Days of Whines and Rogues: Palin’s Persecution Complex

If you can stand to read one more thing about Sarah Palin’s overhyped autobiography Going Rogue, have a look at Thomas Frank’s takedown in today’s Wall Street Journal, called “The Persecution of Sarah Palin.” Frank argues that the supposedly tough, indefatigable Palin—the woman who shoots wolves from helicopters and is pround of her high school nickname “Sarah Barracuda”—has in fact drawn virtually all of her political capital from depicting herself as a victim.  

Remember when, as First Lady, Hillary Clinton was ridiculed for talking about the “vast right-wing conspiracy” against her husband’s presidency? The conspiracy against Palin, if we are to believe her take on things, is vaster still. It includes not only everyone to the left of William McKinley, but also everyone who ever contradicted, annoyed, or said mean things about her. Furthermore, it’s these malevolent enemies, and never Palin herself, who are responsible for every one of her screwups, shortcomings, and humiliations.

Members of Palin’s base—who similarly tend to see themselves as victims of the tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading left-wing freak show—appear to wholeheartedly embrace, and even celebrate, this etiology. Frank writes that conservatives “love a whiner,” and continues:

It is her mastery of the lament that explained former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s appeal last year, and now her knack for self-pity is on full display in her book, “Going Rogue.” This is the memoir as prolonged, keening wail, larded with petty vindictiveness. With an impressive attention to detail, Ms. Palin settles every score, answers every criticism; locates a scapegoat for every foul-up, and fastens an insult on every critic, down to the last obscure Palin-doubter back in Alaska.

From Ms. Palin’s masterwork, we learn that the personal really is the political. Every encounter with a critic seems to be a skirmish in the culture wars, from the Alaska debate moderator who didn’t play fair once to the “wealthy, effete young chap” who ran against her for governor….

It’s those “effete” types who have most relentlessly persecuted poor Palin—including that devious shill for the liberal elite, Katie Couric. According to Frank, Palin “claims that what ruined her famous interview with wily CBS News personality Katie Couric was the latter’s ‘condescension,’ which caused Ms. Palin to bungle questions like the one in which she was asked to name her favorite newspaper.”

This type of victimology, which depicts the “little guy” at the mercy of this snobbish but shadowy elite, is nothing new in the Republican Party; it’s at the root of the “conservative populism” Frank himself described in What’s the Matter with Kansas? But it seems especially twisted coming from the gun-toting, trash-talking Palin, who likes to act as if she could survive in the Alaskan wilderness with nothing but a pocket knife and a book of matches, but can’t prevail against a bunch of liberal journalists or McCain campaign meanies.

When she quit the Alaska State House this summer in what many saw as a cut-and-run move, Palin says her father declared: “Sarah’s not retreating, she’s reloading.” But clearly, Palin does best when she can pretend that she’s the one in the crosshairs of a hostile and unfair world.

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