The question of how Governor Sarah Palin, a fiery, little-known Republican with scant national experience, managed to capture the fervent dedication of millions of conservatives has mystified pundits since she came onto the scene well over a year ago. Why is Sarah Palin so influential? Both fans and detractors have cited her populism, her folksy charm, her anti-elitist anger, her small-town credentials, or even her looks. But none has really seemed to stick. Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, an angry populist himself but a dedicated liberal, has a refreshingly bold theory, expressed in his trademark coarse style:
She is building a political career around the little interpersonal wars in the immediate airspace surrounding her sawdust-filled head. And in the process she connects with pissed-off, frightened, put-upon America on a plane that’s far more elemental than the mega-ditto schtick.
Most normal people cannot connect on an emotional level with Rush [Limbaugh]'s meanderings on how Harry Reid is buying off Mary Landrieu with pork in the health care bill. They can, however, connect with stories about how top McCain strategist and Karl Rove acolyte Steve Schmidt told poor Sarah to shut her pie-hole on election day...Not health care, not financial regulatory reform, not Iraq or Afghanistan, but — assholes.
And Sarah Palin sells copies. She is the country’s first WWE politician — a cartoon combatant who inspires stadiums full of frustrated middle American followers who will cheer for her against whichever villain they trot out, be it Newsweek, Barack Obama, Katie Couric, Steve Schmidt, the Mad Russian, Randy Orton or whoever. Her followers will not know that she is the perfect patsy for our system, designed as it is to channel popular anger in any direction but a useful one, and to keep the public tied up endlessly in pointless media melees over meaningless nonsense (melees of the sort that develop organically around Palin everywhere she goes). Like George W. Bush, even Palin herself doesn’t know this, another reason she’s such a perfect political tool.
Beneath his bluster, Taibbi argues that what makes Palin "a supremely gifted politician" isn't her policy positions or even the way she frames policy positions: It's a complete eschewing of policy altogether. After all, most Americans and even the media are bored by dry debates. Palin, Taibbi suggests, has instead built her platform on waging war against personal enemies--an approach that is both interesting and relatable.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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