Monday, May 23, 2011

The tragicomedy of Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin turns heads, particularly those decorated with swinging tea bags on tri-corner hats bobbling atop the corpulent bodies of elderly white folks whose granny arms flap in such furious spasms of patriotic applause every time the Mama Grizzly barfs up another profound prophesy of Obama-doom that they'd fly off into the dawn's early light if it weren't for that extra fifty pounds of adipose tissue they gained after making a public stand against government intrusion by scarfing a pallet full of Wal-Mart's Great Value fudge mint cookies during the season finale of Sarah Palin's Alaska.

Palin, on Fox News discussing the potential
 of a 2012 presidential run.

And then there's the Left – the professional, elitist snobs – who so desperately want to ignore the Palin pop-celebrity buzz but can't, and so must justify their addiction by taking the intellectual high road and reading the gossip via a magazine of national repute like The Atlantic.

The very presence in a left-leaning political magazine of a has-been limelight junkie like Palin proves not only the staying power of the Bible-thumping caribou Barbie in this bizarre new political carnival of America but also the selling power of the Palin brand in the high(ish)brow world of publishing. (The Atlantic advertised Joshua Green's feature, "The Tragedy of Sarah Palin," with a gold teaser on the all-black June cover.)

The deep-but-pathetic roster of potential Republican presidential nominees, and the recent announcements by Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, and Haley Barbour not to seek the nomination, gives the media due cause to turn the cameras back on the 2008 vice presidential nominee. For political junkies afflicted with a shameful lust for sleazy right-wing conspiracies but reluctant to scroll through through Palin's Facebook and Twitter posts for dirt, the media's half-hearted crawl back into North Star territory provides us with the sick-but-somehow-comforting reminders of how this country might have looked had soccer moms and NASCAR devotees outflanked sanity in the '08 election.

Green knows the dismal odds of Palin winning the Republican nomination, which is why he was forced to legitimize the tabloid-esque Palin piece by disembarking from reality and entering a hypothetical universe that focused not on what Palin has become since "going rogue" on the 2008 campaign trail, but what she "might have been" and "what she could have achieved" had she "kept her impulses in check" rather than "obsess[ing] over her image," blaming the media for her own unpreparedness, and eventually abandoning the only real chance she had of one day capturing the presidency: her governorship.

Green's abridged jaunt down memory lane seeks to remind America of this half-term governor's extensive executive experience fighting Big Oil and breaking up the "monopoly of power" by working with Democrats to push through a tax hike. Rubbing shoulders with socialists and increasing taxes in order to boost state revenues may not seem like the type of small government conservatism that the national Republican Party would want to advocate in a presidential race against a so-called liberal, but then that perhaps explains the McCain campaign's decision to downplay Palin's record and fill Sarahcuda's speeches with the same vitriolic "full-throttle assault" against their opponent that landed George W. Bush the White House in 2000 and 2004.

Alas, it could have ended up differently. The alleged maverick of the The Last Frontier may not have lost her credibility, humiliated herself, her family and her country; she may not have returned to Alaska to face a full docket of ethics charges and abuse of power investigations; she may not have seen dollar signs in the wrinkled faces of her fanatical fringe following; and she may not have abandoned public service in order to write two books, pimp her daughter out to Dancing With the Stars, join up with Fox News, and star in her own TV show.

But the fact remains, regardless of a star-gazing magazine writer's speculations, that Palin made a choice. If she wanted to govern, she'd have stayed on as governor. Instead, she left office and spent two-plus years mulling a presidential run on live TV, raking in millions of dollars winking into cameras, "refudiating" the "lamestream media"'s "gotcha journalism" tactics and doing whatever was necessary to continue fueling the ignorant passions of right-wing radicalism with talk-radio rhetoric about our socialist president's "downright evil" policies.

As a result, she's rich, famous and just as unqualified and unpopular as she was in 2008.

There is and has always been only one reason Palin has teased the nation by repeatedly reminding the media of the possibility that she might enter the presidential race, and it has nothing to do with her ideas about America, her eligibility, or her odds.

In his crystal ball search of an alternate reality, Green attempts to validate his investigation into a hypothetically less pock-marked Palin legacy by asking, "What if history had written a different ending?"

It's a rhetorical question, of course. We can't travel back in time and change the course of history. But even if we could – even if McCain hadn't been so desperate that he chose to "shock the world with his vice-presidential pick" in order to have a chance at taking first in the 2008 presidential race; even had Palin never made the humiliating descent into the lower 48 – I doubt American politics would look any different today.

The decomposition of Palin's political career wasn't the sole catalyst for the Tea Party's conception, which is to say that in her absence we wouldn't be suffering a shortage of partisan windbags who earn a living beating the ideological drum of revolution. Rest assured, when Palin finally announces that she won't run – and confirms for us all that she's nothing more than a publicity whore who spent two and a half years dipping her toe into the pond of a potential presidential run only for the cash – someone else will be there to pick up the slack in the provocative political soap opera of populist paranoia. 

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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