Why do so many people want to pal around with Sarah Palin? To most Democrats, she seems vulgar, untutored, alternately a rube and a vacuous former beauty queen. And of course most Democrats not only think her ill-prepared for office: they also find her politics and political tactics highly objectionable. Combine alleged stupidity with obvious stridency and she seems to Democrats eminently dismissible.
And yet: Much of what's been said about Palin was also said of another backwoods American whose values were honed on the frontier: President Andrew Jackson. Palin may be no Jackson, but the liberal media's sneering dismissal of her constitutes an indulgent, often self-congratulatory, narrative. It's also a repudiation of our Jacksonian heritage of tough-minded, plain-speaking independence.
Like Jackson, Palin makes no pretense about being a cultivated American. Like it or not, she's seen by her admirers as genuine precisely because she's not a conflicted intellectual -- precisely because she doesn't confuse her followers by revealing a fourth side to every three-sided problem. Gosh darn it, she just loves God and loves America and loves our troops and loves her special baby and ... well ... that's more than enough for her many admirers and followers.
Rural people in "fly-over" country are naturally suspicious of slick politicians who are both too smarmy and too clever for their own good. Palin is naturally "aw shucks" and seemingly content with her knowledge of the world. And, like Andrew Jackson before her, Palin is unapologetic, undeferential, and unabashedly proud to be an American. One simply can't imagine her making a "patronizing apology tour" of European capitals, as President Obama was accused of doing by conservatives.
Indeed, one gets a clear sense that Palin could care less about European or American elites; she'd rather hang out with plain folks who name their wolf-mix "Rogue" than sophisticates who name their purebred "Chaucer." Call her confident, call her brazen, call her arrogant, but whatever you call her, recognize her distinct Americanness.
Precisely because she's so brashly and unapologetically small-town America, Palin is here to stay. She'll continue to grab headlines, both because of her unique voice and because she moves our political discourse inexorably rightwards. Even if she never wins another election, Palin will continue to be the darling of men like Rupert Murdoch and media operations like Fox News, simply because nobody advances the Conservative agenda with more folksy charm and chutzpah.
So, what are non-roguish Democrats to do? Pallin' around with Palin may not be an option, but how about less dissing and more celebrating of America? How about pallin' around in the spirit of that folksy Democrat, Andrew Jackson?
After all, Sarah Palin's pals are good people; they can be our pals too, if we remember to celebrate our backwoods roots.
Professor Astore currently teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA. He writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and can be reached at email@example.com.