What do Janet Napolitano, Kathleen Sebelius and Jon Huntsman have in common? All were governors who resigned this year to pursue other opportunities, and did so without a peep of criticism from journalists or their fellow pols for "quitting" on the peoples of Arizona, Kansas and Utah, respectively.
I write not to belabor the news media's double standards with regard to Democrats and Republicans, or between other politicians and Sarah Palin. I want to highlight an observation made by Princeton Professor Angelo Codevilla:
"The distinctions between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, are being overshadowed by that between what we might call the 'Court Party' -- made up of the well-connected ... who see themselves as potters of the great American clay -- and the 'Country Party' -- the many more who are tired of being treated as clay," Mr. Codevilla wrote in National Review Online.
Ms. Napolitano, Ms. Sebelius and Mr. Huntsman weren't criticized for resigning to pursue other opportunities because the other opportunities they're pursuing are in government -- as secretary of homeland security, secretary of health and human services, and ambassador to China, respectively.
In the Court Party, the only thing more important than holding public office is seeking a higher one. Barack Obama in effect quit his day job as a U.S. senator (while still drawing his paycheck) for two years in order to seek the presidency. Mr. Obama drew little criticism for this, mostly because what he did was so commonplace. Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain did much the same thing.
And in the Court Party, the only place to be is at Court. This is why -- until a scandal derailed him -- Bill Richardson was planning to resign as New Mexico's governor to accept a relatively minor Cabinet post (secretary of commerce).
People in the Court Party think it proper they should decide what kind of cars the hoi polloi in flyover country should drive and how much medical care they may have. Theirs is an aristocracy not of birth but of connections, connections forged mostly by where they went to school. Every president since Ronald Reagan (Eureka College, 1932) went to Harvard or Yale.
For members of the Court Party, where you went to school is more important than what you learned there. Mr. Obama is said to be brilliant because he went to Columbia and to Harvard Law School. Someone who went to, say, the University of Idaho would be mocked mercilessly for thinking "Austrian" is a foreign language, that the United States is one of the largest Muslim countries or that Canada has a president.
Most in the Court Party are Democrats, but there are plenty of Republicans, too, chiefly those who have been in Washington for a long time. The divide between the Court Party and the Country Party is illustrated by the political Rorschach test Sarah Palin has become.
"If you want to run for president ... the forum of a governorship would be a better forum than just being a private citizen," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who's been in Washington for 28 years, when asked about Sarah Palin's resignation.
"In that phrase, 'just being a private citizen,' Sen. Grassley encapsulates both why Sarah Palin is so phenomenally appealing to the Republican base and how divorced the national Republican apparatus is from the core values of party members," wrote Jim Prevor in the Weekly Standard. "This massive base thinks that by paying the taxes and doing the work, starting the businesses and rearing the children, caring for the parents and fighting the wars, they are doing the crucial stuff that sustains our country."
Prof. Codevilla put it this way: "The upscale folks who look down on the rest of us and upon themselves as saviors of the planet -- these are the people who made Palin into a political force by making her a symbol of everything they are not."
The hoi polloi in flyover country are watching the self-styled best and brightest ruin the economy while feathering their own nests. If this leads to a revolt at the polls in 2010 and 2012, the hoi polloi are more likely to look for leadership from the person who best exemplifies their values and expresses their anger than to persons who, by the Court Party's definition, are more qualified.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette and The (Toledo) Blade ( firstname.lastname@example.org , 412 263-1476).