I think this reveals more about these particular men than it does about liberal attitudes. None of my liberal friends give a damn about her appearance or personality, and my guess is that most would find her decision to have a Down's Syndrome child a commendable one, an act of integrity at the very least. I wonder if the right really believes that liberals merely dislike Palin for her image or symbolic qualities, and if so, that merely reaffirms the right's obsession with these qualities as a substitute for substance. This is not a new thing, either. Palin, Michael Steele, George W. Bush--these were all conservatives whose symbolism was supposedly the thing that made liberals hate them and try to destroy them, when in reality liberals wouldn't have hated Bush nearly as much had he not demonized them and enacted such disastrous hard-right policies. For example, before he started talking about rewriting the constitution to be more biblical, Mike Huckabee had a number of liberal admirers due to his more progressive stands on the environment, poverty, and scope of government relative to the Republican Party in general, despite being even more conservative than Bush on social issues, and also being roughly cut from the same cultural cloth (though Huckabee was both less stupid and more authentically evangelical). I can tell you that I certainly liked the guy despite his hard-line social conservatism because he seemed somewhat sane and he seemed to actually cared about regular people. I've revised my opinion of him sharply downward since that business with rewriting the constitution, and his USSA speech was sort of the final straw, but I'm not exactly atypical of the liberals I talk to (which includes, coincidentally, a few Hollywood lefty types).
My first thought was that it tied heavily to her appearance; in liberals’ minds, conservatives are supposed to look like the couple from the painting American Gothic: Dour and joyless, aged, spartan and frail. Political leaders aren’t supposed to be young, really good looking women, full of energy, smiles and winks.
Hugh suggested it tied to the contrast between her lifestyle and her critics: “She is the embodiment of the anti-choice, the opposite of every choice that lefty elites have ever made — as to going back home instead of moving to the west coast, having children, having a child with Downs, staying married to one man the whole time, choosing rural or suburban over urban and living a generally conservative lifestyle, working with her hands… That everything she is is the antithesis of everything that liberal urban elites are, so it’s not just enough to say, ‘I disagree with you,’; she has to be repudiated and crushed.”
If these guys' theories were to hold, though, then liberals should have hated Huckabee far more than Bush, which isn't true even now. But it is a self-serving explanation that makes liberals the bad guys, so it's unsurprising that the Hugh Hewitts of the world have embraced it so thoroughly. My theory on Palinophobia is pretty simple: Sarah Palin encapsulates everything that liberals dislike about conservatism, but it goes even deeper than that. Liberals have watched helplessly as movement conservatives have eroded away the very foundations of our enlightenment-based society, as everything from science to academia to journalism to the very idea of an objective truth have come within the crosshairs of right-wingers, along with their unwitting pals in the Washington press corps, among others. There's nothing conservative about any of this, of course, but it's rather an attempt by the conservative movement to entrench its power and delegitimize any opposition to its precepts. Of course it's a movement that is corrupt to its core, and honest conservatives have begun to realize just how bad it's gotten (and some, like myself once upon a time, have bolted the team altogether). I'm not of the Rick Perlstein camp that believes that it's always been this way, but it is this way now. And Palin is merely the culmination of this tradition--someone who lies easily and ridiculously, to whom truth is simply passe. The notion that this woman might hold high office is a truly horrifying concept to liberals. We could give a damn about her looks. We care about her twisted worldview and what she says about our culture. Palin isn't the absence of the enlightenment tradition, she is the end of the enlightenment tradition, and that's why she must be stopped.
Perhaps this is a little too melodramatic, and I'll be the first to admit that she drew some really unfair media coverage at various times during the campaign. But I don't think that bad coverage is enough to explain the colossal trainwreck that was Palin-McCain 2008, nor is it enough to explain her polarizing effect. I think the best analogy I can draw is with the right's hatred of Bill Clinton, who more or less embodied everything the right hated about the left. Of course, Clinton was largely benign, and I suspect that Palin being elected wouldn't be the end of the universe, either. But at least Clinton had the qualifications for the job. Palin doesn't. And the Clinton antipathy was driven largely by hysteria rather than purely evidence-based concerns. (Okay, I won't claim that there's no hysteria about Palin on the left, but there's not just smoke there. I see it as being more justified than the Clinton stuff.)