When Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin announced her resignation two weeks ago it was after a series of strange, petty bouts with her detractors. Many "frivolous ethics violations" had been alleged against her, she noted. David Letterman had told an ugly joke about her daughter. A blogger had posted something that was probably not true. Someone had photoshopped a radio talker's face onto a picture of her baby -- a "malicious desecration" of the image, in the words of Ms. Palin's spokeswoman.
Team Palin got duly indignant at each of these. They took special, detailed offense. They issued statements magnifying their wounds. And, finally, the governor resigned her office, a good woman cruelly wronged.
The culture's fantastically unfair treatment of middle Americans is the main lesson that many will no doubt take away from Ms. Palin's time in the national spotlight. In fact, it may be the only lesson. We don't really know where the former vice presidential candidate stands on most issues. We know only that she is constantly being maligned, that when we turn on the TV and see her fair face beaming, we are about to hear that some liberal someone has slurred this noble lady yet again.
Indeed, if political figures stand for ideas, victimization is what Ms. Palin is all about. It is her brand, her myth. Ronald Reagan stood tall. John McCain was about service. Barack Obama has hope. Sarah Palin is a collector of grievances. She runs for high office by griping.
This is no small thing, mind you. The piling-up of petty complaints is an important aspect of conservative movement culture. For those who believe that American life consists of the trampling of Middle America by the "elites" -- that our culture is one big insult to the pious and the patriotic and the traditional -- Sarah Palin's long list of unfair and disrespectful treatment is one of her most attractive features. Like Oliver North, Robert Bork, and Clarence Thomas, she is known not for her ideas but as a martyr, a symbol of the culture-war crimes of the left.
To become a symbol of this stature Ms. Palin has had to do the opposite of most public figures. Where others learn to take hostility in stride, she and her fans have developed the thinnest of skins. They find offense in the most harmless remarks and diabolical calculation in the inflections of the anchorman's voice. They take insults out of context to make them seem even more insulting. They pay close attention to voices that are ordinarily ignored, relishing every blogger's sneer, every celebrity's slight, every crazy Internet rumor.
This has been Ms. Palin's assigned role ever since she stepped on the national stage last summer. Indeed, she has stuck to it so unswervingly that one suspects it was settled on even before she was picked for the VP slot, that it was imposed on her by a roomful of GOP image consultants: Ms. Palin was to be the candidate on a cross.
Resentment was, for example, the most-noticed theme in her famous speech at the Republican convention in September, when she introduced herself to America by taking umbrage at those Democrats who "seem to look down on" small-town ways. Before long she had become a full-time victim of the media, deploring "the bitter shots" they took at her. She imagined that reporters were threatening her First Amendment rights by criticizing her. She found a fellow underdog in Joe the Plumber, and after reviewing his mistreatment by the media she made him part of her stump routine.
But the template was apparently set even before her big roll-out. In an essay in The Weekly Standard that was written before Ms. Palin's celebrated debut in St. Paul, William Kristol somehow already knew that liberals "will ridicule her and patronize her. They will distort her words and caricature her biography. They will appeal, sometimes explicitly, to anti-small town and anti-religious prejudice." And all this contempt will serve an important propaganda purpose, he continued, with Ms. Palin becoming a "powerful symbol" for "lots of Americans who are told every day that to be even a bit conservative or Christian or old-fashioned is bad form."
Mr. Kristol's magazine has beat the persecution drum ever since. Its current issue features a cover story about Ms. Palin's suffering by Matthew Continetti, who is actually said to be writing a book titled, "The Persecution of Sarah Palin." In the course of Mr. Continetti's essay he admits to collecting insults of Ms. Palin, which he stores in a computer file that he says is seven pages long.
My advice to Mr. Continetti: Put your insult collection aside for a moment and ask instead why people like Ms. Palin savor insults in the first place. The answer may not endear you to Weekly Standard readers, but it will take you a lot further toward understanding the world we live in.
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