Having earlier defended Ross’s latest column against some of his more ludicrous critics, I want to take issue with its takeaway message, which I think ends up being discordant with the note on which he begins. Here’s the kicker:
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.
But reaching such a moral would be a bit quick, wouldn’t it? After all, Ross himself begins his column by suggesting that it would have been good for Palin’s long-term political trajectory if she’d declined John McCain’s offer and delayed her rise to national prominence by an election cycle or two, and he also makes the point that the personality that the McCain campaign crafted for Palin turned out not to be an especially appealing one, and that Palin’s “missteps, scandals, dreadful interviews and self-pitying monologues” led her to botch the role that her circumstances had put her in. Indeed, this is the very point of proposing that “She should have said no” would make an appropriate epitaph for the soon-to-be-ex-governor’s political career; the idea is that if Palin had played her cards differently, then maybe she wouldn’t have ended up a national laughingstock whose once-rising trajectory now appears to be meteoric in the astronomically proper sense.
If this analysis of the Saga of Palin is accurate, though, then it seems that the appropriate morals for would-be presidents from humble backgrounds would be cautionary rather than defeatist: bide your time; make sure you put your best face forward; keep up with the news and study the issues long before you’re called to speak out on them; and please, please make sure you’re sufficiently on top of things to handle a one-on-one with Katie Couric. For a candidate thus prepared, an “average” background and some all-around folksiness can turn out to be an advantage, notwithstanding whatever sneering mockery is bound in any case to come your way, and it’s up to you to maximize your political gifts and do what it takes to prove that aphorism right.
This is not, however, to agree with Conor that the level of criticism that Sarah Palin had to bear was anything short of extraordinary, or that the only reason the punditry laid into her was that she was so evidently inept and unqualified. To be sure, she was those things, and there’s no disputing the ruthlessness of American politics, but the particular varieties of scorn heaped on Palin by perfectly mainstream figures were like something out of an over-the-top movie, and something tells me that certain people with agendas would have slung around the insults even if Palin had been able to hold forth more competently on the niceties of nuclear policy. The point is just that a good deal more of that competence would have put her in a much more solid position, and made her that much more able to withstand the barrage when it finally came her way. It’s obviously not true that anyone can grow up to be president, but if she’d taken her time and spent it wisely it’s not at all a stretch to think that Sarah Palin could have done just that.