In the last three years, Sarah Palin has become the Paris Hilton of politics; famous for being famous, and the pundits, the political equivalent of the paparazzi, have followed her and her family’s antics with the faithful devotion of any fan magazine. And Ms. Palin has that impressive ability to know how to work the media to her advantage and to get what she wants.
It’s not political power. She had that as the governor of Alaska and found that it’s hard work with not a lot of benefits to it: comparatively low pay, long hours, and you don’t always get what you want. Contrast that with being a celebrity: the money rolls in, people hang on your every word, and you don’t always have to be right; you just have to be out there. She doesn’t really care if the rest of America comes around to her points of view. She just wants the attention they bring to her.
It’s pretty clear that she will not run for president in 2012. That would require a level of preparation and focus that she has proved she’s neither capable of nor interested in. It’s not that she’s not smart enough; it’s that her nature and level of maturity isn’t up to it. She proved that when she ran for vice president, which is a job with few responsibilities except to have a pulse. And besides, she would have to give up the book tours and the TV contracts, and the cost to the business end of her operation makes it impractical for the brand to go that way.
Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, is the real deal when it comes to running for president. She is not only politically ambitious, she knows what she needs to do and will do the hard work it takes to get there. She may be as uninformed about the nuances of the United States Constitution and as factually inaccurate about science as Ms. Palin, but she comes by it not out of ignorance but by believing the dogma of the evangelical Christian right wing that believes there is no separation of church and state in the Constitution or that you can be cured of being gay. When it comes to extremism, be it political, religious or social, Ms. Bachmann is deadly serious about it, and as this article by Michelle Goldberg in The Daily Beast details, she is not afraid of sacrificing friendships and — ironically — destroying her relationship with her own family to achieve her vision of a Straight Christian America.
In the broader picture of American politics, the chances that Michele Bachmann will become the next Republican nominee for president are remote at best, and even if by some stunning fluke it happens, she will be blown away in a manner that makes the Goldwater and Mondale defeats look like squeakers. America, even in times of extreme stress and partisan divides such as the Civil War and the Great Depression, does not elect extremists as president. Instead, we put them in Congress where they can carry on but accomplish little more than getting on Hannity or Hardball. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them seriously; if not as candidates for president, than as voices of hatred and intolerance that have always found a way to be heard.