Oh the humanity! Good heavens. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has a bad day and suddenly out comes this stream of ill-disguised venom going after the woman. She’s a this and a that and “we told you so.” Yada yada yada.
Get the smelling salts! Methinks all this commotion over Sarah Palin is really representative of something else.
Let’s go back to an event from last week that was presented courtesy of the History Channel. It was a show called Sons of Liberty, a three-parter that dramatized the events in Boston leading up to the Declaration of Independence. The show was riveting. Yes, the telling of this famous American tale was a trifle Hollywoodized. Growing up in Massachusetts and spending time tromping the Freedom Trail and other landmarks of the Revolution in Boston, I am pretty sure that Sam Adams was kind of your basic portly guy. Hardly the glamorous English actor Ben Barnes who portrayed him. (Although in fact Barnes did an excellent job capturing the Sam Adams spirit.)
But be that as it may, the series was spot on in the essence of its history. The British were a bunch of arrogant, haughty, bullying snobs and the good citizens of Boston detested them. Historian John C. Miller, writing in his 1943 classic Origins of the American Revolution, describes the relationship between the Brits and the Bostonians this way — in a fashion recalled by the momentary travails of Sarah Palin in Iowa.
Englishmen regarded New England in general and Boston in particular as the hotbed of American republicanism. The inhabitants of this peculiarly benighted region seemed to be “full of a leveling, republican spirit, which would never be rooted out” except by force. Here was the breeding ground of the subversive ideas that produced turmoil and the class struggle throughout the British Empire, setting the common people against their betters by spreading the doctrine that there was no “pre-eminence in persons.” Boston… was a horrible example of the rule of numbers; the dire results of giving the common people an equal voice with gentlemen of property and breeding in the management of public affairs seemed exemplified in this mobbish metropolis. “Persons of the best characters and best estates,” it was lamented, had little voice in Boston: they remained away from town meetings because they were certain to be outvoted by the mechanics, laborers, and small tradesmen who came to cheer and vote for [the revolutionary-minded Sam] Adams and [James] Otis.
This is another way of saying that Sam Adams and his Boston compadres were what we might now called “American Originals.” They simply could not have cared less what the elites of British society — or their American Tory allies in Boston and elsewhere in the colonies — thought of them. In Sons of Liberty, Sam Adams is presented giving a speech to the Continental Congress as it considers the Declaration of Independence. The script has him bluntly acknowledging his flaws, and the realization that some of his peers dislike him. He is a repeatedly failed businessman, so single-minded is his devotion to politics. And his politics are blunt and, certainly as presented by his enemies of the day, fiery. Yet as he speaks suddenly Adams comes to his point: he can be no one other than himself, flaws and all. And the same goes for everyone else in the room. His point the classic heart of conservatism: all humans are flawed. But they deserve to have — must have as an essential human right — the right to be themselves. And most assuredly no King of England or any other ruler had the right to lord it over their lives.
Sam Adams — and indeed all of his revolutionary minded compatriots in Boston — were American Originals.
The mistake being made about Sarah Palin — it is a mistake all too common for American political elites of both parties — is to dismiss this key characteristic that is at the very core of America itself. The American Revolution is a story of American Originalism — and so too is the story of Sarah Palin. She is openly despised by elites because they see her as “subversive” in the same fashion as those Bostonians of long ago. As that passage from historian Miller’s 1943 classic illustrates, a key component of elitism is the terror that the “leveling, republican spirit” so in evidence in the Boston of the early and mid-1770s would spread far beyond Boston itself. In those days the fear was that this spirit would cross the Atlantic to Great Britain itself. Miller writes:
In 1774, it was widely believed that Josiah Quincy of Boston — a most “pestilent Fellow” — had determined to essay that role when he “came over from Boston with the lighted Torch of Rebellion in his Hand, and went Brandishing it up and down the Country, in hopes of kindling the Flame of Civil Discord and Fury.”
Transfer these sentiments to today’s America — and in this case to today’s Republican Party — and it is precisely the reason why so many liberal and GOP elites have such condescending disdain for Governor Palin. They simply cannot abide Sarah Palin because of her appeal to what Miller called back then the “common people”.
It is instructive to note that this is no accidental thing. Years after Sam Adams this treatment would be dished to those the American elites saw as representative of this “rare leveling principle.” American history is filled with names like Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan, all of whom were seen in their day as “levelers” of “persons of the best characters and best estates.” Today this treatment is aimed at Palin, but she’s not alone. The seething antipathy displayed by various elites in and out of the media or the GOP to Donald Trump is a version of this, dismissing Trump repeatedly as not “serious” when in fact a more serious potential candidate could not be conjured. A billionaire presidential candidate unafraid to spend his own money — and totally unafraid of taking on his own party’s establishment? That’s serious. So too is there a hint of this elitist reaction in the reception to Dr. Ben Carson, not to mention Senator Ted Cruz, the latter drawing almost foaming reactions from the GOP Establishment. As evidenced by the sudden rise of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in Iowa, Walker’s steadfastness in withstanding the liberal fusillades repeatedly sent his way for standing against the rich and powerful liberal elites of Wisconsin has sent his poll numbers inside the base skyrocketing.
One thing is for certain. It is foolish beyond measure for people to dismiss Governor Palin or any of these others as the 2016 political season moves ahead. They are not creatures of conventional wisdom. They couldn’t care less that they make the prognosticators and elites foam or that they had a bad speech day or bad anything else day. Each in their own way, they are modern versions of Sam Adams.
Governor Palin is exactly in the spirit of the Sons of Liberty. She is an American Original. What really drives the American elites of today crazy is that just like their British counterparts from the Boston of 1775, they see themselves as outnumbered by millions of American Originals.
And they are right.