By Ben Cohen
Commenting on Sarah Palin feels like commenting on Anna Nicole Smith. Nothing good will come of it, but it is endlessly fascinating. Nicole Smith is an appropriate analogy, mostly because she had no real talent, was promoted way beyond her capabilities (someone going as far as to give her her own show), and was completely oblivious to the reality of her stardom. Like Nicole Smith, Palin provides drama, glamour and the enduring myth of celebrity. And like Nicole Smith, she has the press enthralled, unable to let her go no matter how ridiculous it becomes.
The drama surrounding Palin’s sudden departure from office in Alaska has boosted her status in the political arena to an even greater degree, and the press has been buzzing about her future ever since. It’s a sad state of affairs that someone so completely incapable is held in such high regard, but the reality is that Sarah Palin matters, whether you like it or not.
As a cultural icon, Palin represents the dark side of modern American political culture – a blank slate on whom the Right has projected its own fantasy. Palin is brash, sassy, and matriarch of the quintessential American family. She’s as American as Apple Pie, and proud of it. At least that’s what her handlers in the Republican Party want you to think, having gone out of their way to make sure we don’t see anything else.
The Right swooned over her as soon as McCain announced her as candidate for VP, banking on no one vetting her dreadful record, complete lack of policy understanding, and inability to handle the pressures of the national political stage. Palin appealed to voters, and the Republicans needed as many of them as possible.
It didn’t occur to them that a woman so unprepared both intellectually and emotionally for the White House was a potential threat to national security. But then it didn’t matter – Palin was the ultimate political tool, a canvass on which the GOP could write its own agenda without fear of disobedience. Palin wasn’t smart enough to question policy. She would do what she was told, and do it with gusto.
But Palin ultimately flopped, because it turned out that in times of crisis, people wanted real solutions to real problems. Not neatly packaged media projects custom built for television, but not public office.
As Andrew Sullivan writes, Palin is a product, not a person, and betrays a deeper problem with Conservatism in America:
It is less a movement than an industry. From Fox News to talk radio to
conservative publishing houses, it has created an alternate and lucrative
media reality that is worth a fortune to those able to exploit it. Alas,
these alternative media thrive on paranoia, hatred of liberal elites and
growing extremist rhetoric made worse by a hermetically sealed echo chamber
of true believers. Anyone criticised by the left or even by the
establishment right is a martyr in this world. In America, martyrdom sells.
And Palin is a product worth lots of money.
She wants some of it; and she has no actual interest in governing America
(even though she’d love the title of president). She referred to giving up
her “title” as governor, not her “office”. In this, she is the ultimate
Republican of this degenerate moment: all culture war, no policy; all
identity politics, no engagement with practical answers to difficult public
problems; and all hysterical opposition to Barack Obama, no actual
To understand Sarah Palin is to understand modern politics. And to understand modern politics is to understand that it doesn’t really exist at all.
Modern politics consists of competing media companies dedicated to disguising what politicians are really selling. Because if we knew, we would never vote for them. The Republicans and Democrats are two wings of the same party (the party of Big Business), and the PR industry gets paid millions of dollars a year to convince us otherwise.
Sarah Palin is on the extreme end of an even more extreme party. So far to the Right is the modern Republican party that it would be regarded as fascist in just about every other modern democracy. It is controlled almost exclusively by corporate interests – the military industrial complex, the pharmaceutical industry, energy companies and Wall Street. It exists to service the needs of the powerful and to punish the poor, control foreign countries through force and bully friends and enemies alike. It wins elections catering to the fears of middle America, playing up prejudice and banking on hatred to bring out the vote. The Democrats are barely better, but they at least cater to some form of intellectual curiosity and human civility. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is just about as bad as it gets. Writes Matt Taibbi:
Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the
modern United States. As a representative of our political system,
she’s a new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical
masterwork of puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is
a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the
total surrender of our political power. Not only is Sarah Palin a
fraud, she’s the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20
floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb
even for daytime TV.
And if we are to believe the many rumors circulating the main stream media, that character is what we have to look forward to as the GOP gears itself up for another shot at the White House. If Palin really is preparing for a bid at the Presidency, we’re about to get to know her a whole lot better.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.