William Katz: “One of our own made it”

William Katz is our occasional contributor and proprietor of Urgent Agenda. This morning he writes on Sarah Palin:

I have no idea who’ll win the presidential election. It is very close, and a single incident or misstep can change the result. Clearly, the convention bounces have faded. Obama seems to be regaining a part of his pre-convention standing, thanks to some folks on Wall Street who give the term “classless society” an entirely new meaning. Oh, and thanks also to the worst, and most embarrassing press bias I’ve seen in my lifetime.

But I do think I know what the election is about. Yes, of course, there are issues, especially economic concerns, and they will cut. But on November 4, this election may well be about culture, which in politics doesn’t mean which singer is invited to the White House or whether the first lady’s hair style is up to date. In politics, culture means instinct, what happens in the gut, which is where a lot of political decisions, and voting decisions, are really sealed. One person has made this race about culture, and her name is Sarah.

It is simply remarkable to watch grown men and women in the media become hysterical about Sarah Palin – the intruder, the outsider, the little woman from a place where none of them would ever live, and where they certainly wouldn’t raise their children. It was equally remarkable to watch David Gergen, a knowledgeable Washington insider, say on CNN that he couldn’t understand the Palin thing. Like the king in the musical, “Camelot,” these highly educated, low-carb-luncheon types seem to wonder, when they see Sarah’s crowds, “What do the simple folk do?”

I’ll tell you a story, told to me by the late Kermit Eby, a University of Chicago professor with a history in the labor movement. It’s about Jimmy Hoffa, when he was president of the Teamsters. Hoffa would visit union halls to rally his members – rough guys, truck drivers mostly. He’d get up in front of them, hop on a chair, impeccably dressed, and start to speak. We’re talking 1950s prices here:

“You see this suit?” Hoffa would ask. “Hickey-Freeman. Three hundred bucks.

“You see these shoes? Florsheim. Twenty-seven-ninety-five.

“You see this watch? Longines. Two hundred bills.”

And those truck drivers would get up and cheer.

Why? Because “one of our own made it.” They liked seeing Jimmy, in his Hickey-Freeman, sitting down with all those management big shots. They liked it that this guy who came from the same streets they did could glance at the same Longines watch that the executives had wrapped around their chubby wrists. “One of our own made it.”

That’s the secret of Sarah Palin. When large numbers of American women, and men, look at her, they see themselves. And they see that a mother, married to a guy who works with his hands, can make it. And they deeply resent those who tear her down and push her out. The journalists trying to destroy Sarah Palin are the same ones who claim to root for “the little people.” Yet, they would never think of associating with them, and they’d be appalled if one of their children married into the Palin family. How does one explain it at the Princeton Club?

I recall a day in 1960 when I was driving through central Illinois with U.S. Senator Paul H. Douglas, for whom I was interning. We entered one of those typical Midwestern towns, and I made a classically dumb, arrogant, University of Chicago undergraduate comment about “the kind of people who live here.” Mr. Douglas, an honored senator, a war hero, a distinguished academic, interrupted my ignorance and admonished me. “Bill,” he said, “never underestimate the wisdom of a small town.” It’s something I’ve always remembered. The citizens of that Illinois town are the ones who, today, are called by the coastal elites “the flyover people.” They are the Sarah Palins – the ones who don’t measure the worth of their lives by their SAT scores or the name of the school on their diploma.

It was about the time I was interning for Mr. Douglas that a British writer and scientist, C.P. Snow, gave his famous lecture about “the two cultures,” the scientific and the humanistic. He complained, rightly or wrongly, that they never spoke to each other. Today, Snow might have written about this country’s two cultures – the one that represents bedrock American values, taught for generations, and the one that represents the “higher,” university-trained culture of the last 45 years. The culture of Sarah Palin versus the culture of Barack Obama.

I’ll tell you another story: CBS used to be known as the Columbia Broadcasting System. In the early days of radio its announcers would step into a booth during station breaks and say to the radio audience, “This is CBS, the Columbia Broadcasting System.” They called it “saying system.” And William S. Paley, who ran CBS, insisted that they wear tuxedos. Now, no one saw them. It was radio. And yet Paley insisted. He explained that it was a formal occasion, that they were entering American homes, that respect had to be shown, and that wearing a tuxedo would remind them how special this was. Tell that story to the “sophisticates” of today’s journalism and they’d laugh at the excess. Tell it to the Sarah Palin people and they’d understand immediately. They’d understand the instinct behind it, the instinct for respect.

It’s the same instinct that made Ronald Reagan put on a jacket every time he entered the Oval Office, because of his respect for what it represented. Compare that to the instinct that allowed Bill Clinton to be photographed in that same office in a track suit.

It is the instinct that made William F. Buckley Jr. say, to considerable approval, that he’d rather be ruled by the first 2,000 people in the Boston phone directory than by the 2,000 members of the Harvard faculty.

It is the instinct that sent Sarah Palin’s son to a recruiting office in wartime, rather than the protest lawn outside an anthropology department.

I share some of the doubts, expressed here at Power Line, about Sarah Palin’s preparedness for high office. What I don’t doubt is her gut instinct. Harry Truman, also rough around the edges, and snickered at by the swells, had that instinct. So, of course, did the much-ridiculed Lincoln, who was called a baboon by his first commanding general. And so of course did FDR, looked down upon by the likes of the columnist, Walter Lippmann.

The Washington and New York elites hate Sarah Palin. They, and especially the feminist “leaders” among them, are like the old factory owners in the pre-union days. They fear that the little people are rising up against them, and they must stop this. They are now the establishment, and like all establishments they protect themselves.

Sarah Palin may or may not be our next vice president. But if she is not, she will be remembered for one great thing – that for a single moment the “flyover people,” those often ignored and sneered at, felt they had a champion, and they felt that one of their own had made it.

They will be back, and if they’re not shown proper respect in this country, they might be a lot angrier next time.

PAUL adds: Buckley’s line about the first names that appear in the phone book has frequently been invoked lately. I should note that the alternatives to Sarah Palin were people like Tim Pawlenty and Eric Cantor, not members of the Harvard faculty. It’s true, though, that they would not have generated the “one of our own made it” phenomenon that Mr. Katz describes so well.

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