"A Half-Term Former Governor With A TV Show"
David Brooks wants everyone to stop talking about her:
She is not going to be the leader of any party and doesn’t seem to be inclined in that direction. The Sarah Palin phenomenon is a media psychodrama and nothing more. It gives people on each side an excuse to vent about personality traits they despise, but it has nothing to do with government. She is in 2010 what Jerry Falwell was from the mid-1990s until his death a conservative cartoon inflated by media. Evangelicals used to say that Falwell had three main constituency groups ABC, CBS and NBC.
I understand why David would rather she go away; but like his dismissal of the power of the Christianist right in American conservatism and culture, this dismissal of Palin misses, I think, several critical things.
The first is the psychological appeal of the beautiful female warrior. Palin is not appealing to the Republican super-ego (in so far as one has survived the last ten years); she is directly, umbilically connected to the Republican id (and some other male organs). Her appeal is visceral not rational. And if modern post-Nixon Republicanism has always had a thread of class resentment sustaining it, Palin concentrates it into a heady brew. If Nixon was cocaine for the resentful psyche, Palin is meth.
Secondly, she fuses both Tea-Party anti-government sentiment with neocon conviction about the necessity for American empire.
Of course, none of this makes any sense, but Palin, unlike some of her rivals who feel some kind of lingering need to relate their policies to fiscal and global reality, is a thoroughly post-modern creature. She creates her own reality, and that is an incredibly important talent for a party base that desperately wants to live in another reality (a kind of souped-up version of 1950s culture and late nineteenth century economy). Her book - a fictional account of an imagined life - sold well with the GOP base because they too want a fictional account of America's current standing in the world and an imagined set of viable policy positions. She so lives and breathes this magical-realist culture she doesn't need to channel it. She knows we can keep social security and Medicare and global power for ever and balance the budget without any taxes - because that is what she wants to know. And she has never let reality get in her way. Reality is one of those doors she keeps crashing through.
Thirdly, she has a child with Down Syndrome. If you see Trig as a political tool, the near-appalling exposure of him in the campaign and book tour is not so bizarre. For a pro-life base that suspects that all Republican leaders, including even Bush, are phonies on the life issue, Palin has, in their eyes, walked the pro-life walk. Since this issue motivates the base in deeply powerful ways, Palin's ace has always been her youngest son. He proves her political authenticity - or at least seems to.
Who else puts all this together for the GOP? No one. Huckabee is crippled by a record of spending and leniency. Romney is crippled by being Mitt Romney and Mormonism. Pawlenty: seriously? Santorum? Ditto. Brown? We are beginning to see the depth of his predicament. DeMint? Rubio? C'mon.
Yes, many tea-partiers do not think Palin is "qualified" to be president. But primaries are won by enthusiasm and star power. Palin has both. And she has money. And, most important, she has a media machine dedicated to promoting her outside of any real scrutiny or questions. She has never faced a real press conference and speaks to "pre-screened" questioners at debates and speeches. She is a test-case of how willfully divorced from reality a segment of America can remain, and how irrelevant reality is for today's niche-targeted media. All of this makes Palin the most potent force in American politics since Obama.
Acknowledging that requires a grasp of the depth of the crisis on the right. I think David still under-estimates how deep that crisis is. I think he still thinks the current Republican party is salvageable as a credible governing force. I don't.
(Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty.)