I haven’t read Sarah Palin’s instabook, Going Rogue, just yet, since I don’t want to pay actual money for it and am just now where I can request a review copy from the publisher. I’m not that impressed by its sales numbers, since Ann Coulter is perpetually on the best-seller lists with her latest phoned-in screed. But I will confine my comments about the latest excrusion of Palinmania to what she has been quoted as saying, and what book reviewers of all ideological stripes seem to agree upon.
It seems pretty clear that one purpose of Palin’s book was to settle some scores with the McCain campaign staff, particularly Steve Schmidt, whom she resented for treating her with something less than respect. With few exceptions, of course, Veep candidates, particularly those with no prior relationship with the Top Dog, are typically treated as props and rally-the-base agitators, not real partners in the campaign enterprise, but that probably doesn’t make it feel any better for the candidate herself. More to the point, Palin’s grudge against Schmidt is a bit ungrateful, since most accounts of her surprise selection indicate that he was her primary advocate within the campaign. Without Schmidt, Palin would almost certainly be an obscure lame-duck governor notable mainly as a B-list speaker at right-to-life fundraisers, instead of someone likely to be a national celebrity for many years. But gratitude is a rare quality in politics, particularly for people who may glimpse the Next President of the United States in their bathroom mirror each morning.
Much has been made by Palin fans of her admission that she made mistakes during the last campaign, particularly in the disastrous Couric interview. But what she really confesses is that she lost her cool when Couric hit her with “gotcha” questions. Let’s think about that: the really bad moments for Palin were her inability to answer the questions about her daily reading habits, and about Supreme Court decisions other than Roe v. Wade that she didn’t agree with. The first question was, by any reasonable standard, a softball, not a “gotcha.” It’s not as though Couric asked her to name the president of some central Asian former Soviet Republic; it was instead about a subject on which Sarah Palin is the primary expert. That doesn’t necessarily make Palin an idiot; Ted Kennedy famously waxed incoherent on an equally anodyne question (“Why do you want to be president?”) in an interview with Roger Mudd back in 1979. But she has no grounds for whining or for implying that her only mistake was not to march out of the studio in protest about this terribly unfair question on where she got her news.
Palin’s flubbing of the second so-called “gotcha” question from Couric is in some respects more surprising. She was, after all, the national poster pol of the right-to-life movement, which generally holds that the U.S. Supreme Court has been engaged in a monstrous conspiracy over many years to enable genocide. You’d think the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, which established the current “undue burden” standard for state regulation of abortions, might have come to mind, or maybe the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision (the object of endless mockery by generations of conservatives), which first established a constitutional right to privacy and thus paved the way for Roe. I’m sure some of Palin’s anti-abortion activist fans were shocked at her failure to tick off these cases, which they regard as among the central events of American history.
So Palin’s mea culpa for the Couric interview isn’t all that honest or impressive. And what most stands out about her, from Election Day 2008 to her present book tour, is her penchant for that vice that conservatives used to attribute to liberals: posing as a victim. That’s certainly the quality her most avid supporters identify with. Check out an excerpt of a post from The American Thinker by self-proclaimed “recovering liberal” calling herself Robin of Berkeley, entitled “The Wilding of Sarah Palin,” which treats Palin as a symbolic rape victim. After arguing at inordinate length that “liberal men” are all a pack of vicious misogynists, the writer really goes to town:
Then along came Sarah, and the attacks became particularly heinous. And I realized something even more chilling about the Left. Leftists not only sacrifice and disrespect women, but it’s far worse: many are perpetuators.
The Left’s behavior towards Palin is not politics as usual. By their laser-focus on her body and her sexuality, leftists are defiling her.
They are wilding her. And they do this with the full knowledge and complicity of the White House.
The Left has declared war on Palin because she threatens their existence. Liberals need women dependent and scared so that women, like blacks, will vote Democrat.
Now Robin of Berkeley is a pretty extreme example of the Palin-as-Martyr syndrome, but there’s little doubt that’s the beating heart of her appeal to a large segment of the conservative “base:” the sense that she’s suffering mockery on their behalf from the sneering denizens of Hollywood and the punditocracy, and will (they hope) provide them with their own vengeful vindication. Palin is the ultimate heroine to the kind of conservative who really does believe there’s a “War on Xmas,” that Christians are banned from judicial appointments, that public schools are atheist indoctrination centers, and that pro-choice Americans are consciously, gleefully, genocidal maniacs. It’s interesting that there’s no one remotely like her on the left side of the ideological spectrum, and by that I’m not referring to her casual attitude towards facts and her pretzel logic (there are plenty of inarticulate, semi-educated folk of every persuasion, some in high public office), but rather her constant appeals to the wounded sensibilities of her followers.
It’s become common among Democrats to observe that attacks on Palin simply feed her cult with fresh grievances, and that may be true, but as Robin of Berkeley demonstrates, we’re probably at a point where anything negative that’s left unsaid about Palin will simply be inferred or invented by her fans. This is a fire that will rage on without additional fuel for quite some time, so there’s no real point in ignoring it.
The thing about Palinmaniacs that most amazes me is their conviction that “liberals” are terrified of her, like sinners called to account by a vision of Final Judgment. I’m one “liberal” who wishes her godspeed in her political aspirations and hopes she will run for president in 2012. Her nomination is very unlikely, but if it occurred, it would represent the final descent of the conservative movement into angry and self-pitying delusion, aimed not at capturing political power but simply at smiting its real and imaginary enemies.
As a presidential candidate, she would torment poor, sunny Mike Huckabee, whose political and religious views are as extreme as Palin’s, but who doesn’t offer the requisite spirit of angry vengefulness and almost never engages in collective whines against the terrible mistreatment of upright Americans by their own benighted country. Mitt Romney’s CEO gravitas can’t possibly compete with the multifaceted emotional pull of Palin, the personification of the grassroots conservative activist who views every public policy issue in life or death, us or them, terms. Tim Pawlenty’s plodding and calculated stands for lower taxes or Medical Savings Accounts are thin gruel as opposed to a rival who can display the stigmata of her persecution by the Left. She’s political dynamite within a Republican Party that’s already volatile with anger at the opposition, and at its own leaders’ unwillingness or inability reimpose their traditionalist values and promote via arms their America-only worldview. She’s a threat not so much to Democrats as to Republicans who want political victories more than holy war. And as we are seeing right now, she is not going away.