The Palin Card

Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic thinks it’s time for the Obama Administration to play the “Palin Card,” setting the former governor of Alaska up as the target for some Alinsky-style frozen personal polarizing.  He dismisses fears that such Presidential attention will elevate Palin to greater national prominence:

Elevate Sarah Palin? How much higher can she go? Everyone knows her.  Some of Obama’s advisers have argued in the past that the attention paid to Palin by Americans in the last stages of the 2008 campaign is one reason why Obama was able to win so cleanly.

Palin and the Tea Party movement are not the same thing. The movement, evolving out of movement conservatism, is principally about government and the economy. Palin revels in the culture wars. But when that part of the Tea Party that does care about social issues becomes the story, linking the two in the public’s mind is easier.

Yes, the election is about control of Congress. But at a larger level, it’s about competing visions of the world. John Boehner v. the Democratic agenda is a boring contrast. Many Democrats couldn’t tell a Boehner from a Cantor. But everyone knows who Sarah Palin is.

He’s right that low-key, largely unknown politicians like Boehner and Cantor don’t make very good targets for the politics of personal destruction.  The effort to inflate stuff Boehner into a Darth Vader costume over the past few weeks was comical.  If the Democrats want to run some more plays out of Alinsky’s faded old handbook, they’ll need to focus on someone exciting.

Palin is linked to other high-profile female candidates, like Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell, so she looks like an inviting target.  The subtext of the media narrative Democrats are trying to spin is that outspoken female conservatives are somehow unnatural.  Comfortable, maternal leftism is the natural philosophy of caring women, you see, and the State is their only ally in the quest to shatter those increasingly transparent glass ceilings.  A woman who would enlist in the heavy infantry of the regressive fundamentalist Republicans must be crazy.

I hope the White House takes Ambinder’s advice, because it would be suicidal.  His crack about Palin’s “reveling in the culture wars” betrays his ignorance.  He is confused by the details of her biography, and the sincere affection she earns from her admirers.  His Palin Card is drawn from the wrong suit.  She’s the Queen of Diamonds, not the Queen of Hearts.  Her most impressive statements over the last two years have been on matters of economics, policy, and politics.  She has shredded the Administration over health care, the Gulf oil spill, and unrestrained government spending.  She’s endorsed dozens of primary candidates, with something like a 70% success rate.  Her most notable clashes with “culture” have involved asking it to stop making rape jokes about her daughters.

If you want to criticize someone for reveling in culture wars, I suggest you take a look at the power-drunk clowns tossing around gigantic bills that “control the people” right down to the menus at fast-food restaurants.  Just wait until they start rolling out the class-war arguments for higher taxes to sustain their frenzied spending.  That will be some serious revelry.

Obama would be making a deadly mistake by calling out Sarah Palin for a political cage match.  Let me put this bluntly: virtually no one in America gives a damn what Barack Obama says about anything at this point.  What could be more predictable, and less interesting, than Obama’s opinion on any given subject?  Who wants to contemplate the economic wisdom of a guy who looted the Treasury for a trillion dollars, with less benefit than we could have achieved by stuffing hundred dollar bills into random cereal boxes?  Who’s excited to hear about the next plan to convert taxpayer dollars into Democrat campaign funds?  Who’s hungry for another hour of tedious excuses about permanently broken markets and the titanic dead hand of George W. Bush?  Who wants a lecture on ethical business practices from the titular head of the party that gave us Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters?  What use is another hollow foreign-policy speech from a man who sees no global adversary to rival the menace of Arizona?  Even Obama’s supporters don’t hear anything he says any more.  There’s nothing left to hear.

Palin, on the other hand, commands attention.  Lots of it comes from people who dislike her, of course, but she definitely gets people talking.  Many of her detractors have a surprising ability to quote her verbatim, stretching back for weeks.  Obama’s critics need Google searches to remember what he said yesterday.  They can only recall that it was boring, and expensive.

The strategy behind playing the Palin Card is to capitalize on her approval ratings, which liberals incessantly remind us are lower than Obama’s.  They misunderstand the reason why.  Most Americans aren’t political junkies.  They hear news about politicians spending big bucks and getting things done.  The wisdom of spending the big bucks is almost never questioned.  Meanwhile, private citizens are portrayed as merely talking. They have no vast departments or nine-figure budgets.  They are part of the sideshow, while elected officials are the star attractions.  Those who are not dedicated supporters know them primarily through popular culture’s impression of them.

This is Palin’s situation at the moment.  Average people don’t read her Facebook page, and they won’t hear speeches like the one she gave in Iowa on Friday.  They know who she is, but mostly they hear about her, rather than listening to her.  All that will change if the White House points at her and commands the media to attack.  Clubbing someone with a microphone is a mistake if they have something interesting to say.

There are lots of colorful personalities making news during this election season, but these elections are not about personality.  Describing them as expressions of unreasoning anger against the Democrats underestimates the thoughtfulness and determination of the Tea Party movement.  Voters are not just looking for scapegoats to punish for a lousy economy.  They are preparing to act against the system itself, in a manner without precedent in modern history.  Palin understands this better than any other frontrunner for the 2012 Presidential nomination.  Her presumptive rivals have ties to various aspects of that system, as with Mitt Romney’s precursor to ObamaCare in Massachusetts.  Too many of them treat the repeal of ObamaCare as a sensitive topic, while Palin uses it as a battle cry.

The last thing Obama should do is pull Palin onto the stage as his chief rival.  She might talk about the perpetual corruption engine of “stimulus” dollars protecting union payrolls, and filtering down into Democrat campaign coffers.  She might ask “centrists” how they can find the center of a system tumbling over the left edge of a cliff.  She might ask “independents” how much independence they think they can retain after a few more years of wild government growth.  She might ask how a President with so little faith in the American people dares to complain when they show him anything less than complete trust and unquestioning obedience.

The President’s plan to overcome the Tea Party is to make voters afraid of them.  Incubating fear and hatred of those who want to disassemble this dysfunctional State requires us to doubt ourselves, and our ability to survive without the protection and nourishment we are given in exchange for our freedom.  Let the President share the stage with someone whose belief in her fellow Americans is boundless, and whose philosophy of governance begins with the cheerful invitation to share that belief.  Let us see which one the public wishes to hear more from.

Cross-posted at

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