Letter from America : Sarah, Forever

Outrage at Sarah Palin is gasoline to a forest fire…

by James Robinson

“Our political life favors the extremes of speech; the man who is gifted in the arts of abuse is bound to be notable, if not always a great figure.” John Kenneth Galbraith, 1955

Here’s something that I realise just a touch more each day: Sarah Palin doesn’t stand for anything. She is the pencil outline of a conservative. If you trawl through her public statements you’ll find that she is against abortion, against same-sex marriage, against carbon trading, against federal bailout money and government debt, against “crony” capitalism, and against Obama. She is for states rights, small businesses, America, and drilling for oil, now.

The depth of Palin’s discourse is about as deep as the above paragraph. There’s whole subjects she tends to avoid almost entirely : international relations, military affairs and so forth, diving in mostly when there’s a specific Obama “hopey-changey thing” that she can decry.

What Palin does better than anyone around is combine this sketch of an ideology with an unflappable ability to wind people up and create a steady procession of oh-no-she-didn’t moments. She mocked Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiative, while the First Lady consistently polls as the most popular public figure in America, Republican or Democrat. She called Obama’s policies un-American. She misquotes George Orwell, and incorrectly tells the story of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. Her political cross hairs imagery was so incendiary that (unfairly) she was offered up as a sacrificial scapegoat for the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson. And above all she has the gall to mock the mainstream (lamestream!) media, the same crowd that give her lifeblood by covering every single bump in the road.

So very recent in the collective memory of the global consciousness is ‘Palin-gate 2008’. This is where we first met Palin: the clumsy McCain vice-presidential pick, a cheap ploy to seduce disgruntled Clinton voters, and the novice candidate who fumbled so consistently as to give Tina Fey’s career a whole new momentum. Popular opinion dubbed her as stupid, and important-type people such as Matt Damon appeared on TV to tell the world that Palin’s existence as a potential President scared them.

From that point on we’ve wound ourselves up about Sarah Palin even more. This faint sketch of a conservative ideology that outlines her was extremely suitable to bend with the changes in political winds. It allowed her to unhitch her wagon from mainstream McCain and take up with the Tea Partiers, the certified number one thing wrong with everything in the eyes of liberal Americans.

People still think she’s stupid, but now they’re just so incensed that she is still in the newspaper, still in the conversation, and still a rumored “serious” presidential candidate. Why won’t she just… go away?

To make overt all subconscious Palin fears: people who do not like her fear that she’ll become president, and they will be at the mercy of Sarah Palin and her fans for eight years.

The cure to the Sarah Palin syndrome for those just not that into her, is to put down the newspaper. Turn off the television. Don’t buy the tell-all book. Don’t waste your hours scouring through the New York Times’ searchable database of her recovered emails from her time as Alaskan Governor.

The problem with the cure to Sarah Palin syndrome is that people don’t want it. She is to politics what Charlie Sheen is to television. We condescend, joke, and talk mock-seriously about what it says about us as a society, but we can’t look away.

I have a hunch that Palin’s cultural imprint as a villain is larger than her profile as a woman-of-the-people, but that each of them feeds the other. Her villainy in many channels at least, is more widely heralded then her ingenuity. The national perception of Sarah Palin is 30 percent favourable (according to Pollster national polling aggregates) and 60 percent unfavourable. Palin supporters admire the moxie of her willful middle finger in the direction of the mainstream press, while fanatical Palin haters must realise that with George W. Bush out of office, the left is lacking a Republican straw figure to scare Democrats to the polls.

Case in point : the Palin ‘One Nation’ bus tour. No itinerary was supplied to the media, because as Palin, and her carefully chosen media spokespeople said, “What does Palin owe the mainstream media?” The mainstream media in turn grumbled till its heart was content about what an inconvenience it all was, but then stomached decoys, impersonators and false starts to cover the hell out of it.

Mark Leibovich wrote one of the most honest pieces of political analysis and journalistic admission I’ve read in a while. I suggest you read it. (It actually praises Palin, to an extent, for the way she shakes up the hackneyed conventions of campaign journalism.)

The article quotes, Mark Salter, a longtime McCain aide and speechwriter.

“What’s the sound of an 18-wheeler when not trailed by a caravan of reporters? The answer is silence.”

The question on everyone’s lips remains – will Sarah Palin run for president in 2012? No. Although the way it keeps her profile front and centre is a good indicator, to me, of why she isn’t saying either way.

As an American resident with an eye on the media, I’ve recently begun being subjected to the extraordinarily drawn out process of appointing a nominee to face Obama in the 2012 election. Eighteen months is too long an electoral process.

The debates begin. Will Palin run? Pawlenty and Romney confirm. Will Palin run? Bachmann enters? How will this effect Palin’s decision to run? Sarah Palin won’t run for President. Why? (A) She makes too much money. (B) She doesn’t stand for anything. (C) People don’t like her. (D) The money she makes must mean she must have people around her that understand this.

ABC News reported in April 2010 that in the nine months after Sarah Palin stepped down as the Governor of Alaska, she earned 100 times her salary as a public servant: a $7 million book deal, $250,000 dollars for each of the eight episodes of Sarah Palin’s Alaska, and around $100,000 dollars for each public speaking engagement. This did not include her FOX News contract, or a contract for a second book with HarperCollins.

At 90 percent, too many Americans have an opinion on Sarah Palin. Only 70 or so percent of Americans have an opinion on Mitt Romney. Eighteen months out from the 2008 election, as many people have an opinion on Palin as they did of Hillary Clinton. It created a sense of stagnation for Clinton, and would likely do the same for Palin. And twice as many think unfavourably of Palin as do favourably. Presidential elections are populist affairs. The overwhelming majority of Presidents of recent memory had some tide of goodwill at their shoulder.

But most damning is that if Palin runs for President, she has to stand for something beyond the cardboard cutout of the most popular Republican of the day. Run for President and she has to put her name to something specific, and when the winds change, she will not be able to pivot so freely.

So get used to the Palin bogeyman, appearing frequently in newspapers near you, for now, and evermore. Or cut her off at her life force and ignore her.

Your call.