10/18/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

I've Seen This Sort of Movie Before

A further reflection on comments made by Palin devotees appearing in a Marc Fisher column in the Washington Post on September 11 (and noted in my last week's posting).

Fisher quotes one woman as saying, "I know people who have experience and are totally incompetent," and another noting, "She's a courageous woman, and what she doesn't know she can learn quickly. Let's face it, no one knows all the issues."

This notion of the courageous outsider, not knowing much, but challenging entrenched elites (political, corporate, etc.) with nothing more than grit and conviction, is a derivative of our national narrative. As such, it is a staple of our popular culture, with variations on this theme forming the story line of movies going back to the 1930s. It was, for example, the plot line in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Meet John Doe. More recently it played out in Dave, Head of State, King Ralph, Trading Places, Big, Working Girl, Secret of My Success, and on and on.

What's interesting here is that, while the Palin story tracks this narrative, it does so with a perverse twist. The subtext of the above-mentioned films is not just outsiders challenging elites, but outsiders whose innate virtue enables them to successfully challenge corrupt elites on behalf of the common good. For example, in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, our hero Jimmy Stewart fights corrupt corporate and political elites to save a Boy Scout camp. Substitute Palin in the picture with her party's "Drill baby, drill!" mindset, and those Boy Scouts would have to look elsewhere -- because she would be coming to Washington to serve the very elites that the Mr. Smiths of popular imagination put to shame.