Ross Douthat is trying to muscle in on Bill Kristol territory, turning Sarah Palin into a Lesson For Us All:
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.
Here are lessons of the Sarah Palin experience, for any aspiring politician who shares her background and her sex. Your children will go through the tabloid wringer. Your religion will be mocked and misrepresented. Your political record will be distorted, to better parody your family and your faith. (And no, gentle reader, Palin did not insist on abstinence-only sex education, slash funds for special-needs children or inject creationism into public schools.)
Male commentators will attack you for parading your children. Female commentators will attack you for not staying home with them. You’ll be sneered at for how you talk and how many colleges you attended. You’ll endure gibes about your “slutty” looks and your “white trash concupiscence,” while a prominent female academic declares that your “greatest hypocrisy” is the “pretense” that you’re a woman. And eight months after the election, the professionals who pressed you into the service of a gimmicky, dreary, idea-free campaign will still be blaming you for their defeat.
There are two things happening here. First, Douthat is going through the same process that the right-wing blogosphere went through last month when they realized that misogyny exists. This would be more convincing on Douthat’s part in particular if he wasn’t old enough to remember the entirety of the Clinton era, from allegations that Hillary Clinton was a man, a lesbian, a murderer, a communist, staging a secret takeover of the government and right behind you with a knife. It’s emblematic of the ability to so thoroughly dehumanize one’s opposition that the things which happened to them didn’t and couldn’t have happened to actual, you know, people.
The second is that every single thing he describes overlaps 100% with the experience of pretty much every Democratic presidential candidate since, er…ever, maybe? It’s a checklist of a Republican general election strategy. Ask John Kerry or Barack Obama if their religion has been mocked and misrepresented. Ask the Clintons if their child has been pulled into the public spotlight and mocked, or if they’ve been derided as “white trash”. Ask Michael Dukakis or Al Gore if their political records have been distorted unfairly. Ask any of them if their records of college attendance have been slammed, if their parenting and marital skills have been demeaned, if their gender and their ability to function as “real” men or women have been questioned.
The answer to every single one of those questions is unequivocally “yes”. The real story of Palin isn’t that she was treated so shabbily, it’s that she cut a ridiculous enough figure as a prominent Republican that the media finally felt comfortable treating her the same way they would a Democrat. Yes, it’s problematic and terrible, but if Democrats could get off with only a few months of being treated like shit as opposed to the current two decades running for the Clintons, it would be a quantum leap forward for our democracy.