Why Levi Johnston Matters

The magazine Vanity Fair opted to open up the fall season featuring another groundbreaking interview with Levi Johnston, a young man whose previous claims to fame included a decisive slap shot in hockey, the ability to navigate a snow machine over rough terrain, and sufficient spermatozoa to impregnate the daughter of a vice presidential candidate.  The punditocracy and their associated acolytes across the web immediately fell into predictable patterns of applause and outrage.

You may recall that during the Battle of Ought Eight, Levi was held up -- albeit somewhat reluctantly -- as a hero of traditional American values. Rather than traipsing off to the nearest abortion clinic, he was going to marry the young woman who found herself in a family way by accident. It was the essence of bootstrap conservatism and personal responsibility, serving as a mark of credit to both the Palin and Johnston families.

What a difference a year makes! With dreams of ceremonies -- both inaugural and nuptial -- crumbled into dust, Levi has shouldered a new mantle as right-wing whipping boy. He is scorned as a habitual liar, amoral, and a scumbag. But why does the opinion of this young man carry any cache in the political arena?

To answer this question we need look no further than his forebears among the children of famous politicos and other previously unknown peasants who suddenly found themselves with a soapbox far more massive than their personal achievements would otherwise merit. In each case, their weight and popularity are measured by the audience they bring and the partisan spin of their opinions.

Conservatives generally demonstrate a nearly equal glee in their acerbic treatment of Meghan McCain, daughter of the Arizona senator who challenged Barack Obama in 2008. Her youth, her blond mane, and the less than articulate phrases which occasionally escape her lips and pen have been frequent targets of attack. She has never held elected office or personally delivered a project of value to society at large. Why should we listen to this brainless space cadet and her prattling about a larger tent for the GOP?

And yet the same crowds tossing stones at these targets are often staunch and vocal supporters of Liz Cheney, going so far as push for her own run for office. (This is a woman I frequently refer to as Loud Mouth Liz for her unequaled ability to shut down any round table discussion before a speaker with an opposing opinion can get eleven words out of their mouth.) While many of you are leaping to the defense of her bona fides, I would remind you that her two significant public service positions were obtained when her considerably more accomplished father was House minority whip and secretary of defense under George H. W. Bush and then vice president under George W. Bush. She is, in short, the definition of “coat tails” personified.