My colleague Andrew Sullivan is mighty upset about my suggestion, in this post, that Sarah Palin might not run for president, and by way of welcome to the blogosphere, he unloads both barrels on me. Andrew says I'm "completely wrong, dangerously complacent, and out of touch with profound shifts in media, fundraising and politics."
Well, I think Andrew is profoundly wrong and borderline nuts on this subject--and if he's right, and Palin launches a bid for the White House, his nightmare of a Palin presidency is unlikely to be realized. It's not impossible. Just unlikely. The point of my original post, riffing off this New York magazine piece on Palin's newfound wealth, was that Palin seems more interested in money than politics. The conventional wisdom in Washington--which Andrew has backward--is that Palin will probably run, though this is less a matter of conviction than a vague sense that she craves the spotlight and won't pass it up. My mildly contrarian suggestion was that avarice might lead her instead to become a Glenn Beck-like political-entertainment figure, which would furnish her with a platform, a lifestyle, and a way of avoiding the hard work of running for president (a lot tougher than serving a half term as governor).
My point was limited to Palin's own motivations and desires. But Andrew's rant doesn't address that--I don't think his worldview allows for the possibility that she might not run. He concerns himself instead with lots of black-helicopter sounding stuff about cynical elites and the "media-ideological-industrial complex" and basically stops just short of accusing Palin of fluoridating the water. But after all that, what Andrew has described is not a force powerful enough to elect a president. He's described (pretty accurately, I might add) elite Washington's view of the Fox News viewership and then imbued it with a lot more importance than it merits. "Add Palin to the mix," he writes, "and you have a whole new machine in American politics--one with the capacity, as much as Obama's, to upend the established order."
No, you don't. As Andrew himself points out, the established order of the GOP has already been upended--you wouldn't have a goofball like Michael Steele as your party chairman if the grownups were still in charge! As for overthrowing the broader establishment, which I take to mean the Obama White House, that strikes me as highly unlikely absent a complete transformation on Palin's part. As one of Andrew's readers astutely points out,
Palin has none of Obama's perseverance, none of his capacity to shrug off personal attacks, and none of his capacity for long-term strategic thinking. Fox News may give her a nice safe haven for softball interviews, but they can't shield her from the bruising, think-on-your-feet rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign. Running for president is hard fucking work -- especially when there's good money to be made doing something else.
That's exactly right. And experience tells us that Palin's capacity for hard work does not extend even to serving a full term as Alaska's governor. This matters because in the real world, unlike Andrew's fever dream, running for president is grueling. It is not often glamorous. It takes years of hard work and no small amount of luck. You can't do it on Facebook. You can't keep your ridiculous TLC reality show. You have to persuade people who don't already worship you. And all of Roger Ailes's nefarious cable programming can't win it for you. There aren't enough rapturous dimwits in the country.
One last point. I know saying so goes against standard blogger bromides about the "corrupt mainstream media" and its boundless capacity for evil, and I know it threatens Andrew's view of himself as a lonely, embattled tribune and bulwark against the global menace of Palinism--I'm no fan either--but it must be said that for all its faults the media is doing a perfectly fine job of covering Palin and her sundry shortcomings, and has been since the day she flubbed her first interview. No, we haven't uncovered the Trig stuff (we're leaving that for Andrew). But basing one's terrified fantasies of a Palin presidency on the press suddenly swooning and giving her a free pass indicates either disingenuousness or an acute lack of imagination. Palin may run, and she may win, although as I've said, I doubt it very much. But to do so, she'll have to give up an awful lot that she clearly enjoys and begin doing the things she doesn't enjoy. And she'll have to overcome an adversarial press corps.