Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ernest Gruening: war veteran, former editor of The Nation magazine, and Franklin Roosevelt's nominee for governorship of the then-territory of Alaska in 1939. Having held that post for 14 years, he was elected to the United States Senate for the transition period of Alaskan statehood and went on to hold the seat for a decade. He is best-known to posterity as having cast one of only two Senate votes against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and also for introducing a resolution to establish a nationwide 911 emergency number. (Article continued below...)
This brief historical reflection takes care of the lazy charge, made by Matthew Continetti in his new book, The Persecution of Sarah Palin,that liberal dislike of his heroine is no more than "a distaste for those who hail from outside America's coastal metropolises; a revulsion toward people who do not aspire to adopt the norms, values, politics, and attitudes of the Eastern cultural elite." Gruening's career also illustrates the major difference between a solid résumé and a perilously emaciated one.
But the problem with populism is not just that it stirs prejudice against the "big cities" where most Americans actually live, or against the academies where many of them would like to send their children. No, the difficulty with populism is that it exploits the very "people" to whose grievances it claims to give vent.
Look at the charges that surfaced against Palin during the past election, and then look at how they played out. It was alleged that she was a member or supporter of the Alaska Independence Party (AIP); that she had been an endorser of Pat Buchanan's "Reform" Party candidacy in 2000; that she was a skeptic about man-made global warming; that she thought God was on our side in Iraq; that she favored the teaching of creationism in schools; that she attended a wacko church where exorcism of witches was enthusiastically celebrated. Later fact-checking modified a number of these allegations—Continetti is on better ground here—and we can now say that Palin did no more than attend a couple of conventions of the AIP, of which her husband was a member, and send it one friendly video message while she was governor of the state in question. It further turns out that she attended that Buchanan rally, wearing a pro-Buchanan button, only because she thought it was the polite thing to do. As for Iraq, all she meant was that she hoped God would be on our side, or we on his. On global warming she now splits the difference: it could be cyclical or it could be man-made. As for the theory of evolution, the most she really asks is that both sides of the discussion be taught. (On the witch-exorcism stuff, not even her stoutest apologists have been able to help her out: it's all on YouTube, as is the quasi-coherent speech with which she bid farewell to her governorship without a word of warning to her voters or backers. I would urge you to scan both links and see if they don't make you feel suddenly much more elitist.)
So there it is: anti-Washington except that she thirsts for it, and close enough (and also far enough away to be "deniable") to the paranoid fringe elements who darkly suspect that our president is a Kenyan communist. If you object to Kenyans interfering in the internal affairs of these United States, you really ought to raise an eyebrow at a candidate for the governorship of Alaska who accepts anointment from "Bishop" Thomas Muthee, a weird person who claims that witch removal in his Kenyan parish led to a reduction in crime, booze, and traffic violations. (Article continued below...)