by David Michael Green
Watching Sarah Palin in action is always an exercise in astonishment, but I don't think anything she's done to date could top the speech she gave announcing her resignation as governor of Alaska.
I watched her with my jaw dropped, left nearly speechless not only by what she said but by how she said it. And, most especially, by the insanely frightening notion that tens of millions of Americans not only don't see her as some sort of Tina Fey character built for howling laughs, but in fact an object of adoration.
Hey, Jesus, do we really need so overt a reminder that the once mighty empire is now in complete free fall? Wasn't eight years of Kid Caligula enough?
I don't even know what to do or think or make of her style of public speaking, and I'm not even sure I understand why I don't. Is it that she so unambiguously violates all the rules of our already embarrassing political praxis by presenting herself as so transparently false, so unashamedly faking her way through national issues of which she is totally ignorant?
Chance the Gardener literally - literally! - had more credibility than Sarah Palin, somehow. Is it because he was completely authentic in his ignorance, and she so completely disingenuous?
Is it the singy-songy, Golly-gosh Gomer!, candy-coated old-fashioned homespun goody-goodness of her TV persona that freaks me out, a character so one-dimensional it could make porn stars seem like Oscar-winning thespians by comparison?
Is it the mangled English so grating to the ear that even George W. Bush can't bear to listen to it?
Is it the stitched together phrases that make her speeches sound like she chose all her tired slogans from the bargain bins of the local Dollar Store, and then had Taawwd jam them together for her at the last moment?
Or is it the goof-happy plastic demeanor, drenched in poured-over-the-top buckets of faux sincerity, making her come off like some stoned cheerleader telling you just how important that next first-down really, really is? "No, I mean really. Really!"
And speaking of stoned, don't you just feel like you must be high when you see her in action, like somebody must have slipped you a mickey? Don't you just find yourself thinking "I thought that mushrooms-in-applesauce dish was a weird culinary combination!"?
Like the fool that I am, I listened to that rambling, incoherent, Hieronymous Bosch painting of a speech she gave, looking for some sort of thematic thread that held the thing together in any sort of fashion (apart, that is, from it being a transparent attempt at linguistic murder through induced insanity, evidently aimed at her Wasilla Community College English professor).
Silly me, though - it sure didn't make a lot sense. At least if you go in for that whole logic thing and all. Of course, we're talking about an evangelical Christian Republican from Wasilla, Alaska here, so the joke's obviously on me for even trying.
But here, near as I can tell, is what I think she was trying to say in her rambling resignation speech:
1. I can "progress" Alaska and America with or without a title.
2. I'm wasting my precious time here on Earth as Governor, defending against false accusations.
3. Therefore I'm not going to run for a second term.
4. Therefore I'm not going to finish my first one either, like some governors do, as a "lame-duck" going off on junkets and stuff.
5. (Oh, and by the way, the troops in the military are really, really great people. Not that that has a damn thing to do with anything, but if I talk a lot about them it'll score me lots of points with idiots, just like it did for Bush.)
Pretty noble, eh? She loves her job, but she's going to sacrifice it all for the people of Alaska. You know, the one's who asked her to actually serve all four years of her term when they honored her with the highest office in the state.
Palin talks incessantly about Alaska, but darned if I can figure out how she's gonna progress the state better from outside of the most powerful position in government than in it. Is she gonna be a CEO now? An editorial writer? A lobbyist? And for what? Abstinence? Are we really supposed to believe that she would have more influence on legislators from the deck of her fishing boat than she would as governor? Not to mention one with a veto pen?
The false-choice she sets up to cover her retreat is astonishingly bald, as well. It's as if she were to say "I've decided to become an alcoholic because I don't want to subject you all to genocide". As if those were the only two choices. As if one had anything to do with the other. As if the fact that some governors go off on junkets means that she had to choose between one of two lousy options - 18 months of wasted gubernatorial excess versus noble self-sacrifice in resigning the position. As if she hasn't already been on the junket and speech circuit anyhow.
Most bizarre of all is her repeated invocation of the silly tough guy image she and her handlers have created for her, including her Sarah Barracuda point-guard mantra, "I am a fighter, I thrive on challenge." Challenge, huh? Does she mean the challenge of finding something more fun to do with the next year and a half than her actual job? Only in the bizarro universe of Regressiveland does war equal peace, family values equal cheating on your wife and paying off mistresses, and quitting your job equal being a tough, Barracuda-like fighter.
Nobody with bigger aspirations (or even without) ever resigns a job like this midway through the first term unless they've been elected to a higher position, have a lethal disease about to take them out, or are facing serious scandal. I'd say you can bet your left testicle that Palin falls neatly into category three. And, even if you can't find one in your particular pair of pants to wager, borrow one from your brother, boyfriend or husband. It ain't goin' anywhere, I can tell you that. Indeed, the real question isn't what you could lose, but rather what you could win. What to bet against that? Who - besides Barack Obama and nearly every Democrat in Washington - needs three balls, anyhow?
Palin likes to claim that all the scandal investigations launched against her have come to nothing. Believe it or not, that actually is true, provided of course you don't count the other ones that have. The Alaska (Republican-controlled) legislature, for example, determined that she had abused her office by having state employees fire her former brother-in-law from his job. Which of course is not to be confused with the current very public battle she's engaged in with her former-almost-but-not-quite-son-in-law, Levi, who resides in the next trailer over. Then there's the small matter of the back taxes she's had to repay on travel expenses she charged the state, for staying in her own home in Wasilla, no less. Nice gig if you can get it, eh?
Of course, the real mystery of the Palin Phenomenon is in the second word in the term, not the first.
There will always be morons who - themselves privately startled beyond belief that anyone, let alone a good portion of an entire country, takes them seriously - will don the mask of super-confidence and gleefully carpe the snot out of the freakin' diem as long as the ride lasts. American history is littered with the damage done by Palins of every size and shape. Heck, we just lived through eight years of that very thing. Boy Bush didn't have Palin's chest, but he was nevertheless every bit the boob she is. The only difference was that his daddy's name played the role of the deus ex machina who plucked him from drunken obscurity and into the leadership ranks of the world's only superpower, whereas for Lady Sarah it was a desperate John McCain.
To be sure, idiotic politicians are a dime a dozen. But what in the world accounts for the massive crowds who follow these absolute and complete nothingburgers, let alone rabidly? I trust there are a thousand graduate students completing psychology dissertations on this subject as we speak, for surely that is the only domain wherein the answer can be found. It can't possibly be logic, since quitting on the job has only enhanced Palin's status for these kooks, not diminished it. Indeed, it's become hard to imagine what she could do to lose their affections. My best guess is that her mangled syntax, low-rent personal soap opera of a family, and her faux feistiness against "them" speaks to the loosely-targeted but powerful rage coursing through the veins of America's disenfranchised. Especially the white male subspecies, who may not know much about much, but nevertheless have a vague sense that, like their daddies before them, they're entitled to have more status than other folks in this society (excepting, of course, the nice oligarchs who feed them heaping helpings of racism, sexism, Jesusism, xenophobia, homophobia and nationalism to keep them off the scent of class consciousness).
It all works well enough to suggest - if you had to guess right now - that Palin would fairly readily win the nomination of her party for president in 2012. The kinda folks who are activists and GOP primary voters adore her completely, and it's therefore harder to not see that happening than it is to imagine her winning. And, in a way, it would be worth it, just for the laughs in watching her eviscerate the plastic droid currently DBA Mitt Romney, along with Newt Gingrich, the verbal bully who is spending his entire adulthood making up for all the beatings he got from the other kids all through primary and secondary school. Oh, and college and grad school too.
Hardy-har-har, eh? Lots of fun watching that show, huh? What the heck. Palin guarantees high entertainment value, and the Republican Party could never possibly win the presidency in 2012, right? So who cares who gets the nomination? I mean, voters remember the Bush disaster. And the GOP is losing young people, women, Hispanics and all manner of other sentient beings in droves, right? Right?
Yeah, well, right indeed. Except for one minor detail.
If the Democrats are given four years to govern and they adopt half-measure after Milquetoast point-four-three-rounded-up-to-half-measure - all to little or no effect - then there will be a little surprise in November of 2012. If they fail to produce a robust economy, or if they end the recession but produce a jobless recovery, it's not gonna go the way it looked after last November. If they fail to use the bully pulpit to sell good ideas and aggressively discredit the disastrously failed ones, there's gonna be a different script three years from now, no matter how good a speech Obama gives.
Normally, I'd put Sarah Palin down as an easy shot for the nomination but a long shot for winning the general election. But if the Democrats do all the stupid things listed above, then the battle for the Republican nomination will wind up being be the actual contest, with the victor in that race easily beating the incumbent president who failed to produce a recovery or vanquish the bankrupt ideas of those who made the mess in the first place.
But who could be stupid enough to allow them to do that?
Can you say "Barack Obama"?
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.