What is it about Sarah Palin that seems to have driven so many smart, thoughtful Obama supporters around the bend?
Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School, wrote that Palin's "greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman" and denounced "the Republican Party's cynical calculation that because [Palin] has a womb and makes lots and lots of babies … she speaks for the women of America."
Carol Fowler, the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said that Palin's "primary qualification seems to be that she hasn't had an abortion."
Juan Cole, professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan, wrote that Palin's values "more resemble those of Muslim fundamentalists than they do those of the Founding Fathers" and asked: "What is the difference between Palin and a Muslim fundamentalist? Lipstick."
The Washington Post's Richard Cohen wrote of "[Palin's] sarcasm, her exaggerations, her smug provincialism, her hypocrisy about family and government, her exploitation of mommyhood …"
Salon's Cintra Wilson wrote that "Sarah Palin and her virtual burqa have me and my friends retching into our handbags. She's such a power-mad, backwater beauty-pageant casualty, it's easy to write her off and make fun of her. But in reality I feel as horrified as a ghetto Jew watching the rise of National Socialism."
Slate editor David Plotz wrote that "night after night, [Palin] appears in my dreams, always as a scolding, ominous figure." And one of Plotz's Slate colleagues wrote that in her own dream, "she had urged her young son to kill Palin with a string bean."
Why the wave of, shall we say, unorthodox commentary? As John McCain might say, My friends, something is going on here.
Unfortunately, I can't pretend to fully understand what it is. But I can make a few guesses.
I think the basic problem is that these commentators believe that Palin is so unremarkable, so ordinary, so unaccomplished that her elevation to a national ticket can only be attributed to John McCain's cynical political calculations. Palin, they believe, is so vastly unqualified for the vice presidency that her mere presence on the campaign trail is an offense.
What's more, some have come to believe that the Republican masses love Palin because she is so unqualified for higher office. The Post's Marc Fisher went to the big McCain/Palin rally in Fairfax County Wednesday and came away convinced that, "In this time of ‘American Idol,' bedroom bloggers and the belief that experience, knowledge and education don't necessarily mean a whole lot, Palin is a symbol, a statement that anyone can make it if he or she really tries.
"In this hyperdemocratized society," Fisher continued, "the national conviction that anyone can succeed is morphing into a belief that experience and knowledge may almost be disqualifying credentials."
It appears that Fisher and the others have been so struck by the Palin phenomenon that they have failed to distinguish between "common" and "the common touch."
Palin certainly has the latter. So does nearly every other truly successful politician. They are uncommon people with the common touch.
Now, I'm not suggesting that Palin has the qualifications of vice presidential candidates like Dick Cheney or George H.W. Bush. But if you look at her work in Alaska, you have to — at least, I think you have to — come away with the conclusion that she is a real political talent.
She really did take on the Republican political establishment in her state. She really did take on the Democrats. She really did take on the oil companies. She really does have a sky-high approval rating. And she did it all by starting as a concerned citizen without any connections. It's quite a story.
Team Obama underestimated Palin's record, and now they are struggling to find a way to campaign against her. Barack Obama himself has been the recipient of much advice reminding him that his true opponent is John McCain, and yet he can't seem to get over Palin's presence in the race.
The Obama forces are smart. They'll figure something out. But not until they get past their personal biases and take a clear look at Palin and her record.