Posted on September 5, 2008

Vice President Sarah Palin: Will She Remember Her Middle Class Roots?

This year’s presidential election is between one man who’s lost track of how many houses he owns, and another who thinks average Americans have religious faith and are against their jobs being shipped overseas out of “bitterness.” The Democratic vice presidential candidate, having never worked anywhere other than on a city council and in the Senate, has never known what it’s like to have to work for a boss who demands productivity. These are three people who have no clue how average Americans think; or if they do, they’ve learned about it the same way you and I might learn about what life is like in Uzbekistan: either through books and documentaries, or by occasionally visiting what we perceive as a foreign land.

That leaves Sarah Palin. Yes, she stands out from the group because she’s the only woman. But the real difference is in the world she inhabits. She worked in her husband’s commercial fishing business. She was a sports reporter for an obscure TV station. She has devoted most of her time to raising five children and is proud of her status as a “hockey mom.” She ultimately became a governor, but her husband has remained a blue-collar worker. In short, she’s one of us.

That’s a good thing. And now, she’s running for the second-highest office in the United States—an office which, according to an overused but accurate buzzword, is only a heartbeat from the presidency.

Like a spaceship that’s gained escape velocity, her ascent is carrying her away from her familiar world at dizzying speed. She’ll still enjoy an occasional lunch with some good ol’ boys in Wasilla, but now, she’ll spend most of her time on the campaign trail. And if she’s elected, her days will be filled with meetings, and cocktail parties, with the most powerful people in the world. It won’t take her long to absorb their culture.

None of this is bad. It goes with the territory. It’s the way it should be. The big question is: will she be able to remember where she came from? In a world where “everybody knows” that free trade is wonderful; that we’re all part of one world and that border fences, tariffs, and patriotism were the products of ignorant people of a bygone age; and that success in “stimulating the economy” is measured by the capital gains and dividends of billionaires—in that world, will she still remember what it’s like to lose your job because the factory closed? Or how it feels to be offered a job at $5 per hour and to see a crowd of illegal aliens clamoring to take it from you? Or what happens when a paycheck, and a “stimulus check,” are immediately gobbled up by rising food and gasoline costs while billionaires receive bank wire transfers from the government for more billions? If she allows these memories to recede, she’ll soon become one of them. Will she?

As of now, there’s no way to answer that question. But if Palin is elected, the answer will determine whether average Americans will finally have a genuine advocate in Washington—or just another poster girl.

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