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Jews and Sarah Palin: Who's Got the Problem?

4 years ago
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Is it a sin for a Jew to hate Sarah Palin?

Jennifer Rubin, a contributing editor for Commentary, sort of argues that in a piece for the magazine. The article, titled "Why Jews Hate Palin," has set off a spat in literary circles, with Jonathan Chait, a writer for The New Republic, penning an acerbic response headlined "Jews Who Hate The Jews Who Hate Palin."

Rubin starts her piece with a clichéd observation: Palin is a "national Rorschach test." Conservative admirers see her as the embodiment of good ol' American common sense and common-folk independence. Liberal (and, yes, conservative) detractors consider her a ninny: "uncouth, unschooled, a hick, anti-science and anti-intellectual, an upstart, and a religious fanatic." And American Jews, Rubin asserts, really, really dislike her. She notes that author Naomi Wolf, a lefty Jew, dubbed Palin the "FrankenBarbie of the Rove-Cheney cabal," and former Reagan arms-control official Kenneth Adelman, a right-wing Jew, huffed, "Not only is Sarah Palin not close to being acceptable in high office, I would not have hired her for even a mid-level post in the arms-control agency."

At this point, a reasonable person might note that if prominent conservatives and liberals have concluded that Palin was lacking in intellectual firepower, the serious issue is whether Palin had (or has) the brains to perform well as a vice president or -- gasp! -- a president. (On Tuesday night on "Hardball," host Chris Matthews, referring to reporting in the new 2008 campaign book "Game Change," exclaimed, "How is it possible that Sarah Palin had to be tutored about World War I, World War II, even about why there are two Koreas? Is it possible that her head was really that empty?") But Rubin dodges the big question -- is Palin dim? -- and instead asks, "What is it about Palin that so grates on American Jews?"

Rubin skates past the obvious: Palin's apparent lack of intelligence, her conservative positions, and her ties to socially intolerant Christian fundamentalism. Instead, she first slams -- drum roll, please -- the media for depicting Palin in a fashion that played particularly poorly with Jews. The media said Palin had supported Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign; she hadn't. The media said she was unabashedly anti-abortion; well, that was true. The media said she was a Religious Right fanatic; uh, that's an eye-of-the-beholder thing. Rubin does concede that Palin's "status as an unabashed conservative and as exemplar of the Religious Right would have been sufficient to alienate the majority of American Jews." But, she quickly adds, "Something else bothers them more. That something is Palin herself."

This is the point in the argument where a Jew who is not an apologist for Palin might start to fret about Rubin's trajectory, for it looks -- the media aside -- as if she's about to blame the Jews for not loving Palin. And that's what she does.

I'll cut to the chase: Jews are snobs. Rubin writes:

Jews, who have excelled at intellectual pursuits, understandably are swayed by the notion that the presidency is a knowledge-based position requiring a background in the examination of detailed data and sophisticated analysis. They assume that such knowledge is the special preserve of a certain type of credentialed thinker (the better the university, the more unquestioned the credential) and that possessing this knowledge is the key to a successful presidency.

Those elitist Jews just don't believe a gal without a fancy diploma can do the job:

The argument that such knowledge might be acquired or accessed when necessary by a person who has demonstrated a more instinctual skill set -- the capacity to make decisions and to lead people -- does not resonate with those for whom intellectual rigor has been a defining characteristic and a pathway to success.

And the snobbery extends to Palin's "personal life." She owns guns and hunts (Jews don't hunt); she has a big family (non-Orthodox Jews tend to have smaller families); she brags about her kids' athletic prowess (Jews tend to shout out their children's academic accomplishments); she talks about her son's military activities (Jews "lack a family military tradition"). Moreover, many Jewish women, Rubin reports, have chosen an abortion over delivering a Down-syndrome child -- and Palin did the opposite. And there's this: she was "more overtly sexual" than popular Jewish and non-Jewish female politicians -- and, thus, not acceptable "to Jewish women who aspired" to professional positions.

There's a third element to the Jews' anti-Palin snobbery: social class. Rubin writes:

Palin and her husband had labored at jobs most professional and upper-middle-class Jews would never dream of holding. . . . Her populist appeal and identification with working-class voters are rooted in a life experience that is removed by one or two generations from the lives of most American Jews. Her life is what they were expected to rise above.

Rubin adds: "In a real sense, by the way she lives and the style she has adopted, Sarah Palin is the precise reverse image of an American Jewish professional woman. The two are polar opposites. The repulsion is almost magnetic in nature."

In other words, Jews -- especially Jewish women -- just don't get real people. It's not merely that they value academic-proven intelligence in leaders and that they generally don't cotton to conservatives; they hold true Americans in disdain.

I can see why a conservative anti-Semite would want to present such a case. But for a Jewish author to do so in a Jewish (neoconservative) magazine is a bit odd -- and perhaps a touch dangerous. Not that the masses read Commentary. ("It's beyond strange to see this argument explicitly targeted at Jews, in a Jewish publication of all places," Chait writes.) Rubin's piece is reminiscent of the age-old complaint about Jews: they're cosmopolitan, they think they're superior, they're self-alienated from mainstream society. The problem with Sarah Palin for Jews and non-Jews is Sarah Palin. But Rubin contends the true problem is with the Jews -- their insularity, their elitism, their conceits. A Jew can only hope that this article does not come to haunt her.

You can follow David Corn's posts and media appearances via Twitter.

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