posted at 2:15 am on October 4, 2009 by Doctor Zero
The unprecedented pre-order sales of Sarah Palin’s memoir, Going Rogue, have prompted numerous attempts to either explain, or dismiss, her popularity. Steve Schmidt, the chief strategist for the McCain campaign, pins his hopes for the future on Mrs. Palin… squarely between her shoulder blades, with a knife. Says Schmidt:
I think that she has talents, but my honest view is that she would not be a winning candidate for the Republican candidate in 2012, and in fact, were she to be the nominee, we would have a catastrophic election result.
In the year since the election has ended, she has done nothing to expand her appeal beyond the base. … Th[e] independent vote is going to be up for grabs in 2012. That middle of the electorate is going to be determinative of the outcome of the elections. I just don’t see that if you look at the things she has done over the year … that she is going to expand that base in the middle.
Schmidt adds, “The leadership of the party cannot be outsourced to the conservative-entertainment complex.” Oh, so that’s why zillions of people are pre-ordering her book – they’re hungry for entertainment. With any luck, Palin will throw in some recipes, and maybe a few sudoku puzzles. The sour grapes about Palin’s supposed inability to “expand her appeal beyond the base” are ludicrous. If the hardcore Republican base has become large enough to push an unwritten book to the top of the best-seller lists, 2010 is going to be even more unpleasant for the Democrats than I suspected. The last remaining Democrat senators will be able to carpool in the last remaining Saturn.
Schmidt’s position is unpleasant, but understandable. As the architect of a disastrous campaign, he needs someone to blame for his failures, or else his career is over. A much less hostile analysis from Raphael Alexander of the National Post offers this explanation for the Palin phenomenon:
Sarah Palin is a classic populist politician. What makes her so popular is her very nature. She is the definition of “grassroots”, a working mother who successfully entered politics at the municipal level and worked her way up to the governorship. She didn’t manage this by impressing people with her five different institutions of education, or how many books she had written on Russian foreign policy. No, she managed it because she inspired Americans who felt that Sarah was “one of them.”
For every housewife who dreamed of being more, but had to contend with the responsibilities of raising a family, Palin inspires a strange kind of anti-feminism. There is a perceptible sense of pride that one can be “just average”, with all of the same human failings and shortcomings as everybody else.
So people are scrambling to order Palin’s book because she’s “one of them?” She’s the new Erma Bombeck? Certainly her approachability and friendly, common touch are part of her appeal, but they’re not the most important part. She’s not sitting on top of the Amazon and Barnes & Noble best-seller lists because she’s average.
What fascinates people about Sarah Palin is that she’s provocative.
Every movement needs its scholars, the engineers of its philosophy. It also requires representatives, people who can get elected to office and implement its ideas. To get those representatives elected, there must be people who can master the scholarship, make it understandable to people who aren’t political junkies… and add a little extra zing, a jolt of electricity to capture the imagination of those non-political people.
There are many ways to be provocative. Some of those methods are rude, or confrontational. The only memorable moment in President Obama’s address to Congress on health care reform came when a previously obscure Republican representative couldn’t stomach any more mendacity, and called him a liar. It was an ill-mannered outburst, for which the Congressman apologized… but it was also devastatingly effective. It got people buzzing, and because the Congressman was correct, his outburst prompted furious last-minute adjustments to the President’s legislative proposals, along with weakening the already soft public opinion of those proposals.
The most aggressive provocateurs walk a tightrope across a canyon of bad taste and controversy. Glenn Beck says some wild, hilarious, and outrageous things, in his desperate struggle to awaken rubber-frog voters before the waters of mega-state socialism boil them alive. He’s also been spectacularly right about some very important things, like the Van Jones scandal. Even as Beck reaches new heights of popularity, and drags sleazy characters like Jones out of an administration that major media outlets worship as flawless, a couple of soft-spoken young people with a video camera shock America into action against ACORN, an organization they should have become enraged about long ago. Sometimes you don’t have to say anything to be provocative – you just have to show Americans something their media gatekeepers didn’t want them to see.
Sarah Palin is provocative by her very existence, having followed none of the scripts prepared by the media, or the bitter vampires of McCain’s campaign staff. She electrifies people by speaking with confidence and cheer, to convey ideas that strike the average listener as simple common sense… and which make them realize how radical and deranged the world outside their window has become. Palin’s recent speech in Hong Kong was upbeat and plain-spoken, describing an America of liberty and opportunity, and frankly addressing the murderous evil of our terrorist enemies. The speech becomes electrifying when you realize these ideas would be as incomprehensible to the current Administration as Quaddafi’s lunatic rant before the United Nations.
Palin’s famous “death panel” commentary was powerful because it brought the midnight whispers of an unpleasant truth into the public consciousness. The provocations of someone who used to carry the ancient banner of a great political party must be delivered with elegance and wit… especially if they contemplate taking up that banner again.
The conservative movement requires champions who can make both moral and practical arguments, and show how they are woven together. America has swung so far to the left that simply standing athwart history and yelling “Stop!”, as William F. Buckley put it, makes one into something of a radical. I don’t think we conservatives appreciate our provocateurs enough. The editorial power of the mainstream media has been greatly diminished by the rise of alternative news and commentary sources, but the media still has the power to keep silent, and bury important stories. More importantly, they control the culture, which administers endless injections of their ideology to the apolitical “swing” voters who are so critical to elections. The parade of businessmen and religious zealots who serve as Hollywood’s corps of villains, plot lines designed to make liberalism seem irresistible, a thousand little jokes and asides that paint the Right as psychotic… It takes a lot of wattage to blast a conservative idea through all that white noise.
Look at the way our major media culture has treated Obama’s radical ideas to take control of the medical insurance industry: a blatantly unconstitutional scheme that becomes sheer insanity in the face of towering government debt, and self-destructing Medicare and Social Security entitlements. The media regards this as a perfectly reasonable, almost uncontroversial idea. What would be an equally dramatic conservative idea? Instead of nationalizing a massive industry, what if a conservative politician proposed privatizing one, like the embarrassing public school system? The proposal would be immediately treated as unthinkably radical, an unacceptable heresy, and the media would portray its advocates as borderline lunatics.
You can’t fight your way across a slanted battlefield like that with quietly respectable speeches and erudite policy papers, submitted as genteel points of order. You can’t have leaders whose monocles drop from their widened eyes, as they reel in astonishment from savage and unfair attacks. You get around the media by saying things they have to repeat, expressed in language the public will find unforgettable. You provoke so much interest that people shove biased journalists aside, as they rush to pick up a copy of your book.
The Obama presidency has given many people who dislike politics no choice but to become political. Political control has infiltrated every aspect of their lives. As they awaken to this reality, they’re looking around for someone besides Obama, someone who can show them an alternative to the total State, which they can no longer pretend not to see. They will not turn to someone quietly waiting to be noticed. The announcement of Going Rogue marks the moment when Palin’s future became more important than her past. What she “used to be” is no longer as important as what she is, and may become.