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Leah Anthony Libresco Headshot

Sarah Palin's Gut is Making Me Sick

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I never thought I'd miss Bill Kristol. And his successor, Ross Douthat, isn't giving me the chance.

When Palin's cheerleader-in-chief left the op-ed pages of The New York Times, I hoped that the new conservative columnist might make my Monday mornings a little less full of indignation, but now I'm starting to wonder.

In Monday's column, Ross Douthat looks at Palin's high unfavorable ratings (44 percent in a recent Pew poll) and manages to tease out a silver lining: among Americans without a college education, her approval ratings peak at 48 percent. Douthat doesn't linger on the fact that, even among this subpopulation, Palin's approval is shy of a majority, let alone a mandate. Instead he prefers to focus on the 'crucial' significance of Palin's popularity among citizens without a college education.

According to Douthat:

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...

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.

But her unhappy sojourn on the national stage has had a different moral: Don't even think about it.

It's understandable that in the aftermath of the Bush presidency, Douthat got a little confused about how the old "anyone can grow up to be president" line works. Douthat has added a fairly inconsequential clause "without graduating from Columbia and Harvard," while dropping an important one.

Perhaps he forgot, but when our parents and teachers and anyone else who wanted to inspire us told us that we, too, could be president, they included the phrase that Douthat neglected "if you work hard enough, you can grow up to be president."

It's an idea that no one seems to have passed on to Palin, who touts her inexperience as a qualification and never refrains from attacking academics for presuming that their studies are relevant to policy. She comes off not just anti-intellectual but anti-knowledge as well. These attitudes are not actually a prerequisite for populist appeal.

During the 2008 Republican primary, Huckabee, who also tried to frame himself as a Republican populist made gaffe after gaffe on foreign policy after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Eventually, an aide admitted that the governor had been unprepared to discuss the issue and that he would refrain from further comment until he was "briefed and up to speed."

While Huckabee owned up to being under-prepared, Palin appears to feel no corresponding sense of shame. After her disastrous performance with Katie Couric, there was never a sense that the Palin camp recognized the interview as a failure.

The oft-cited talking point accusing the media of 'playing gotcha' is meant to obscure Palin's stumbles, but, in actuality, it brings a worrying point of view to light. By dismissing the media's assessment of her, Palin dismisses their entire metric for evaluation, without providing an alternative framework for determining merit, or, if we are presume to judge her, the criteria is once again decisiveness, rather than the rightness of her decisions.

After her nomination, Palin supporter Nicholas Guariglia, an editor for Family Security Matters wrote:

We should ask ourselves what it was, exactly, that thwarted the intelligent kid in class from being in with the "in crowd." What was it that the cool kids knew that the nerdy kids didn't?

...In short, why is it that we differentiate between "doers" and "thinkers" and are inclined to have greater confidence in someone who doesn't over-analyze and over-think about a problem for long?

The answer is moxy [sic]. Guts. Backbone. The kind of quiet self-confidence and swagger that comes with a record of accomplishment and assuredness in one's own instinct.

An appeal to the prejudices of high schoolers? I won't even try to understand the element of self-loathing as Douthat (Harvard) and Kristol (also Harvard) stumble over each other to denounce their alma mater and its mission, but I would have thought that after eight years of Bush's 'gut instinct,' these two conservatives might have realized the danger in dismissing the value of thinkers.

Instead, both Douthat and Kristol still seem to be living in a reality of their own making, just like Bush and Palin. On Fox News Sunday, when Kristol was asked for his assessment of Palin's future, he said simply, "She's really just getting out there and it's going to depend on her talents and abilities."

Kristol's right; in a functioning democracy, Palin ought to be judged on her merits. But he is trying to rewrite history, forgetting that Palin's resignation does not wipe the slate clean. The American people have seen plenty of evidence regarding Palin's 'talents and abilities' and this bizarre resignation is just one more corroborating observation. Palin's 'don't blink, don't think' philosophy won't fly in the wake of the Bush's disastrous 'gut checks.'

So, while Palin takes off to spend more time with her family, here's hoping Kristol and Douthat will find the time to see a gastroenterologist, so they can sort out their own problems with their guts.