Monday, October 6, 2008

Exorcizing Sarah Palin

I could be doing something worthwhile like revising a novel or baking a cake or surfing Internet pornography, but, no, I am dwelling on Sarah Palin. This must stop. Some people, particularly straight Republican men, can't get enough of Palin. (Rich Lowry on National Review Online said that she, in reference to Palin's debate performance, "sent little starbursts through the screen." Afterwards, Lowry probably needed to wipe down his couch cushions.) I've had quite enough of our own personal hockey mom, and yet there she is, as ubiquitous as Britney's nether regions a few months ago, but at least they couldn't--as far as I know--speak or, potentially, rule the country.

Palin talking continues to provide fabulous material for Tina Fey, but what is Palin herself actually saying? In a Sunday New York Times article about Palin being on the offensive (more about that in a moment), a Palin speech in Colorado is quoted: "'We see America as the greatest force for good in this world. If we can be that beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy and can live in a country that would allow intolerance in the equal rights that again our military men and women fight for and die for all of us.'" In what is turning out to be typical Palin-speak, the statement begins coherently enough and then scrambles into a jumbled talking point with rehearsed key words strung nonsensically together. Palin can make our current grammatically challenged president seem articulate by comparison. Imagine her in office for four or eight or more years and shudder.

In the debate, what she said was far less important than how she said it, wink wink. Her pseudo-folksy, pseudo-direct style is, depending on your point of view, either charming or flabbergasting, but Palin lovers and haters can agree that she is charismatic. And now, a few weeks away from the election, the McCain campaign is going to milk every ounce of that charisma in an effort to improve his free-falling odds to be the next president. (Even Karl Rove, trying out a curious reverse-polling political tactic, admitted over the weekend that if the election were held today McCain would lose.) Since McCain's Bush-like policies aren't flying with the American public, what's left is smear politics, and who better to deliver them than the lipsticked pit bull herself. And because the media--and we who love or hate her--can't seem to get enough Palin, you can betcha that every ugly, irresponsible thing she says will be headline news here and abroad.

The weekend headline was Palin accusing Obama of "palling around with terrorists" and not seeing "America as you see it, and how I see America." What she's referring to is Obama's association with Bill Ayers, the former radical and current Distinguished Professor in Chicago. Obama hadn't yet hit puberty when Ayers and the Weathermen got in trouble, and his adult association with Professor Ayers (a free citizen, not a terrorist) doesn't go much beyond serving on education reform boards together. But in Sarah Palin's mind--or, rather, from Sarah Palin's mouth because she's undoubtedly being spoon fed her attack lines--this constitutes "palling around with terrorists." Next up, a return to the exhausted Rev. Wright association. (McCain's association with hateful extremist pastors is never mentioned by Palin and rarely by the media.) Ayers in not new news, or even news (A recent Times article about the connection dismissed any close ties), but guess what was topping the Yahoo! most-popular stories for much of the weekend. And the FEAR the Republican smear machine, led now by perky Ms. Starburst, wants to plant is really this: Obama is not one of us, he is other, he is a dark Muslim terrorist who wants to blow up your White (People's) House. Palin's statements are reprehensible and tinged with racism, and she should be apologizing for them, but Obama is unlikely to call for an apology because it will only give the attack dog more unwarranted publicity while the real issues escape out the window. But why aren't more people outraged by her hateful speech?

As Frank Rich pointed out in his Sunday Times opinion piece, though Palin has done nothing to give anyone confidence that she is prepared to be vice president let alone president, her post-debate manner demonstrates that she believes she is ready for and deserves the highest office. Rich says, "But there’s a steady unnerving undertone to Palin’s utterances, a consistent message of hubristic self-confidence and hyper-ambition. She wants to be president, she thinks she can be president, she thinks she will be president. And perhaps soon. She often sounds like someone who sees herself as half-a-heartbeat away from the presidency. Or who is seen that way by her own camp, the hard-right G.O.P. base that never liked McCain anyway and views him as, at best, a White House place holder." As McCain becomes the pathetic sideshow in his own campaign, Palin doesn't budge from center stage. She is the distraction that won't go away.

Ultimately, Palin's rambling incoherence and vicious personality (the real one under all the winks and darn right Joe Six-Pack rhetoric) might yet get the best of her. People in glass houses should think twice before throwing stones. Given the dubious political and religious company she and the first dude have kept, not to mention that pesky abuse-of-power investigation (funny how she thinks the VP needs more power) back in Alaska, her glass house could shatter quicker than the economy, the only thing voters supposedly care about. Meanwhile, the media will continue to broadcast her smears, because smears attract readers and ratings. They'll falsely equate Palin's fear-mongering with the Obama campaign's legitimate reminder today of John McCain's real and relevant connection to the Keating Five scandal. Obama needs to fight back cleanly and swiftly lest he get Swiftboated. As Palin herself said, the gloves are off.

If the McCain campaign goes down in flames, as it should, then McCain can go in search of the shreds of his maverick integrity and Palin can--one hopes--eventually become a quaint memory, the small-minded governor of that big state, a political footnote like that yapping chihuahua (with no offense to the breed) of a politician who once captivated the media, Ross Perot. Or that really hilarious character Tina Fey played, briefly and perfectly, way back when. We'll say, "Remember her? Can you believe she was almost a heartbeat away?" And we'll think what a surreal time that was, the real thing so dangerously close to the parody. The alternative is equally surreal, but a lot less hilarious.

Exorcism complete, or so I hope.

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