I Want My $5,000!

The WSJ’s Thomas Frank (also the author of What’s Matter With Kansas) notes in a column today that Sarah Palin’s vice presidential candidacy, and everything about her since then, has showed just how thoroughly the GOP has embraced the “culture of victimization”:

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.

The GOP, as long as I can remember, has ridiculed and rejected victimhood claims, especially those of non-whites, women and homosexuals. (However, long ago, Republicans accepted victimhood claims for Jews.) The whole point was an emphasis on individual, self-defined, autonomous human beings, people whose identities were not ascribed by race, class or gender (though religion was a separate matter). At least I thought that was the point. Maybe I wasn’t listening.
But Frank is right. While Palin represents the GOP’s final evolution into an angry and very stupid peasants party, the Republicans were well on their way long before that. I do not know if Sarah Palin has a political future or not, but it would probably not be wise to count her out. That Obama won handily last November is meaningless, especially if he cannot govern effectively (and I’m betting he won’t do much better than the man he replaced). It may be the national GOP is headed for the same perpetual wilderness as the California GOP, and for the same reasons, but it is much too early to tell yet.
Palin’s aggrieved and enraged GOP reminds me a lot of Bernelius “Buzz” Windrip’s campaign and presidency in Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. And that didn’t end well.
UPDATE: Something Awful gets it just right.