Why do they hate Carrie Prejean?

Last fall I wrote a three-part series, which I posted on this site, on “Sarah Palin and the Politics of Elitism” (which you can read here, here, and here). My thesis was that the vitriol poured on Palin by the cultural elites stemmed from their insufferable snobbery and the fact that she was not one of them, that her fundamental worldview, shaped as it was by her roots in small town America and the Alaska outback, clashed with the outlook of those whose ideas had been molded by the Ivy League.

Those are still my views, and I'm pleased to find that they are shared by others, as well. See, for example, Yuval Levin's excellent essay in the February issue of Commentary. However, in recent weeks I've become aware of another ingredient in the mix, something so subtle that I missed it at first, but which I now believe to be a significant factor in the elites' almost deranged hatred of Sarah Palin.

When I was writing about Palin last fall, I saw her as an American Margaret Thatcher, a woman who had also come from a lower middle class background and who challenged the male leadership of her own political party and eventually prevailed over it. That, in fact, was how Palin was described in an email from an Alaskan that had been forwarded to me. I was, of course, aware that Palin was also a very attractive woman, but I did not see that as playing a significant role in either her popularity with the culturally conservative Republican base or her unpopularity with the elites. Now I believe her physical attractiveness is a factor, not in her popularity with cultural conservatives — after all, Susan Boyle is hugely popular despite having some decided deficiencies in the looks department — but in the elites' intense dislike and utter contempt for her.

As Levin has noted:

Palin became the embodiment of every dark fantasy the Left had ever held about the views of evangelical Christians and women who do not associate themselves with contemporary feminism, and all concern for clarity and truthfulness was left at the door.

A break with reality of this magnitude cannot solely be the result of mere cultural differences. Something else has to be at work here. While Palin's traditionally conservative social views are certainly part of it, I believe that what really enrages her critics is the fact that these views are being expressed by an attractive and successful woman.

I owe this insight to Carrie Prejean. For those of you who have been living under a rock or on another planet, Prejean, a.k.a. Miss California, was the Miss USA finalist who gave a politically incorrect answer to a question posed by celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, one of the judges in the competition. Hilton, who is gay, asked Prejean if she thought other states should follow Vermont's recent example and legalize same-sex marriage. Prejean started to give a fairly standard, safe beauty-pageant-type answer (“I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other…”), and then, almost in mid-sentence, abruptly seemed to change her mind, and stated that she believed marriage should be between a man and a woman. Her answer was polite and straightforward, and she said she meant no offense to anyone who was listening, but that was what she believed. You can verify this for yourself here.

Miss Prejean then lost the crown to Miss North Carolina, Kristen Dalton, and finished the competition as first runner-up. Hilton called Prejean's answer the “worst in pageant history” and he and another judge said she lost the crown because of it.

That should have been the end of it. The real scandal here is that this young woman was penalized for simply expressing a personal opinion — an opinion shared by a majority of Americans and a majority of Californians, whom she was representing in the pageant. Nevertheless, this was a beauty pageant, not a debate among candidates for public office. It hardly qualifies as a major news event.

But it wasn't the end of it. Prejean's answer was denounced almost immediately by officials of the Miss California-USA organization. The next day, Hilton posted a rant on the Internet in which he, among other things, called Prejean the b-word. He later apologized, then withdrew his apology and added the c-word to the epithets used to describe her.

Then it got ugly. A campaign of accusations, leaks, rumors and innuendo began. Not content with simply denying her the Miss USA crown, Prejean's enemies wanted to strip her of her Miss California title as well.

The first accusation was almost laughable. She was accused of lying about dating Olympic swimming star Michael Phelps. Actually, she never claimed that. Her grandmother told a reporter she had had lunch with Phelps and attended a sporting event with him. Prejean wouldn't comment on the story except to say that Phelps was a “great man”.

Then she was accused by pageant publicists of lying to her church when she told the congregation that pageant officials had told her not to bring up her faith during her appearances on several talk shows. However, pageant officials admitted that they did talk to her before she went on the talk shows and instructed her on the kind of answers she should give, although they denied telling her not to mention religion.

Next, someone leaked a story that Prejean had had breast implants shortly before the Miss USA pageant. Officials of the Miss California organization then confirmed the story and told the media that the organization had paid for the implants. This is confidential medical information, and it could have come from only one of two sources: the office of the physician who did the implants, or the Miss California organization itself. Since the physician would face professional discipline, including the possible loss of his license, for revealing such information, the most likely source is someone in the state pageant organization, and the leak has all the earmarks of a planned leak — i.e. information leaked for the sole purpose of getting it out in the public so that it could then be “officially” confirmed.

Even worse than the leaking of confidential medical information, however, was the publication of old court documents from Prejean's parents' messy years-ago divorce. According to the documents, both parties to the divorce traded accusations of homosexuality — mother against father and father against stepfather — and, so the journalistic theory goes, these accusations planted the seed of homophobia in the mind of the impressionable young Carrie Prejean.

And then a gossip website dropped the big bomb: they had NUDE photos of Prejean! PROOF that she had lied on her application when she said she had never posed nude! However, when a photo finally appeared on the website, it proved to be quite tame. While Miss Prejean is topless, her back is to the camera, and she is showing less skin than she and other Miss USA contestants displayed while parading across the stage in their swimsuits on national television. I’ve seen racier photos in the women’s magazines you can find in any supermarket checkout line.

Finally, Prejean was accused of violating her contract by speaking in her church and making a commercial for a traditional marriage group without first getting the permission of the Miss California organization. This has to be the most ridiculous charge of all. Such contracts are meant to apply to public appearances at events like trade shows and county fairs, not take away the title-holder's First Amendment rights.

While all this has been going on, the blogosphere has been hammering Prejean mercilessly. A Google search on “Carrie Prejean” yields over 12 million hits. (In fairness, I should mention that some gay websites, while disagreeing with her views, have been supportive of her right to express them.)

According to news reports, California pageant officials are now contemplating stripping Miss Prejean of her crown. They have scheduled a press conference for Monday to announce their decision, and Donald Trump, who owns the parent Miss USA franchise, will announce on Tuesday whether she will still be the Miss USA first runner-up. Somehow, I doubt Prejean will lose either title unless she chooses to resign. Firing the pleasant and popular Prejean — she was elected “Miss Congeniality” by her fellow Miss USA contestants — would do incalculable damage to the Miss USA franchise. Donald Trump is a businessman and nobody's fool. He's not going to throw away his investment for the sake of political correctness.

So, why has Carrie Prejean gotten so much attention? Why are so many people trying to destroy her with a relentless campaign of lies, smears and vilification? She is not running for office, she is not going to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency (at least, not any time soon), she is not in a position of authority. She is a 21-year-old college student who is no threat to anyone. All she did was give an honest answer to a question — a question she almost certainly never wanted to be asked. President Obama holds exactly the same view of marriage and has much more power than Miss Prejean, yet he has not been similarly slimed.

The answer is so perverse as to be almost beyond belief. Carrie Prejean has been vilified because she is an extremely attractive and articulate evangelical Christian. And, yes, I said articulate. If you don't believe me, check out this video of the April 26 service at San Diego's The Rock church. This is a woman who knows what she believes and why. She has been the victim of a combination of anti-Christian bigotry — the only form of bigotry that is still socially acceptable in America — and the resentment sometimes displayed toward confident, attractive people.

Which brings us back to Sarah Palin.

The 2008 Presidential election is over, and Gov. Palin has long since returned to Alaska and, except for a trip to Indiana to speak to a pro-life group, she has pretty much been devoting herself to her official duties. Although there is talk of her running for President in 2012, and she is still the first choice of most Republicans, she has not been acting like a Presidential candidate.

Which is why it is so puzzling that the vicious attacks on her have continued unabated. When Dan Quayle, — who, while Vice-president and while a candidate for the office had been treated by the news media in much the same way Palin has been treated — left for Arizona after the Bush-41 ticket lost the 1992 Presidential election, nobody heard much about him afterwards. Palin is still in the news almost every day.

The latest line of attack is the filing of frivolous ethics complaints against her. There have been so many of them, and they have been so ridiculous — with each complaint announced (illegally, because ethics complaints are not supposed to be made public until reviewed by the state personnel board) by the complainant with a press release and a broadcast to the blogosphere — that this has all the earmarks of a coordinated campaign.

One complaint alleges that Palin improperly used her office to promote a private business because she wore an Arctic Cat jacket at the Iron Dog snow machine race. Arctic Cat sponsors her husband Todd's racing team, and she was wearing the team jacket. Another complaint charges her with with “accepting outside employment”. The “outside employment” she allegedly accepted was her trip to Indiana to speak to the pro-life group.

So far, 14 complaints have been filed, and nine have been dismissed by the personnel board. Five others are still under investigation. The irony in all this is that no governor in Alaska's 51-year history has done more to end corruption and bring transparency to government than Palin. In fact, the very system that allows the filing of all these frivolous complaints is in part a result of Palin's past campaigns for ethics reform.

The governor has to pay the lawyers who defend her against these complaints out of her own pocket. When legal bills reached $500,000, her friends set up a legal defense fund. And guess what? An ethics complaint was filed against the fund.

The liberal media and much of the blogosphere actually take these complaints seriously, as if they are indicative of some deep character flaw in Palin. For example, Chris Kelly, who is a writer for Real Time with Bill Maher and who also blogs for Huffington Post seems to think wearing an Arctic Cat jacket is practically criminal. However, one newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News (which endorsed Obama for President) has finally said editorially that enough is enough.

Although Sarah Palin is a governor, and therefore possesses some real political power, while Carrie Prejean is a college student and possesses none, the two women actually have much in common. Both are intelligent, confident, articulate and attractive women who are also evangelical Christians. Both women have been attacked because of these attributes and because they are women of integrity who will not compromise their beliefs for political or material gain. And both women have weathered the attacks against them with grace and dignity.

In fact, the women may recognize the similarities in their respective situations. According to Prejean's father, Gov. Palin recently phoned her to offer her encouragement and support.

I've always had a deeply felt need to believe the good guys will eventually win, so I think things will turn out well for these two women. Perhaps Palin will become President, and Prejean a Fox News anchor. Or maybe they'll end up doing something else. In any case, I don't believe their enemies will have the last word.