In George MacDonald Fraser’s picaresque novel Flashman (which is set in 1839-1842), the hero (actually more of an antihero) marries the daughter of a very wealthy Scottish mill owner. This creates problems with Lord Cardigan, the commander of the fashionable regiment in which Flashman is serving–indeed, Cardigan has insisted that Flashman leave the regiment. Here’s Flashman, trying to get the decision reversed:
Just the sight of him, in his morning coat, looking as though he had been inspecting God on parade, took the wind out of me. When he demanded to know, in his coldest way, why I intruded on him, I stuttered out my question: why was he sending me out of the regiment?
“Because of your marriage, Fwashman,” says he. “You must have known very well what the consequences would be. The lady, I have no doubt, is an excellent young woman, but she is–nobody. In these circumstances your resignation is imperative.”
“But she is respectable, my lord,” I said. “I assure you she is from an excellent family; her father–”
“Owns a factory,” he cut in. “Haw-haw. It will not do. My dear sir, did you not think of your position? Of the wegiment? Could I answer, sir, if I were asked: ‘And who is Mr Fwashman’s wife’ ‘Oh, her father is a Gwasgow weaver, don’t you know?'”
Flashman is a fictional character (Cardigan, unfortunately, was a real person), but this interchange captures very well a certain kind of snobbery…a kind of snobbery which I think accounts for much of the anger directed at Sarah Palin. Just as Fraser’s Cardigan gets much of his sense of self-worth from his noble birth, and looks down on anyone not born of an equally noble family–regardless of that individual’s personal accomplishments–we have in America today a significant group of people who get a feeling of self-worth from their educational credentials, from speech patterns associated with membership in an elite, etc. The fact that Palin has been as successful as she has without these things is a threat to many people–it is particularly a psychological threat to people who identify as members of an elite, but really are not–like those who drank the academic kool-aid, got degrees in some squishy-soft and unmarketable field, and are now working as untenured and poorly-paid adjunct professors (if they are lucky) or at Barnes & Noble (if they are not). To these people, Palin is “nobody” is the same sense that Flashman’s new wife was “nobody” to Lord Cardigan. Without the proper accoutrements of social position, building a business–even becoming governor of a state–are no better that being a “Gwasgow weaver” was to Cardigan.
More on Palin hatin’ from Victor Davis Hanson.