Sorry, Palin critics: She's not going away

In a democratic age, the primary threat to liberty comes from within. Despite persistent disparities of wealth and talent, the notion that we’re all really the same captures our imagination. Hierarchical institutions, predicated on the idea that we’re not interchangeably equal, fall apart or fade away. For some of us, this means we should look forward to an imminent age when every individual is fully equal and fully sovereign. For more of us, this means we should look upward, to a government authoritative and powerful enough to confer equal pride — if not quite material equality — on everyone.

But both of these reactions to the dominance of equality in our thought and our lives discourage people from coming face to face with local strangers and working together to solve “small-time” political problems. Both tend to enclose us within the petty, all-consuming cares of our everyday lives. Both tend to make all political problems into big ones that only Washington can cope with — but never solve…

Enter Sarah Palin, who doesn’t need to run for office because her valuable function is not to represent anyone’s interests. It’s to draw them out of their self-enclosed personal space and into face-to-face relationships. When, at her best, Palin rambles around the country (don’t call it community organizing), she doesn’t draw an audience so much as a crowd — big groups of people pulled together to reckon with one another, not just ogle a star.