Sarah Palin and the Half-Baked Republicans (Rated PG due to recklessness)
Considering Sarah Palin’s bizarre resignation speech, complete with quirky quotes lifted from her mother’s refrigerator magnets, peppered with allusions to her outstanding bills, and served against a backdrop of wild ducks and geese, it seems Alaska’s most popular lady has lost her political bearings in a snowstorm. Yes, the Republicans should just exile this hockey mom to some offbeat speaking circuit where she can’t do anymore harm than she’s already done.
But perhaps we underestimate the statecraft of this gritty, down-to-earth woman. Political pundits are almost unanimous in the belief that Palin’s decision to quit the governorship of Alaska is the equivalent of political hari kari. But they seem to forget what has been the essence of Palin’s mysterious attraction from the very beginning: an ability to shine through her cutesy klutziness, and crack a smile and a wink through her stammering, ala Ronald Reagan, and to a lesser degree, George W. Bush. After all, as the Republican Party knows all too well, voters don’t usually throw their weight behind annoying intellectuals, bespectacled and bald know-it-alls who only make everyone feel inferior. So now plain Palin, betting the house on the victim card, is slowly turning the tables on her doubting detractors.
“Indeed, if political figures stand for ideas, victimization is what Ms. Palin is all about,” wrote Thomas Frank, in The Wall Street Journal. “It is her brand, her myth. Ronald Reagan stood tall. John McCain was about service. Barack Obama has hope. Sarah Palin is a collector of grievances. She runs for office by griping.”
In many ways, Sarah Palin is a byproduct of the Age of Whine, a cultural movement largely underwritten by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, and enhanced by an increasingly ubiquitous media, where “victims” of every stripe line up for their 15 minutes of dubious fame. In the past, personal problems were concealed from public view out of simple self-respect and decency; today, our deficiencies are sported like colorful tattoos for all to marvel at. And heaven help the person who fails to genuflect on bloody bended knee to a victim.
Sarah Palin’s handlers “find offense in the most harmless remarks and diabolical calculation in the inflections of the anchorman’s voice,” Frank continues. “They take insults out of context to make them seem even more insulting. They pay close attention to voices that are ordinarily ignored, relishing every blogger’s sneer, every celebrity’s slight, and every crazy Internet rumor.”
According to members of the Liberal camp, Palin exaggerating the comments of her critics constitutes the sole attraction of her traveling circus. But many in the Republican Party, of course, do not see it that way. Indeed, US conservatives view the attacks against Palin as symptomatic of a sick and godless society that cannot bear to see a moral and honorable woman supporting every respectable lifestyle that the Liberals have soundly rejected.
“The reaction to Palin’s nomination was as visceral as it was unhinged…” wrote Matthew Continetti, associate editor of The Weekly Standard. “Comedians lampooned her accent, her looks, her religion, her education and her family.”
A good example of Palin’s alleged hypersensitivity was when she jumped at the opportunity of upbraiding “Late Night” talk show host David Letterman for poking fun at her 18-year-old daughter Bristol.
Letterman, who makes a very good living ridiculing the ridiculous, opened his nightly monologue with the news that the Alaska governor was in New York City for a Yankees baseball game. After describing Palin as having the fashion taste of a “slutty flight attendant,” the popular talk-show host crossed the line of respectability, Republicans say, when he made a cheap joke at Palin’s daughter's expense.
“One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game,” Letterman quipped, “during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rogriguez.”
The punch line of this tasteless joke was based on Palin’s daughter Bristol, 18, who delivered a baby out-of-wedlock. But the joke was on Letterman, who (probably) was unaware that it was not Bristol who was in attendance at the Yankees game, but rather Palin’s other daughter, Willow, who is only 14.
This naturally set off a chain reaction of blistering volleys across America’s political tennis court, with Republicans accusing Letterman of endorsing sex with minors, and Democrats snapping back that the Republicans lost their sense of humor. It may have also been lost on Letterman that a whopping 40% of newborns in the United States are delivered out of wedlock.
Dragging innocent children into the political crossfire is never a good idea. So Palin was a bit hypocritical when she dedicated a disproportionate slab of her resignation speech to her own son, Trig, who was born last year with Down Syndrome.
Palin expressed pity for Trig’s siblings who saw “their baby brother… mocked and ridiculed by some pretty mean-spirited adults recently. And by the way, I sure wish folks could understand (garbled) all that we can learn, all of us, from somebody like Trig. I know he needs me, but I know that I need him even more. The world needs more Trigs, not fewer.”
Is there really a place in a governor’s resignation speech to gush about the children? If Trig was the sole reason that Palin was calling it quits, then perhaps it would be understandable. But that is certainly not the case. If anything, Palin will probably hit the speaking trail in the very near future, and it is highly unlikely that Trig will be tagging along. The strangest thing is that nobody is even talking about Trig besides Sarah Palin.
Although Palin may have been honestly trying to win sympathy for her special-needs child, to do so during one of her most critical speeches risked looking like a cheap way of garnering political points.
“Stop bringing your kids into this,” commented Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks political show. “It’s such a weak defense shield she puts up. Anytime you criticize how painfully stupid she is, she says, ‘are you talking about my kids?!’”
Cosmetic surgery for the Republicans?
Palin’s resignation may suggest deeper thinking on the part of the GOP than most pundits are willing to admit: the Republicans understand that their embattled party desperately needs a fresh new face to bring home the political bacon, and Palin, despite all of her many flaws, may just be that person.
After 8 years of unadulterated arrogance under the reign of George Bush II, the Republican fraternity of stupid white men, now practically indistinguishable from the equally challenged Neoconservatives, has become a genetically modified beast of burden. Their message does not flush with the slowly evolving perceptions of average Americans, who are finally coming around to the realization that there are more pressing matters in life (like national healthcare, for example, and allies who are more fond of us than our enemies) than waging an endless battle against evil shadows.
Dubya’s administration was top heavy with some of the most loathsome individuals to serve in government since at least the days of Genghis Khan. And I can only speculate what future historians will have to say about “we the people” who allowed such endearing fellows, like Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, John Bolton, Richard Perle, Robert Zoellick and Paul Wolfowitz, for example, anywhere near the halls of power. The least offensive thing that can be said for the Bush administration is that the deep scars from those two terrible terms will show on the face of Lady Liberty for a long time.
But it didn’t have to be this bad for the Republicans, of course. After all, the majority of Americans still proclaim a strong attachment to the conservative movement (briefly, core conservative principles include a devotion to God, small government, entrepreneurialism and limited involvement in global affairs). This only proves that the Republicans shot themselves very accurately in both feet when it is considered how the Democrats manhandled them in the 2006 and 2008 elections.
Today, the Republicans have no choice but to boot into the bright lights a new and improved representative of their extremely unpopular policies, which probably won’t change too much in the years to come. But it can’t be just another sweet-talking, used-car salesman type of guy. And the “maverick” trick has already been tried by John McCain in his failed run at the presidency.
No, the next big Rove stunt (with all fairness to the Republican mastermind, he was reportedly baffled by Palin’s retirement as much as anybody) must embrace somebody who does not immediately draw associations with the foaming-at-the-mouth Neocons. In other words, a person who walks, talks and smells like a Republican, but doesn’t really look like a Republican. Although to admit as much bodes very badly for the overall condition of the Republican Party, the GOP desperately need this woman.
Perhaps Palin’s clumsy announcement was designed to look like the absentminded meanderings of an overworked hockey mom (The announcement, incidentally, was made just before the Fourth of July holiday weekend, which suggests that Palin wanted to make the announcement when it would receive the greatest attention; those who make the opposite argument, that announcing her resignation over the holidays would have reduced the fanfare, forget how many people today spend the holidays glued to their televisions and computers). If so, the ploy certainly worked. Palin’s surprise resignation produced exactly the effect the Republican strategists were hoping for: thousands of sound-bite moments beamed into living rooms and laptops across the 50 states.
Wham-bam, thank you, ma'am! Just like that, almost-forgotten Sarah Palin, the victimized vice-presidential candidate of a losing Republican ticket, is right back at the top of the steaming political pile, and on the tongue of every political pundit. And most importantly, all free of charge.
Had Palin decided to remain the fair governor of faraway Alaska, a state that most Americans only associate with uselessly large animals and bad weather, her political career would have stalled like a snowmobile in the middle of the tundra. Yet Palin has already caught a whiff of the White House, the poisonous elixir of ultimate power, more alluring than Chanel No. 5, and now nothing can stop this lady’s ambitions.
Now Sarah Palin, freed from the burden of governing America’s largest state, will be spending the next four years crisscrossing the United States, shaking hands, kissing babies, collecting money and testing the political waters. By the next presidential election season, if things are not going smoothly for Barack Obama, this tenacious lady will be more than ready to bring the Republican Party back from the political graveyard. After all, stranger things have happened. Just ask George W. Bush.