Sarah Palin: the New Republican Albatross
Why Republicans Cannot Win with Palin
With her shocking selection as John McCain’s running mate on the Republican ticket for the 2008 elections, Sarah Palin catapulted to national prominence from her stature as the relatively unfamiliar and obscure governor of Alaska.
Nearly two years since that tumultuous introduction to the national political scene, Palin seems to have done quite well solidifying her role as a potent force within the Republican Party even as she was craftily packaging and selling the “Palin Brand.”
Granted that there had been a bit of controversy along the way (the appalling interviews that showcased her as a bumbling, moronic airhead; the divisive, strident tenor of her oratory; the in-fighting with her handlers and senior McCain advisers; the RNC wardrobe scandal; her family values as they relate to her daughter’s pregnancy and relationship with erstwhile boyfriend; the Alaskan ethics investigations; and her abrupt resignation as the governor of Alaska nearly two years before the expiration of her term), it all seems to, in a perverted, perplexing way, have contributed to both her mystique and appeal.
It is incontestable that Palin has a commanding presence today in Republican politics. Her more ardent followers view her as impregnable and many come out in throngs to hear her speak. Her Republican rivals admire her popularity and fund-raising abilities but privately scoff at her depthlessness and general naivety. They remain largely bamboozled by her meteoric rise and mystifying approbation.
Financially, Palin appears to have no scruples cashing in. She netted over $9 million dollars in 2009 from her autobiographical work Going Rogue: An American Life which quickly became a New York Times #1 bestseller. She is now one of a few highly sought out speakers on the circuit; commanding a hefty six-figure fee and a retinue of eye-popping perks. There have also been several cameo apperances on news network shows and she recently struck a deal to host her very own cable tv show!
But politically, Palin’s modishness does not seem to have translated into any bankable political windfall for the Republican Party.
To the contrary, a good case could be made that the McCain-Palin ticket lost the 2008 presidential elections so woefully primarily because it became all about Palin and her baggage; symbols quickly supplanted substance. As the campaign wore-on, the Republican message became more Palinesque: emotive, divisive and vituperative. It appealed more and more to the easily excitable, vociferous but increasingly shrinking far right-wing of the party and less and less to the larger base; not to mention the independents who hitherto, staunchly supported McCain.
It is widely known that Palin is bereft of ideas. Beyond capitalizing on her new-found star power, castigating other people’s policies, and rehashing worn conservative dogmas, she simply has nothing to offer by way of a coherent series of viewpoints on governance or the role of government in civil society.
Now, flash forward to 2010 and Palin’s new support base, the Tea Party. Since jumping into the fray, the overall temperature of the exchanges has been amped to levels that even the most callow and ingenuous among us find distressing. Civility has been tossed to the dogs.
Like the unbequiled maestro, Palin is masterfully stoking the fallacious fears of dewy, puerile Tea Party rally attendees. Labels are being recklessly tossed around; the character and patriotism of ordinary Americans whose only crime is having the odacity to nurse an opposing political view are being impugned in ways dreadfully reminiscent of the McCarthy era. The potential for violence from this extremist, gun-totting cadre of Palin supporters appear quite heightened.
Although a few Republican strategists have publicly denounced Palin’s tactics, the RNC appears to be lockstep with her in the present dispensation. The Tea Party agenda, to all intents and purposes, now parallel the Republican manifesto.
But isn’t it sheer political fatalism for Republicans to hitch their wagon on Palin? What can they accomplish this time with her that they couldn’t pull off in ’08?
Conventional political wisdom stipulates that elections are won at the center and not the fringes. Palin has made her staple appealing to the far-right, ultra-conservative, extremist wing of the Republican Party in ways that infuriate and alienate the great silent majority. Interestingly, the degree to which she is sucessful whipping this section of the party into a frenzied state of delirium is inversely the degree to which the party is bound to lose the independent vote and consequently a crack at control in Washington.