Don't Fear the Quitter
It usually doesn't work, but once in a while I can stop myself from getting overanxious about amplified right-wing bile by mentally taking myself back to the magical summer of 1992. I'd been watching the Republican National Convention at home before going to visit some friends, and I'd gotten very upset at the sound and fury of Patrick Buchanan basically shouting that I and everyone and everything I loved was evil and hateful and un-American. I went to see my friends with storm clouds over my head, and when they asked what was wrong I told them about Buchanan's spew and the rapturous response his speech had drawn. And my friend Abby, bless her, looked at me like I had two moron heads--she did that a lot when we were teenagers--and asked why I would let the blatherings of marginalized imbeciles ruin my mood.
I was thinking of this a couple days ago when I heard about Sarah Palin's speech to the Tea Party. Yeah, it was hateful, ahistorical and nonsensical--but again (thought my 19 year-old self) the fact that so many people ecstatically lapped it up had to be a little troubling. And it is, it is, but on the big question, whether Palin will ever win the presidency, I'm still certain that the answer is no.
Why? Four words: SHE QUIT HER JOB. Enough remains of the traditional American character that she'll never draw over 40 percent or so in a general election campaign--and I'd guess half that is a more realistic forecast, particularly given the likelihood of a third candidate--for that one simple reason.
We as Americans don't especially care if someone half-asses a job, or barely shows up. (Witness Obama's two-thirds of a Senate term.) The rule is that you can leave the job for a better one--again, as Obama did. But you can't just walk away from your responsibilities for no good reason, and "making lots of dough stoking the fears of the invincibly ignorant" doesn't count.
There's no tolerance in our culture for quitters. I'm still not sure Ross Perot wouldn't have won in that same year of 1992 had he not dropped out of the race for awhile later that same summer. My guess is that if Palin does even run--and I'm still not convinced she will; why chance damaging her future ratings or book sales with an undertaking likely to end in failure that carries all kinds of risks?--Romney or Huckabee or some governor who actually finished his/her term and achieved something, anything, will knock her off in the primaries. A plurality of Republicans will conclude that it really would be better to have someone in there with proven aptitude for and interest in showing up to work.
Palin represents a perspective in our national conversation that's been present at least since the Know-Nothings in the mid-19th century, through the darker strains of Populism, the rise of the Klan, Father Coughlin, Joe McCarthy and the John Birch Society, the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition. It's ugly and frightening, and the new aspects of it--Palin's status as the first demagogue who can plausibly haunt the sex fantasies of the older white men who form the core Fox News audience, and the protective shield of an unambiguously partisan media--add an additional layer of concern.
But the same media dynamic that props her up now will bring her low later, if she even does run. The total absence of "there" there will burn off the novelty, particularly in contrast to a substantive guy like Obama. She can only say the very limited number of things she can say in so many different ways, if you get my meaning. That kind of rhetorical red meat is crack for the Rage Right, and their tolerance for it will build up quickly.
(If you want to really worry about something, try this one on: a more skilled and intelligent public figure with the same basic message, without Palin's baggage and abundance of "odd lies," who knows how to maximize the financial backing of corporations unleashed by the Citizens United ruling as well as how to play the mainstream media. If Marco Rubio wins the Florida Senate race, he might be the one we need to keep an eye on.)