Friday, July 03, 2009

The quest to finish off Palin

Post-resignation update: why she did it.

Is Sarah Palin worth the media circus she generates? The argument against: she's a clown; she never says anything that adds substantively to public discussion of any issue of import; she's a congenital liar; and she thrives on media attention. The argument for: political clowns are dangerous; in times of intense stress they can fool enough of the people long enough to get into office and subvert existing institutions; everything she says, when scrutinized, turns out to be nonsensical or untrue -- and so constant vigilant debunking is in order until something or someone puts the final stake in her political heart.

David Frum, responding to Todd Purdum's long Palin exorcism in Vanity Fair, makes the case for relentless exposure (h/t Andrew Sullivan, for whom Palin is an inexhaustible source of angst and entertainment):
Palin evokes a devoted response from a large following. In the mysterious soup of motives that sustains her supporters, enthusiasm for effective governance does not seem a very major ingredient. But you'd think they would at least care whether she could campaign competently. Purdum argues intensely that she cannot - that a Palin candidacy would be the greatest self-inflicted disaster since George McGovern or Barry Goldwater...

The McCain campaign is over. The duty of confidentiality has expired. The next campaign has begun. If conservatives are to avoid catastrophe, they need to hear from those inside what exactly happened. If true, the leaks constitute an urgent warning and public service. I believe they are true. For sure they confirm what I have heard during the campaign and after. Instead of complaining about these leaks, conservatives should heed them - and fast.
I think Frum is right about the imperative to discredit Palin. But based on his presentation of what "Purdum argues," Frum seem more concerned that Palin would be an electoral disaster -- a Goldwater or a McGovern - than that she might by some malign chance win and be a governing disaster -- a right wing Chavez or Ahmadinejad. Goldwater and McGovern were honorable men - misguided both, perhaps, to varying degrees, but not dangerous delusional demagogues on the order of Palin.

If Palin is as ineffectual a campaigner as Frum (via Purdum) implies, there's nothing to worry about - except perhaps, from Frum's point of view, that she'd capture the lunatic rump of the Republican Party and then go down to crushing defeat in the general election. Some political partisans rub their hands with glee at the thought of the opposition nominating an extremist. But that's a chance I'd never be willing to take. As a Democrat, I want a competent Republican nominee (and haven't seen one since Dole). In times of severe stress, dangerous clowns have been democratically elected in more than one country.

Electing Palin would be a sure sign of rapid national decline, and judging from the '08 election it seems unlikely: Palin plainly dragged the McCain ticket down; a huge majority of Americans judged her unfit for office. But again, under pressure of disaster (say, renewed and accelerated financial meltdown) a kind of psychosis can overtake electorates. That's why Palin bears watching, and outing, and hopefully definitive discrediting. Though if her dozens of documented lies and idiocies and governing malpractices haven't done it yet, it's hard to fathom exactly what would knock her out.

P.S. the photo with which Frum chose to illustrate his "Palin Exposed" post illustrates the unsavory combination of titillation and indignation that Palin often inspires.

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