Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Palin and (Economic) Viagra

Actually, two different points:

1. First off, let me apologize for putting Palin and Sanford in the same category. I’m all for her "family values" even now, and I’m somewhat amazed that Sanford is going to survive as governor. The one who should have resigned didn’t and... The Ross D. distinction that Julie discusses below between the meritocratic Obama and the democratic Palin makes no sense to me. They’re both are pretty much self-made; they’re both American meritocratic success stories. Now Palin does stand for balancing ruthlessly meritocratic considerations with love. For example: It’s good that Bristol has the baby, although she will get in the way of her education. But the president, truth to tell, seems like a decent family person too. And both the First Dude and the First Lady have solid records as supportive spouses. It’s also true that Palin stands for people who actually work for a living vs. those who think themselves above that sort of thing because of their privileged Ivy education--and so who confuse (as I do in my own case) playing with words with work. She stands against cultural elitism, but not against competition and success. And she’s certainly no low-tech front porch republican (which is why literary conservatives hate her too).

2. The calls for another stimulus package really do present dilemmas for Democrats. They have to say something like: You haven’t given the first one enough time, but we really, really need another. That sounds like the beginnings of addiction to a stimulating drug to me.

Discussions - 13 Comments

Peter,

I think Douthat makes a relevant distinction, however confusing the terminology. While Obama certainly comes from unusual (if not entirely unprivileged) circumstances, in some sense, with his Ivy background, he is entirely conventional for the governing elite. Palin, by contrast, with her modest roots and education, never really rubbed shoulders with the nation's Bright Young Things. Obama started in mundane circumstances but soon rose above them, as should occur for a bright person in a meritocracy. Palin shows that even a rather conventional person leading a conventional life can also reach (almost) the heights of governing. If Obama shows that anyone can become an elite and govern, a victory of meritocracy, Palin shows that the average "unelite" person can govern, which means we don't really need an Ivy League elite to govern us, a victory for democracy.

Jon, Still confused, because you're inconsistent on whether elite=merit. Why isn't the victory for democracy also a victory for meritocracy? Palin isn't with the elite but certainly not lacking in merit=political skill etc.

My problem with Douthat's distinction between the "democratic" ideal and the "meritocratic" ideal is that it is too fixed. It seems to suggest that the meritocracy must always come from (or, rather, through) one source (he's especially keen on the Ivys). It seems to suggest method rather than ends. In other words, the way you judge the meritocracy is to look at the gauntlet through which they've run rather than to look at the end result in the character and deeds of the men. This ignores all the unworthies who manage, somehow, to run his gauntlet and it also ignores the potential for merit springing from other sources. Thus, a worthy from Wasilla (if she is one, I'm open to the possibility that she is not) is judged a democratic ideal rather than a meritocratic ideal. But it remains unclear to me whether Douthat meant to describe common perception or his own notions about the distinction between a democratic and a meritocratic ideal.

well said, julie...

Douthat is making a distinction, although it may be a distinction without a difference. Julie is correct that he largely defines merit as a process. The distinction is whether leaders may come from anywhere (Obama) or whether they can actually be, right now, from anywhere (Palin). Douthat's critique seems to suggest that the scorn heaped on Palin is the result of not bothering to do what is necessary to the join a club. She did not go to the right schools, does not go to the right parties in New York and Washington, has not ingratiated herself to the "beautiful people" who decide who is worthy and who is not. Conceivably, she could win a Senate seat, hobnob with the powers-that-be of Washington/New York and then earn their respect. But as long as she insists on living in Alaska and living as Alaskan's do, she is persona non grata. This reflects a contempt for the demos on the part of the beautiful people. Palin may have certain skills/merits, but to the gatekeepers it is not enough to have political skills, or policy savvy, etc. The import thing is that you go through the initiation rights to their club (i.e., right schools, right friends, right experiences, etc.). This is how someone like Joe Biden, who is at least as stupid as Sara Palin, can get the reputation of a sober statesman while Palin is the village idiot. While coming from rather humble beginnings and going to non-elite schools, he spent the better part of three decades shmoozing the right people as a US Senator. As I say, it depends on how one defines merit. Heck, one could say a monarch "merits" the crown by being born to the right family.

This is confusing because in the American context the concepts (merit vs. democracy) are closely related and may be flip side to the same coin.

I see no evidence that Palin has "political skill" in any meaningful sense, as Peter puts it. She couldn't communicate in an unambiguous way her reasons for resigning a position of public trust. The ambiguity is striking - not even her supporters got the point.

She may have some ideas that people find congenial, as Julie puts it below, but merely having ideas is not political skill, if you do not know how to communicate them.

She is certainly popular in some sense, but that's not evidence of political skill, just evidence of celebrity status.

She has a certain identity or public image, but that's not evidence of political skill. She's moderately good at being a celebrity, and she has had some electoral success, but that appears to be about it. Is there any evidence that she has more? (I'm serious - I just don't see it.)

I don't think you need to be a "gatekeeper" to believe that.

I think Jon S. says it very well . . . but I remain open to the possibility that these are not exactly Douthat's views on the matter but, rather, a description of the world's perceptions as he sees them actually being right now. I hope that is the case, anyway.

I would note that it is now 5 days after her announcement and she is still being talked about and all you intelligentsia-istas still can't figure out what she pulled off with her undecipherable (to you) speech.


"No political skills" my you know what.

Poltical meritocracy, as the term is commonly used in American public discourse, indicates a certain background. An Ivy education is a neccessary but not sufficient part of it. It has nothing to do with mere electoral success. Bush's winning two elections and graduating from Yale was insufficient to elevate him to its ranks, hence the hostile reaction to him by the "meritocracy". He "wasn't one of us".

John M.akes a good point about how ambiguous a term meritocracy can be and its ideological and stylisitc dimensions - though those are not always decisive. Bush was not a member but Al gore was. The way that Bush got at least his first Ivy League degree (I'm not sure he or John Kerry would probabably have gotten in today), his overt southern style, and conservatism would all be strikes against him.

On the other hand I think that John Roberts is a member in good cultural standing of that Ivy League meritocracy.

The discussion reminds me of Jefferson-Adams on the natural vs artificial aristocracy -- a discussion in which Adams goes deeper than TJ, it seems to me. It would be good to hear from Richard Samuelson.

Obama a decent parent? It remains to be seen how a parent who took his daughters to Jeremiah Wright's church could be so regarded as decent. More like a sacrifice of his daughters' spiritual formation to his political ambition.

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