Sarah Palin is not so different than we are

Jesse Bob Harper

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin gives her resignation speech during a ceremony at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Sunday, July 26, 2009. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News/MCT)
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin gives her resignation speech during a ceremony at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Sunday, July 26, 2009. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News/MCT)

Jesse Bob Harper

Just to be clear, topping the short list of things I wouldn’t do to win a bet is casting a vote for Sarah Palin. For anything. Even as a joke, like writing her name in to be mayor of San Francisco. The lady frightens me.

However, there is one thing I do admire about Mrs. Palin, and it isn’t her looks (however, I would much rather play spin the bottle with Sarah Palin than Mike Huckabee). And it isn’t her Ted Nugentesque hobbies, although I prefer a vice president spending her time tracking caribou while dangling from a helicopter as opposed to moonlighting for the oil industry.

What I like about Sarah Palin, is her higher educational “pedigree.”

According to the New York Times, former Governor Palin attended four different schools in three states in five years, beginning with the University of Hawaii and ending at the University of Idaho in 1987.

It is not only a sense of kinship with Mrs. Palin; I myself have gone to eight schools in two states in 22 years, from which my begrudging admiration springs. It is also the type of institutions that Mrs. Palin chose. Last time I checked neither the University of Idaho nor California State University, Northridge have the same “immediate cache,” as say a Yale or Harvard, nor do they have a quarter of a trillion dollar endowments.

Harvard, which is the largest, recently lost $10 billion due to the financial collapse, which is generally called “poetic irony” because it was members of their alum who were somewhat responsible for the mess.

Moreover, included in the schools that Mrs. Palin attended is North Idaho College, a two-year institution. I myself have taken advantage of the accessibility and low cost of community colleges. This is not something I only have in common with Sarah Palin, but also Ross Perot, Clint Eastwood, Gwendolyn Brooks, among many other notable Americans.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the governor and I are unique (at least in terms of our education). I think it’s a safe bet that taking the long road to educational fulfillment and attending state institutions is something I share in common with the majority of Americans with college degrees.

So why is it such a big deal that Sarah Palin followed this trend? Because she was close to becoming a very important person. In fact according to insurance actuaries, if McCain had won the presidency, she would have had a one in three chance of being the most powerful person in the world (insert shudder here). Even without becoming the vice president, Mrs. Palin has become not only a cultural phenomenon, but an influential political player with a national following. And I get a sense of satisfaction from this.

Why? Well, ask yourself: “How many people do I personally know, have a degree from an Ivy League Institution?” According to the most recent data from the Census Bureau, only 25 percent of Americans have a post-secondary education. Although I couldn’t find exact numbers, it would be a fair guess that only a tiny percentage of them attended an Ivy League or an Ivy League-like university.

Yet we as Americans seem to becoming increasingly governed by that small percentage who attended an elite university, either by electing them, (examples include Barack Obama, who went to Columbia and Harvard, or George W. Bush, who attended Yale and Harvard), or having them foisted upon us. Only one out of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices did not attend an Ivy League school.

Not only does this drastically narrow the pool of potential public servants and perpetuate the myth that these institutions better prepare people for positions of power (a strong argument could be made they do not), but moreover it creates a false belief that diversity has only to do with race and ethnicity.

As Professor William Domhoff at UC Santa Cruz said, “There is both a funneling and homogenizing effect from these schools…”

This is why many critics have long argued that these schools, regardless of one’s background, create an “elite” form of group thinking, which is the very antithesis of diversity.
One thing I think Mrs. Palin has tapped into, albeit unwittingly, is the growing inequality in America based on education and economics. Mrs. Palin’s rise to prominence, although based in part on her charisma, has a lot to do with the fact that “she is one of us.” And by “one of us,” I don’t mean “white.” I mean a person who didn’t ace the SATs, graduate from Princeton then go onto Harvard Law School, and have the guaranteed security that that type of resume, regardless of race, brings.

So even though Sarah Palin is a middle class white “hockey mom,” she just might turn out to be the maverick she claims to be.