Longtime Palin Admirer: Running Would Hurt Her Cause and Country

He was a conservative radio talk show host when David Foster Wallace profiled him in The Atlantic. Then he was a defender of the former Alaska governor. Now he may end up being her worst enemy.

Circa 2005, when John Ziegler was profiled in The Atlantic by David Foster Wallace, America met a Los Angeles area talk radio host with raw talent for the medium, a belief that "Katie Couric is a disgrace to journalists everywhere," and an unusually intense interest in the OJ Simpson murder case. In subsequent years, Ziegler reinvented himself as a documentary filmmaker, releasing titles such as Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected And Palin Was Targeted, and developing an unusually intense interest the former Alaska governor. He has acted in turn as a journalist interviewing her, a self-appointed spokesman defending her against critics, and even an informal adviser, insofar as the two would correspond and he'd offer his unsolicited suggestions.

Today in The Daily Caller, the onetime Palin champion comes to the same conclusion drawn by many of her former acolytes and longtime critics alike. "What she appears to be currently doing is almost certainly destructive to her cause and her country," Ziegler writes. "I've fought so hard for Sarah, I'm almost unemployable. But in spite of being approached by Sarah's husband Todd only a month ago and specifically discussing the possibility, I won't be working on any Palin presidential campaign... there is absolutely no way that she can be elected... There's also the fact that Sarah's entire operation is increasingly managed like a CIA field office; that she's adopted a bunker mentality; that she's trusting the wrong people, some of whom I know are simply exploiting her."

The whole piece, titled "The Sarah Palin I Know," is a fascinating look into the mind of a hardcore Palin supporter as he comes to realize that the object of his admiration isn't as deserving of it as he thought. There are remnants of absurdly hyperbolic praise. "Not since Reagan has there been as gifted a politician as her," Ziegler writes, "and because she is an attractive woman with a powerful personal story, you could easily argue she exceeded even the Gipper in overall political potential." Then there are the defensible statements made on Palin's behalf -- that she is smarter than she is sometimes portrayed, that she governed Alaska as a moderate, that some of the media attacks on her were unfair. What's strangest, however, is the insistence that Palin bears no responsibility for her demise -- that the media is wholly responsible for her downfall.

By way of analogy, he compares her to Bo Jackson:

The media-induced knee-capping during the 2008 election and its aftermath was grossly unfair, but it was also comprehensive and complete. Like Jackson after his freak hip injury, she still looked the same and could still plausibly play the game, but the magic was gone. It isn't her fault and it is a travesty of justice, but to not recognize and accept that would be highly detrimental to the team.

Perhaps that ought to satisfy me. The important thing is for Palin fans and critics to agree that the longer she aspires to higher office the worse off we'll be. As a longtime Palin critic, however, I just can't help myself. Shortly after John McCain named her as his VP choice, I wrote that she was unprepared and that various personality traits she exhibited were deeply problematic.

People like Ziegler insisted that Palin critics were wrong -- that only our supposed prejudice against non-elites or our sexism or our hatred of social conservatives could explain why we doubted her. So forgive me if I want more than, "She's over now, and it's the media's fault." Surely Ziegler must now understand that Palin bears substantial responsibility for her own demise.

Just look at his piece!

We're told that Palin is extremely averse to hearing any bad news, that her team is constantly blaming people for things that aren't their fault, that her most loyal allies are made to suffer petty slights, that she is constantly getting advice from advisers of questionable merit, and that she reacts to criticism by adopting a "bunker mentality." She refuses to grant press access even when it's in her interest to do so, Ziegler says, she is completely unrealistic about her political prospects and the consequences of her actions, she creates the perception that she cares more about her own moneymaking brand than advancing the prospects of her political coalition, she isn't very organized, she cancels engagements on impossibly short notice with little regard for their organizers, she unfairly make people who mean her no harm into enemies...

Is that all the lamestream media's doing?

Perhaps Ziegler should ponder the possibility that these flaws have always been present in Palin; that if she'd become VP her bunker mentality, disorganization, flakiness, and penchant for lashing out at critics, among other flaws, all would've played out from Washington, D.C., as the country gawked; that she was as poor a choice back then as she is now; that just maybe, some of her critics had a point all along.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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