Thursday, June 09, 2011

Confessions of a political junkie: The Palin Appeal

In the absence of a Republican presidential candidate who provokes any emotion other than lethargy in the eyes of the voting public, the media has taken to filtering pretty much every politically relevant (and irrelevant) news story through the lens of the upcoming presidential election. Whether economic forecasts, the Libya conflict, the debt ceiling charades, or the recent housing market reports, all are taken as some sort of political Rorschach test foretelling the outcome of the 2012 election.

On a slow news day, don't be surprised to see headlines about the ominous planetary cycles of Jupiter and Venus in President Obama's Vedic horoscope

None of this is any more reliable than a five-year-old's claim that a kangaroo just hopped the fence in the backyard of your pacific Northwest home. But these hallow stories nonetheless are still required reading for politics junkies in need of a fix during a still-sputtering launch into the 2012 campaign season.

News agencies don't capture and maintain the attention of the masses by correcting rumors, debunking myths, and settling trumped up controversies. Political palm readers and fortune tellers attract viewers by clogging the air and ether waves with exclusive reports speculating the hypothetical forecasts of potentially conclusive odds and coincidental concurrences about what and how the ever-unpredictable political winds will blow throughout the remainder of 2011.

• "How will Libya affect 2012?" (The Washington Post)
• "Will unemployment sink Obama’s 2012 campaign?" (The Daily Beast)
• "Debt ceiling fight could decide 2012 election" (RealClearPolitics)
• "Parties see Obama’s Israel policy as wedge in 2012" (The New York Times)
• "Seniors may swing 2012 vote on Medicare revolt" (Reuters)

"Join us tomorrow for a special segment on one man's homemade time-travel device – made from his wife's collection of purple and pink rubber dildos, held together with earwax and fueled by root beer – and what effect it might have in re-electing President Obama."

There are only moments of hope – the political reporter's desperate attempt to meet his quota with a "historic perspective" on presidential odds during times of high unemployment. "No American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent," The New York Times reported on June 1. But then, on June 2, some smartass bubble-bursting rationalist drowns the "historic perspective" in context: "The 7.2% threshold is largely irrelevant... The more relevant metric is directional – are things better or getting worse by the time voters head to the polls, and if worse, who gets the blame." Ronald Reagan won in '84 because the American public thought the economy was improving. George H.W. Bush lost because the public didn't think so.

In other words, you can't predict the second coming of Christ with a protractor, a deck of Tarot cards, and a map of ancient Mesopotamia. There are 17 months of economic forecasts before the election, any action on the debt ceiling is still months away, Libya won't ever become a splinter issue, abortion will continue to be one through 2016, the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be just as influential in 2012 as it will be in 3012, gay rights will take a back seat to immigration by the end of 2011, and Medicare will remain as is even as Republicans continue the suicidal quest to legitimize the Paul Ryan privatization plan.

In the meantime, as we wait for someone to enter the race who has more than the proverbial snowball's chance in hell of competing with Obama, we're left with the similarly speculative news reports about Weinergate, the long-in-coming and completely unsurprising news of John Edwards' indictment, and the 24/7 media circus surrounding former half-term governor Sarah Palin's donor-funded-but-allegedly-non-campaign-related mystery bus tour along the East Coast.

As a political junkie with a blog, you're forced to take the bait and add your own unoriginal observations to the three million other unoriginal observations already circulating the web. When Google says a reality show pop star is trending, a reality show pop star is what you write about. After two hours sulking in a lawn chair on the porch, a half-rack of empty beer cans scattered at your feet, and a handful of Somas fully dissolved and faithfully pumping through your bloodstream, you might be ready to take the plunge into TV-celebrity tabloid territory. It shouldn't be that difficult. You've done it before (more times than you care to recall), but descending into the gossip genre is the writer's equivalent of taking one for the team. It's made only slightly more bearable by the fact that much greater men, employed, syndicated, nationally-known, and respected journalists, have swallowed their pride as you must yours and given in to the public's yearning for useless tidbits about useless dimwits.

The irony is nauseating: You shower a publicity whore with the very attention you criticize her for seeking. And then, begrudgingly, you join the drudges of bottom-feeder news critics, drown out the delusions of one day contributing something more valuable to the world than snarky regurgitations of already clichéd talking points, forget about the months you've spent struggling to maintain any sort of presence in the already saturated blogosphere, and you write the fucking thing – a 1,000 word column that not all that many people will read. It will the your most popular post of the month...

The acolytes of Palin's brigade who troll the web for critics of their revolutionary hero inevitably will strike back. It's in the cards. As guaranteed as the sunrise on May 22nd. And you're ready for it. She deserves it, you say. She's clinging to her star power despite any rational expectation that she will break her record of contributing anything more than partisan vitriol and populist paranoia to the public discourse. She's touring the east in a bus funded by fans who will donate even more to her political action committee, only to realize they were duped when she announces that she won't run. It's no different than Newt Gingrich's "Entrepreneur of the Year Award" scheme or Glenn Beck's gold bullion marketing scam

People magazine

But the Palin army has grown wiser over the years, and when they accuse you of beating a dead horse, the guilt piles on. She's a failed vice presidential candidate, a failed governor, and a failed mother who totes her disabled son around the country as a prop and chops the double-chin off her chubby daughter in a plastic surgery procedure the family defended as a medically necessary "corrective surgery." She has a web page outlining (in bullet points) her stance on nearly 400 political issues, and yet the only domestic or foreign policy she could ever take credit for is "Drill, baby, drill." She stays in the limelight by baiting the media with constant hints of a presidential run despite having done nothing over the past three years to increase her credibility, beef up her policy positions, or even read up on history. If she thinks she deserves the publicity, she deserves the scrutiny, too. Right? Right? Either way, we're still talking about her – or mercilessly flogging what at this point is the rotting carcass of a barren hinny.

But fuck 'em. A Palinite can't wander into a discussion about Palin's potential 2012 candidacy and get pissed that we're talking about Palin's potential 2012 candidacy rather than talking about "issues" and "the future of our union" and "the principles of what really matter" and "the legacy we are leaving our younger generations," as if the discussion of PALIN'S POTENTIAL 2012 CANDIDACY isn't what EVERYBODY is talking about this week, and as if it's the only topic anyone has ever discussed on the web. That's like berating a friend for posting on Facebook that she's "impressed by a Texas rest area with granite counters and free internet" rather than talking about "issues" and "the future of our union" and "the principles of what really matter" and "the legacy we are leaving our younger generations."

The "issues" never get resolved. The pendulum swings every two years, politicians come in and out of power, voters think they've really got a good one who will push for this or that environmental or social issue, they don't, and we go back to the polls to elect a new batch of do-nothing leaders. The worse part is, it'll be another few weeks before we even get to pretend like the issues matter. Palin is in the news. Before her, it was Donald Trump. Next week, who knows? Maybe Michele Bachmann. And oh what a travesty it will be as the news media turn the American public's attention away from "the issues" as it chases another week's worth of sensational news reports about what impact Bachmann will have on the presidential race. The political junkies of the blogosphere will act like it's an abomination against their integrity to dedicate a few minutes of their precious time writing some snarky bullshit critique of her already well-known, impossible-to-overcome odds of winning the presidency.

And it will be their most popular post of the month.

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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