhattan, I feel eminently qualified to aver that there’s very little actual hatred or resentment happening on either side.


  8. Pingback: Elites Can Talk About Class, Gender, Meritocracy and Elitism, But Can They Tap Dance? « Around The Sphere

  9. Helen- No I did not say there is no such thing as regional culture. What I believe is that there are people of the entire range of political beliefs in all parts of the country. Regional cultures are diverse and not easily pigeon holed into a simplistic political dichotomy. There are very old school conservatives in the northeast and liberal parts of the Midwest. It is fair to say there is a split in some ways between rural and non-rural folk, but again that can be overblown. Nor do I like the red/ blue state dichotomy. And values are not simply labeled conservative or liberal.


  10. I am not sure I am buying this, even with the update. I see plenty of problems with Douthat’s analysis. BUt as mentioned above, he clearly states that Palin ROSE from working class roots. And that you can do so without going to Harvard. Which is true. And she didn’t go to Harvard. So…

    More importantly, you say this: “when your car breaks down and you can’t possibly afford to fix it and you can’t work without a car, you learn how desperately irrelevant consciousness becomes.”

    Yes. Sure. But at the same time, when you “make it” either financially or otherwise, and you go to Harvard or you end up at the country cluc clinking glasses with the Smitherspoons and the Winstons and the Thurstons, you also quickly realize that it’s NOT all about money. That there are codes and keys and all sorts of stuff you don’t know. Come on every Rodney Dangerfield movie ever made was essentially about this: Really tacky dude gets rich; people can tell; hilarity ensues.

    Sure. It’s cliche. But it’s also true. Say I get rich somehow and move next door to Paris Hilton. I won’t really get along at her parties. And the fact of the matter is, I probably wouldn’t get invited anyway.

    And sure. Palin played this up to a sickening degree. But her accent and her “aw shucks” persona really DO set her apart from old money. Seriously. Rent a Lamborghini and a $5,000 suit some weekend and go to the Hamptons. I bet you can’t fit in there any more than Ms. Hilton could in her weird “Simple Life” reality adventures. No, it’s not the same as not being able to pay the electric bill. But it’s real.


  11. Helen, You really need to knock that chip off your shoulder.

    Moff is right, while there will always be some snobs, no matter where you go, most people have far too much going on in their own lives to sit around looking down their noses at people in other parts of the country. 99% of the distain you think is directed towards you is simply the product of your own imagination.


  12. Actually what Palin is about is “brand essence.” Her brand is “hating people and things poor white trash hate to get rich and wield power.”


  13. What bothers me about Douthat et al is that they make the
    “hate them, their elitists ” arguments without any basis in reality. You could only argue in good faith that Palin is the up and coming every (wo)man, if you hadn’t been in a coma for the last 8 years. That is the exact same argument they made against Kerry and Gore when their candidate was a Harvard/Yalie with a President as dad. Bush was the anti-everyman. But he fakes a Texas accent and calls his mansion a ranch so he is “real”. Even though Obama is born and raised in Hawaii, lived on food stamps for a while and made all his own money- he is an East Coast Elitist. Just accept it- Conservatives live in a reality free zone. Don’t let them get to you.


  14. Ah, but she hunts and takes her religion with a side of Pentacostalism and wears her hair big and her daughter got knocked up by a guy in the double-wide down the road. This isn’t about class, but about perceived class. Palin glamorizes many of the characteristics that effete, rich liberals allegedly disdain.


  15. I think it’s pretty clear Ross was talking about cultural “class,” not income level. Britney Spears may have millions of dollars, but culturally, she’s of a certain class normally described as White Trash. Palin my have millions and be Governor of Alaska — but she’s still White trash — culturally. It’s not just her upbringing as much as her attitude.

    On top of that, she’s a subset of White Trash, which you can call angry White Trash, a group that thrives on their hatred of liberals.

    This doesn’t have anything to do with income. You can live in a trailer park, but if you like books and have respect for education, you are not White trash. If you live in a mansion and watch reality TV all day, you are probably are.

    Ross is right that Palin was ridiculed, in large part, because of class. But that’s because it’s funny. Someone who thinks she’s qualified to be president because she can see Russia from her house is funny.

    If a university professor became a professional wrestler and in one of those pre-fight I’m-going-to-kill-my-opponent on camera rants spoke with big words and perfect annunciation, it would be comical in its absurdity.

    In the same way, an angry, liberal-hating, moose hunting, Roseanne Barr type, who obviously knows nothing about the issues and are proud of it, running for high office, is absurd.


    • You’re conflating class and incompetence, or intelligence. Claiming that you have foreign policy experience because Russia is nearby has nothing to do with class—it’s just an unbelievably stupid thing to say. If Palin had, on the other hand, say, dressed tacky and openly smoked on camera while issuing syntactically sound diatribes against the Liberal Establishment that made even a modicum of sense—that wouldn’t have been funny; it would have been worrisome.

      Anyway, I don’t recall anyone I spoke to during the election complaining about Palin’s lack of class. They were too busy laughing at the stupid things she said—same with they did with upper-crusters George W. and Dan Quayle.


      • “I don’t hate Palin because she’s low-rent, I hate her because she’s genuinely stupid.”

        This is the whole point, the reason why class is an important idea to wrap your head around in the first place! It’s hard for you to know if the above sentence is true, i.e. if you hate Palin for good reasons or for class-based ones.

        There are certain low-class behaviors that say “moron” to me (i.e. basketball metaphors), but _maybe they wouldn’t if I spoke that language_. Does “I can see Russia from my house” sound dumb? To you, I guess. Does Alaska’s proximity to Russia matter? Yeah — but her answer wasn’t phrased in a way that sounded “smart” to you.

        If you take nothing else out of anti-Palin hysteria, take this: We should all be a little more skeptical about our supposedly rational judgments of other people’s intelligence, because they might be more influenced by class prejudice than we realize.


        • She didn’t actually say “I can see Russia from my house”; Tina Fey did as a parody of her. She said “you can see Russia from Alaska”. Which still sounds dumb as a claim to knowledge about foreign policy.


        • I didn’t say Palin was stupid; I said she said stupid things. I don’t think my opinion there is attributable to unconscious class-consciousness. For one thing, I’ve never thought of the Palins as low-class; I’ve thought of them as upper-middle-class McMansion-y, a rough demographic that would include a big chunk of the people I grew up with—who also, for the record, share the “You betcha” accent with her. I don’t think these people are stupid, by and large (the ratio is about the same as anywhere else I’ve lived). Maybe I’ve been lying to myself all these years, secretly hating my roots and holding so many folks I know in a contempt so silent that even I’m unaware of it, and it took Sarah Palin to bring it to the service. But I kinda doubt it.

          No, I’m calling Palin’s comments stupid because, IMHO, if you know you’re going to be on national television, watched by millions of people, and you already believe that the media isn’t inclined to portray you favorably, then it is not smart not to be able to string together a series of words that either address one or two specific, concrete points or sound so eloquent that you don’t notice their utter lack of content. Palin’s reply to a Couric question re: Russia was:

          We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.

          That neither expands on the salient issue (“How does Alaska’s proximity to Russia correspond specifically to your foreign policy experience, Governor?”) nor sounds pretty enough to distract from its lack of salience. And if a white guy in the Hamptons said it, I’d say the same thing. This is not a case of someone using a different idiom, one that I look down my nose at and dismiss preemptively. This is a case of words being so devoid of both meaningful content and coherent structure that I am forced to conclude they are “marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting.”


          • Well, I for one confess that a lot of my disdain for Palin comes from class-prejudice, but it’s not prejudice against working class or middle class Americans.

            It’s a prejudice against the class of Americans that celebrate ignorance, scapegoat liberals for all of their problems and want to impose their Christian values on the rest of us.

            These attributes are not Palin’s alone — but of a whole class of Americans. And it’s not her personal stupidity. There are lots of dumb people that don’t feel this way.

            Palin came on the national stage declaring an all out culture war on liberals and her obvious tool was to exploit class resentment — the anger of one class against another.

            So I think those of us in this class of Americans that she scapegoats come by our dislike of Palin honestly — the same way Jews dislike antisemites.


            • Yes, yes, I think much of the visceral dislike for Sarah Palin can be traced to the fact that – yep, I’ll say it – liberals are easy punching bags … & many liberals are sick of being lampooned, reviled, made to feel less American.

              But, perceived injustice cuts both ways. If you listen to McCain/Plain voters – like in Alexandria Pelosi’s “Right America Feeling Wronged” – you get the impression that culture warriors on the Right feel the same way. So, in a lot of ways, this is a conversation about, you know, wounded spirits & hurt feelings, which is difficult to address on a level beyond individuals.

              In short, its a vicious cycle – & the explanation that, “they made me a target to score political points because I happen to be born in the northeast, or vote Democratic” really only goes so far …


              • “So, in a lot of ways, this is a conversation about, you know, wounded spirits & hurt feelings, which is difficult to address on a level beyond individuals.”

                I think that’s a false equivalency.

                Liberal “elites” may look down on Palin’s America, but that’s not the same thing as Palin’s America blaming Liberals for everything wrong with this country.

                Liberals may think that Palin’s followers’ religious beliefs are superstitious and silly, but that’s not the same thing as those followers trying to teach creationism in our schools or abstinence only programs.

                To bring back the Jewish analogy: Jews may not have thought very highly of right-wing Germans before WWII, but that’s not the same thing as a group of right-wing Germans forming a party based on blaming the Jews for Germany’s problems.

                You have in Palin’s politics a dangerous demagoguery — hardly equivalent to David Letterman cracking jokes at her expense.


                • I don’t think its a false equivalency.

                  This is perhaps unscientific, but I’d bet you a six-pack of beer that there are plenty of liberal folks who blame our current mess (which is a bad one, by the by) on conservative politicians (George W. Bush & the Republican congress) & the people who voted them … Heck, I do, & I don’t think it’s unwarranted, necessarily.

                  That said, I agree with you that extreme rhetoric & scapegoating is most frighteningly expressed by those on the Right, esp. those who are more militant … I guess I just take issue with the notion there isn’t a sort of maniacal & crazy wing of the American left-liberal community that doesn’t, at least in principle, share the conviction that the other side isn’t just wrong, but dangerous.


                  • I will add, though, that, especially now, the extreme rhetoric on the Right – which used to only be the province of a small, conspiratorial fringe – is now becoming more mainstream (Glenn Back, especially, comes to mind), & that is something to definitely be concerned about.

                    Palin, & her smears about “palling around with terrorists” etc. bears a good deal of responsibility for this.


        • No, Helen..this isn’t about “class”.
          Its about an ancient unkillable demon from the dawn of history, Kylon of Croton….and the myth that all men are created equal. You might remember Kylon as the pissed-off plutocrat that raised a mob of local farmers to protest his failed attempt to get into Pythagoras’ school for rulers by chopping up the teachers with scythes and burning down the school.
          This is about the aristoi versus the commoners, the NYFs (noble yeoman farmers, as Thom Jefferson termed them).
          Or elitists vs populists.
          The truth being, the NYFs don’t have teh substrate to be Jefferson’s “natural aristocracy.”
          It continues to amaze me that populists cite Jefferson as their idealogical patron, when “natural aristocracy” is a clear reference to genetic (talent) and memetic (virtue) inheritance.
          Douthat’s Jackson reference is riddickulous as well….Andy Jackson would have told Palin to go home and take care of her children and he would have shot Glenn Beck on sight as a dirty treasonous seccessionist.
          The founders and framers were all elites.
          They had to be.


  16. Not to fall into the Elite/”Real American” dichotomy that’s being thrown around here (except maybe to flip it a bit), but, in all my dealings with Palin supporters – especially religiously conservative ones – they’re the ones who tend to think their culture is the superior one. The whole Palin part of McCain’s campaign was about stressing the cultural & moral superiority of so-called Right-wing, libertarian, Christian values (& I say “so-called” because a lot of it was pure, self-aggrandizing stereotyping). I mean, the notion that being able to kill & field dress a Moose somehow makes you better than, well, me (east coast, likes NPR, calls AAA when I get a flat tire, etc.) or any of my peers was a notion I heard a lot in the run up to the election. Hell, conservative, evangelical Christianity – at it’s core – is an exercise in vanity (towards one’s own salvation) & schadenfreude (towards the lost & the damned) …

    … & to be frank, I see a lot of my liberal peers privilege or give tacit approval to the notion that there is something more real about mid-western, or southern, or, gosh, rural folks, or whomever it is we’re actually talking about. We root for McCloud, or Rodney Dangerfield, when “hilarity ensues” …

    I just think its important to not lose sight of the fact that elitism can cut both ways, & in Palin’s case, it’s vital to see how she gives her supporters fodder to believe they’re the elites, the only real Americans.


  17. Sarah Palin represents the triumph of identity politics among those who claim to hate it most.

    Freddie had it right the first time – “people love Sarah Palin because she hates the right people and the right things.” It’s worth asking – what is it those who would elect Palin think they’re getting besides someone who will stick it to the liberal elites? After they’ve stuck it to their enemies – what then? Exactly how do the policies favored by Sarah Palin improve her supporters’ lot in life? She makes them feel better about themselves, fine; but shall the policies she favors mean they won’t have to choose between paying the food bill and the phone bill?

    Or do we say, well, that’s really not part of this discussion? If so, that’s my own problem with Sarah Palin, and her fans.


    • I certainly agree about the identity politics but I think there’s something to consider in our diverse democracy and that is the idea that representation matters. We don’t just vote directly on laws and issues then turn the matter over to faceless bureaucrats to enact our will. No, we elect people, leaders.

      Some people want a leader who will give them what they want. Some people want a leader who looks like them. Some people want a leader who has qualities they admire.

      That said, I think it’s fair to assume that the policies Sarah Palin won’t help improve the quality of life for a great number of her supporters. Doesn’t mean that’s the only metric of value.


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  19. Class isn’t about income. You start from the wrong premises and arrive, unsurprisingly, at the wrong conclusions. Paul Fussell’s book Class although written, I believe, in the early 80s, offers the best explanation of the Palin phenomenon. The Palins are obviously proles, and the upper middle class and the middle class both react strongly against that. It’s not an issue of wealth vs. poverty/struggling or left vs. right or religious vs. non-religious or even elite vs. non-elite (since Palin is among the prole elite). The reasons people on the left disliked Palin was precisely the cultural markers you dismiss – not her income.


  20. Another interesting discussion of class in America is the public TV show “People Like Us”, which comes down heavily on the “cultural cues” side of the argument rather than the money side of things. There are some hilarious interviews with impoverished WASPs that kind of settle the debate once and for all.


  21. I’m a bit late to this thread, having been enjoying some time off, and only encountering Ross’s column in the daily rag. (Yes, I still read newspapers in dead tree form). What struck me about Ross’ column are two things.
    First, it seems as though Douthat were struggling mightily to find something nice to say about Sarah Palin–he damns her with faint praise throughout the column, interspersed with a few bits of qualified condemnation. It’s as though Ross knows she’s completely and utterly unqualified for high public office (including her current gig), but can’t say it…yet. My expectation is that within a few months, the GOP establishment, including nationally-relevant pundits like Ross, will have thrown her under the bus completely (they are waiting for a shoe to drop); and by the end of the year, she’ll be off the political radar completely. A Nixon-like comeback is possible, but it will take at least a couple of Presidential terms, and a major, Vietnam-sized screwup by the Dems.
    The second thing has little to do with Palin in particular. Ross offered up Obama as an example of meritocracy in action; a point which I have little quibble with; and offered Palin as a specimen of “democratic” ideals, someone rising to prominence despite the lack of inherent advantages. What advantage, specifically? Apparently, an Ivy League education/pedigree.
    Much hay was made during the election that Obama was an elitist Ivy League liberal, yadda yadda. I don’t recall any criticism of Palin on the basis that she lacked same–her education was questioned somewhat, but not because she graduated from a WAC school. That said, Ross is onto something–the past four Presidents have Ivy League backgrounds (either Harvard or Yale), and the Supreme Court is dominated by Ivys. I see no evidence that the public at large demands an Ivy League education–so what then, is up?
    Pedigree is, I suspect, important in Beltway political culture–and it certainly is important in the profession of law and in the halls of Wall Street, both of which provide politics with much of its talent. In my line of work (computer programming), it matters far less–like Palin, I attended a west coast land grant university (Oregon State in my case) widely perceived as a “cow college”; yet this doesn’t hold me back in my profession. But were I a graduate of the University of Oregon law school; it would be almost a certainty that I would never serve on the Court.
    In short, Douthat has identified a real problem in our political culture. At least its a problem if you assume, as I do, that an Ivy education isn’t so vastly superior as to justify such a distrition–the fact that an ignoramus like George W. Bush possesses a degree from Yale would suggest otherwise. But it isn’t so much a problem with voters as it is a problem with certain realms outside politics. And it certainly isn’t a partisan issue.


    • Noah gotz the 411.
      It isn’t class….its elites in a meritocracy.
      Palin represented the impossible dream for Douthat….a commoner that could lead.
      There are many components to l33tness….IQ is an important one. But once an individual is upper right tail, they are automatically elite.
      The cake is a lie.


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  23. I found the above discussion about whether Sarah Palin’s popularity has to do with social class to be sociologically ignorant and framed incorrectly.

    There are two middle classes in the U.S. — the Old Business Class and the New Class (Orwell) of intellectuals, media types, professionals and paraprofessionals (nurses, social workers, teachers).

    The New Class professionals no longer fight our wars, rescue people trapped in burning high rise buildings, build our infrastructure, aspire to be a middle manager at Wal-Mart, risk failure as business entrepreneurs, or start new voluntary associations such as churches. And they bear, rear, adopt or foster children much less than the working class, having given up or delayed parenthood for a professional career. In the main they are not doers. They are whiners, talkers, techies, coddlers, evaluators, lobbyists, therapists, and media spinners who largely depend on government regulations, licenses, or monopolies for their livelihoods.

    The New or Professional Class has high social status. They hold many prestigious public or private offices like the character the Grand Pooh-Bah in Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera The Mikado who bears the title “Lord-High-Of-Everything-Else.” They are the Pooh-Bah class, not the doing class.

    Is Palin’s so-called “anti-intellectualism” or lack of aristocratic status a Republican problem which alienates the professional classes? Maybe it is. But given that the professional class is so dependent on the government regulatory system is it any wonder that Republicans may consider them a lost constituency, investment bankers included. To the contrary, isn’t the real problem the resentment of the “doing class” to the attack on them by the professions and government?

    All the past political campaign rhetoric about the “racism without racists” and the “Bradley effect”on Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama and the “class warfare card” of Sarah Palin only confuses and twists the issue of the attack on the working class with the false issues of racism, discrimination, mob populism, and social class populism.

    The public issues of immediate concern to the “doing class” currently being re-framed as hidden racism, discrimination, intellectual regression and social class populism are: sub-prime mortgages to lower income minorities and immigrants which now threaten retirement investments, the vote on same-sex marriage laws in California which threaten working class family values, and the qualifications of a Black president who is perceived to have a track record of doing little to nothing but has been advanced to where he is largely due to affirmative action, transgressing the old work ethic of the working class.

    To mischaracterize these issues in terms of race as another New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, does; or as anti-intellectualism as David Brooks does; or as social class populism as Ross Douthat does, or as lack of aristocratic class or status is to misunderstand what is going on. To use an intellectual’s term it is “false consciousness.”

    Underlying all of the above issues is the premise that parents are entitled to hand on to their children the benefits of their class position and social mobility, including their property wealth, investments, and religious values. It is a concern about achieved social status versus ascribed social status by “accident of birth.” Modern American society has traditionally been modeled around achievement and merit; individualism over collectivism.

    But counter-modernizing social and legal movements have created a “soft” society of automatic promoting schools, union jobs and affirmative action as quasi property rights, and affordable housing via sub-prime loans to combat the “hardness” of competitive capitalism. The state, not the market, is the redemptive dispenser of this welfare “American dream” of feeling “at home” in all areas of social involvement (“it takes a village”). Conversely, President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act” is an attempt to inject competition back into public schools where the professional culture is antagonistic to its harshness. Obviously, a pre-emptive war of choice does not fit in to this utopian welfare vision of the American Dream; thus, the “unpopulism” of the Iraq War.

    This shift from achievement to ascription and social privilege challenges the social class opportunity system that has made the U.S. unique and enviable to all, despite its flaws. The reforms of the New Deal, however imperfect, were never intended to undermine the class system but to provide a “floor” to it. The put down of Sarah Palin as a racist or anti-intellectual or an icon of the great unwashed working class signals the call for a minimizing, if not ending, the “open society” of prosperity and entrepreneurial opportunity that have been a part of the class system of American society.

    Under the newer welfare system based on ascribed rather than achieved status the life chances of the individual are tied to whatever collectivity to which they are defined as primarily belonging. Under such a system it will matter less what individuals do than what they are; or what somebody officially attributes them to be (e.g., underprivileged, gay, homeless, union member, victim, etc). This begs the question: who will do the allocating of such status? It will be professionals together with government. It is thus little wonder then that professionals see Sarah Palin as a backward threat to the reforms of racial equality brought about by the Progressive intellectual establishment and liberal religion. It is also why Indian-British novelist and intellectual Salman Rushdie has called the pick of Sarah Palin for Vice-President “a joke.” Such utterances are a reflection of class contempt and solidarity at the doing class.

    What was at stake with the recent past election was not that Sarah Palin is racist or anti-intellectual or low class or never will be allowed social status by the media elites, but whether we want to end or marginalize our highly successful, albeit imperfect, open social class system. To do this would ultimately entail total control over each person’s life chances (e.g., their place of living, housing affordability, their investments, their value system, their health habits, etc.). The prospect of benign totalitarianism that such a shift would entail is not very appealing, especially to the doing class. That is why class warfare rhetoric has found fertile ground in the past national Presidential race; not because of racism, backward thinking, social status, or mob populism.
    See Peter L. Berger and Brigitte Berger, The Assault on Class, Worldview (July, 1972).


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