In the thread below Steve’s link to the WSJ’s excellent column on the Sarah Palin resignation, Kate--quite rightly--links to another fine column by Ross Douthat in the New York Times. Douthat argues that--in retrospect--Palin, when asked to run with McCain, should have said "no." I think this is certainly right. And his description of the events that followed because she said "yes" is illuminating and ought to be more chastening than they are likely to be to those who jumped on the anti-Palin bandwagon.
But this is democratic politics we’re talking about and there has never been any danger of that exercise turning into something one could describe as "fair" to all participants. Still, one can’t help but be a bit disgusted at the reflection of ourselves that the Palin trashing has given us. Douthat does a pretty fair job of detailing all the ugly threads of bias and unthinking dismissal that it has exposed in our collective "discourse." But I think it is probably fair to conclude that in the future, sane potential politicians (especially female ones with young children still at home) will be (and certainly should be) chastened by what happened to Palin and by the choices she made in light of it.
It is too late for Palin to undo the choices she made and it may be too late for her to change the trajectory of her political career (though, maybe not)--but her story does point to some timeless facts about nature, human nature, and problems of earthly realities that no modern ideology can extinguish. None of this is to suggest that we are forever bound like rocks by these realities or that there is no working around them to make life more satisfactory and fulfilling for all parties. A woman’s nature has competing realities, after all. I would never argue (it would be absurd for me to argue) that women and mothers should not enter into politics--especially in today’s world. But pretending that these essential differences don’t exist or, worse, that they don’t exist "for me" is a dangerous game. The limitations they impose on (or, to be more positive, the possibilities that they suggest for) any particular woman will be as varied as the women themselves. But, again, ignoring these things is just silly.
Douthat’s column is excellent. But I detect in him a little more surprise at how it turned out and an injection of more meaning in it than I have given it or would give it. For example, does this really mean "that the old American aphorism about how anyone can grow up to be president" might not actually be true? And is there necessarily a distinction between what he calls a meritocratic and that democratic ideal? Note this paragraph:
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.
Is any of this really true? One of my biggest problems with the whole Palin phenomenon was the apparent distinction that so many wanted to draw between a populist American hero from the backwoods and the intelligent and reflective Ivy-League sophisticate competing for the affections of the American people. For those looking for a ready-made Hollywood script about American politics, Palin and Obama seemed to play out those roles to a tee. Admittedly, Obama had the added benefit of being able to claim he had a toe in both camps. But so much of what goes on in Hollywood--to say nothing of American history and politics--is not what it seems. In a real democratic meritocracy, the questions before voters would not be "What is your background?" or "What schools did you attend?" or "With what partition of the American electorate do you most identify?" The real questions of merit have to do with how one understands the nature and purpose of the American Republic and one’s ability and fortitude in executing that understanding within the Constitutional limits of the Presidency.
Sadly, we didn’t get to that part of the movie with the cast we had in the last election.