Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Palin Comparison

The August issue of Vanity Fair has a long and in-depth look at the life and times of Sarah Palin. Titled “It Came from Wasilla,” by Todd S. Purdum, there’s little left out and unexamined, although often with unattributed quotes from people within the remnants of the McCain campaign, the Alaska Republican Party, and insiders in the national GOP and the media who came to know the governor of Alaska as she ran as the vice presidential candidate last year.

There’s a lot to choose from in the article, which will no doubt be seen as a hatchet job by those who are supporters of Ms. Palin, and evidence that she had no business being on the national stage by her detractors. The Republicans sold her as someone who would “shake up Washington,” and would change the course of the party. (Oddly enough, that’s the right wing’s biggest complaint about President Obama.) But in the end Mr. Purdum concludes that Gov. Palin didn’t perform as advertised and that a lot of people in both the GOP and the rest of the political scene wonder what will be the consequences of opening the stage door to someone whose background and instincts came as a surprise — pleasant or otherwise — to the nation.

Palin has disappointed many of those who once had the highest hopes for her. She has stumbled over innumerable details. But as she said to Andrew Halcro years ago, “Does any of this really matter?” Palin has shown herself to have remarkable gut instincts about raw politics, and she has seen openings where others did not. And she has the good fortune to have traction within a political party that is bereft of strong leadership, and whose rank and file often demands qualities other than knowledge, experience, and an understanding that facts are, as John Adams said, stubborn things. It is, at the moment, a party in which the loudest and most singular voices, not burdened by responsibility, wield disproportionate power. She may decide that she does not need office in order to have great influence—any more than Rush Limbaugh does.

Aside from any political insight that the article conveys — and there is a lot — there’s one annoying aspect of the reporting that may overshadow it merits, and that’s the inevitable focus on the superficialities of Ms. Palin’s looks and her private family matters. Being branded as the “sexiest” brand in the GOP is destined to be part of her legacy regardless of her abilities or lack thereof, and the title of the piece makes her sound like some 1950’s science fiction monster. It’s shallow and meant to attract readers who would otherwise be as interested in an in-depth examination of GOP political in-fighting as they would in a description in the inner workings of the Department of Agriculture. (Not to mention the fact that being the “sexiest” politician in America is roughly equivalent to being the best ice hockey player in Jamaica; fascinating but not relevant, and there’s not a lot of competition for the job.) The bottom line is that we shouldn’t take her seriously because of her looks or the tabloid nature of her personal life. That sense of elitism — whether its from Democrats or Republicans — ignores the fact that Gov. Palin is a force to be reckoned with regardless of her quirks or her family.

We’ve seen what happens when we dismiss someone as a lightweight: we got the administration of George W. Bush.