Believing Sarah Palin

by Dave Weigel

Like I said in my first post, I guest-blogged for the Daily Dish back in 2006. I don't remember anyone, at the time, challenging the decision. So I was unprepared for the rat-a-tat of criticism I got for signing up this week. To quote Baseball Crank, who kept up a drumbeat about this on Twitter, "David Frum and David Weigel are free to associate with Andrew Sullivan, but how can they now call anyone else on associating with crackpots?"

There are two levels of criticism, both of starting with the assumption that by agreeing to blog in this space I am tacitly endorsing everything that usually appears in this space. One is that Andrew Sullivan is wrong and spreading misinformation about the birth of Trig Palin in 2008. The other is that Sullivan is wrong about Israel. I'm in Alaska and the subject of the Palins comes up frequently enough here, so let me just deal with the first criticism. Trig Palin is Sarah Palin's son and it's irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

I've spent way too much time in the trenches of Birtherism, so I both 1) think "Trig Trutherism" is hard to compare one-to-one to that and 2) know that it exists in the same logical wormhole. It's less important because Birtherism first started making news as a way for activists to raise doubts about whether Barack Obama could be on the ballot, then whether he could become president. The first article I wrote about birtherism was on the petitions to the Supreme Court demanding he be denied the office because he hadn't sufficiently proven his citizenship. Once Obama was inaugurated, birtherism became a way for kooks to raise money off of the gullible, a reason for military officers to sue their president, and -- most importantly -- an issue for congressmen to sign onto and pander to constituents on. The polls are all over the place, but suggest that a sizable number of Republicans and conservatives believe in this nonsense.

"Trig Trutherism" is less serious. Were Sarah Palin to become president and everything the Trig Truthers believed to be proven right, it wouldn't matter at all. But they won't be proven right. All of the evidence indicates that Trig Palin is Sarah's son, and none of it suggests otherwise. I paid close enough attention to this in 2008, and realized pretty quickly that the countervailing theories made no sense. Too many people watched Palin announce the pregnancy and saw her come along until she went into labor, prematurely, while attending a National Governors Association event in Texas. Here in Alaska, people tell me that Palin fans (who at one point made up 85-90% of Alaskans) held "baby showers" for her, and she'd drop in to thank them.

The other Trig theories seem to be based on vapor -- that she wasn't "showing" much in some photos, that her campaign was less than 1000% forthcoming when asked about it. I don't generally trust politicians, but I know the difference between a "dodge" and an answer given to ward off annoying tabloid stories. The answers on Trig were in that latter category. (Watch Robert Gibbs when he answers "birther" questions, then watch how WorldNetDaily dissembles them for "proof" that his choices of verbs show he's hiding something.)

From my e-mail I gather Sullivan critics are angry about the other Palin stories he's posted. I don't see a huge difference between how he's covered the odder Palin rumors this and how the rest of the media has covered them. I do see a difference on Trig, and I do think that he's made a huge mistake by indulging this. Politicians suffer when they're called out on things they've done. They thrive when they're called out for things they haven't done, for stories they can call "conspiracy theories," and for stories they can file under "politics of personal destruction." Obsessing over Trig, as much as it annoys the Palins -- and I see why it does -- is one of the best ways of propping her up. It gives her fan base proof that its hero is constantly battling unfair personal attacks that the media won't debunk. It convinces them that critics focus on this nonsense because they've got nothing else to criticize Palin about. She has taken advantage of this impression.

The Trig obsession has also, I'm sad to say, damaged Andrew Sullivan's reputation. I'm stunned by the anger he's generating not just among random Tweeters but among people who've been online for years, part of the rough-and-tumble of blogging. They know that 99% of what Sullivan writes is challenging, smart, and addictive, and that he's very capable of honing in on bigger political and philosophical debates. People want him to take a deep breath and stop obsessing over this conspiracy theory. Count me among those people.