So Sarah Palin shocked precisely no one this week by announcing that she would not, in fact, be running for the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nomination. Logistically speaking, her candidacy would have been completely unfeasible at this point. Due to recent machinations, it’s looking like the Iowa caucus will be held as early as late December, leaving very little time for Team Palin to organize the sort of sophisticated campaign operation that would be necessary to play catch-up with the 10+ other candidates who have already had months to prepare. Similarly, with so many Tea Party types already in the race, it’s very unclear if a Palin candidacy would have had any natural base of support at this point. Whatever ideological novelty she once possessed has long been eclipsed by that of people like Michelle Bachmann or Herman Cain, who basically offer Palin-like views in a more attractive, articulate package.
But here I am taking Palin seriously. The actual evidence suggests that her decision to opt-out was not, in fact, strategic at all, but merely the latest stylized ritual in the former governor’s long-running act of pretending to be a serious politician.
Almost every word of Mrs. Palin’s official un-announcement is either disingenuous or phoney in some way. She says “family comes first” and that her life’s priorities have always ranked in the order of “God, family, and country.” She says this is “obvious,” but anyone who has actually followed Palin’s career over the last four years knows that the truly “obvious” reality is that the personal interests of Sarah Palin herself clearly outrank all three. This is the woman, lest we forget, who made the decision to run for Vice President of the United States a mere four months after giving birth to a disabled child, and knowing full well that there’d soon be another infant on the way, care of her knocked-up teenage daughter. Putting family first should mean literally that, but in her actions, Sarah Palin has given every indication that family is a mere inconvenience to be managed in the slim moments between running for office, making FOX News appearances, traveling out of state on publicity tours, and filming reality shows, rather than something serious enough to justify compromising the pursuit of any of the above.
Even more obnoxious, however, was Palin’s line — which she notes she “always says” — that “one doesn’t need a title” to peruse important political goals. This was the same justification she gave for abandoning her position of Governor of Alaska back in 2009, and it makes about as much sense now as it did then. The presidency of the United States is not a “title,” it’s the most important constitutional office in the country, and the world’s most powerful position of global leadership. If she feels she’s not qualified or talented enough to hold it — as the much humbler Chris Christie has been repeatedly willing to admit — then say so openly. But don’t belittle the Constitution by acting as if its offices are little more than glorified beauty queen sashes.
These are all common complaints of the woman, and judging from recent polls, the vast majority of Republicans are inclined to believe that she is, at the very best, a highly flawed vessel that does more to overshadow than strengthen the causes she supposedly believes in. But her decision to not run may actually expose a darker side of the woman, too: a greed so insatiable that it crosses the line from that of a harmlessly vain gadfly to an outright grifter.
As Jon Stewart wonderfully exposed the other night, as recently as September 20, Palin was actively soliciting donations from her supporters on the explicit pretence that she was very likely to run for president. This, despite the fact that as far back as June, Bristol Palin was going around declaring that her mom “definitely” knew what her decision was going to be (ie: “no”). Putting two and to together, we can now look back at Palin’s extravagant summer of “pre-campaign” bus tours, for-pay speeches, etc, as little more than a brazen attempt to syphon cash from gullible marks in order to fund the sort of glittery, high-profile lifestyle she seems to think she deserves.
As usual, it would be nice if other conservatives had the guts to point this sort of stuff out, but as it stands, only fringe outcasts like David Frum seem to have the courage. This is, I think, Mrs. Palin’s single most destructive legacy. She undeniably lowered the bar of conservative discourse, dignity, and credibility to rock-bottom levels, yet was still happily propped up by a conservative media machine that found her a glamours, easy source of copy. Any conservative wanting to be taken seriously by that same machine thus had to profess a level of polite respect for Palin that she obviously did not deserve, and the whole thing became this grotesque Emperor’s New Clothes situation where the truth of Palin’s obvious uselessness could never be openly stated, lest one lose standing within the oppressively conformist world of the mainstream American right.
Hopefully she’s done now. Her last lingering claim as a serious politician has been abandoned, making her, finally and officially, nothing more than a mere tabloid celebrity. One hopes the media will take this as a cue to begin writing Sarah Palin out of their scripts once and for all.
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