Posted by: mutantpoodle | April 7, 2009

The burgeoning irrelevancy of Sarah Palin

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It may be hard to remember back to August 29, 2008, when John McCain, successfully stealing Barack Obama’s thunder, named a virtually unknown Sarah Palin as his vice-Presidential candidate.

It may be hard, too, to remember that some (not very prescient) folks were convinced that this was a game-changer: that Palin would simultaneously energize the base (true), appeal to moderates (not so true), and swing women, many of whom were disappointed by Hillary Clinton’s defeat at the hands of Barack Obama, over to John McCain (laughably false). I am proud to say that I was not one who fell into that trap.

Still, it was quite an entrance onto the national stage, and a savvy politician would have used that losing run to set up a top-of-the-ticket run in2012.

I am here to tell you, it may happen, but it ain’t gonna work. Sarah Palin will not be the GOP nominee in 2012, and most likely never will.

Watching the Palin mythology crumble is a bit sad. First, she struggled to figure out what to do with the stimulus money that good Republican governors, apparently, have to disavow in an intricate kabuki theater for the GOP base, until they back down under some real or imagined pressure to get the money that might actually help the people in their states.

But what will hurt her is the stuff that wouldn’t have mattered if she hadn’t made it so much a part of her mythology: Bristol and Levi.

Bristol started it by actually making sense talking to Greta Van Susteren, suggesting that abstinence wasn’t realistic.

Then the not-surprising word leaked out that the Palin-Johnson wedding was off. Levi’s sister trashed Bristol to the tabloids. Levi and his family went on the Tyra Banks Show. And finally, this:

We’re disappointed that Levi and his family, in a quest for fame, attention, and fortune, are engaging in flat-out lies, gross exaggeration, and even distortion of their relationship….It is unfortunate that Levi finds it more appealing to exploit his previous relationship with Bristol than to contribute to the well being of the child. Bristol realizes now that she made a mistake in her relationship and is the one taking responsibility for their actions.

That’s right, the Governor of Alaska issued a statement to People magazine trashing the father of the Governor’s grandchild.

Now, I recognize the tawdriness of this, and I feel for the two 18-year-old kids who have gotten caught in the middle of this. One thing about being 18 is that, for the most part, you get to do dumb things relatively anonymously. That was an option Sarah Palin didn’t allow her daughter, and, by extension, Levi Johnson. My guess is that Bristol and Levi will come out of it OK – I’d be fine not hearing about them again forever – but I think Sarah Palin is cooked.

For one thing, what she did was petty. The right answer, if asked about Levi Johnson going on TV, is, we don’t comment on the children of the Governor. No matter what Levi Johnson says. For another, she wrapped this fairly tale around her like a stole last fall – it won’t be so easy to take it off now.

But all that is a sideshow. What you’re seeing now is that Sarah Palin, in isolation, simply isn’t a grand national figure. (A lot of us knew that in the fall, but it seems the rest of the country is catching up.) She burst on the scene and captivated people because (a) she was unknown, (b) she had a quirky and somewhat compelling story, (c) she was lots of right wing male fantasies in the flesh, and (d) she was a response to a specific time and series of events – that is, Hillary almost, but not quite, becoming the Democratic nominee, and the disappointment and resentment some women felt about that.

Sarah Palin would never have made it to the lower 48 if Barack Obama had picked Hillary as his VP, or if she’d lost badly early and he’d squeaked by John Edwards for the nomination, or if Hillary had beaten Obama and been the nominee herself. Sara Palin’s value depended on the possibility that her gender would swing disaffected Democratic and Independent women over to John McCain. As mentioned above, that gambit failed.

In 2012, Sarah Palin will have to survive a GOP free-for-all primary, and she’s simply not the only candidate with the ideological bona fides out there, and, worse for her, most of the others are simply better candidates: smarter, more engaged, and more plausible as opponents of Barack Obama. What injustice – what slight – will the selection of Sarah Palin address in 2012? Or ever?

That’s why she’s done, I think – she was propped up by events and circumstances which will not be around to prop her up next time. She’d have to win on merit, and while I don’t put it past the modern Republican party to nominate a candidate with frighteningly loony policy positions, I do think they’ll come up with one who at least seems like they understand what they are advocating.

Governor Palin, alas, does not.

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