January 17, 2010
The Quayled Lady: Why You Should Forget Sarah PalinBy Selwyn Duke
Really, there's precious little fairness in the world. People tend to be slaves to emotion, and prejudices often reign supreme, even (in fact, especially) in those who rail against prejudice. This is why we'll see millions of Americans reflexively dismiss a politician simply because of the letter following his name. It is why people will often oppose a position they would otherwise support simply because it's being advocated by someone they dislike. Ah, that troublesome human nature.
This brings us to Sarah Palin, the Wasilla woman often billed as the best hope of the GOP. She certainly isn't one of those plain vanilla characters who inspire blasé reactions, that's for sure. It's just so often the case that people either love her or hate her, believe she is the cat's meow or the pig with lipstick, a political sensation or a puerile simpleton. I'm in neither camp.
Scrape away the emotionalism, and one realizes that Palin isn't at either extreme. Underestimated by the left and overestimated by the right, the truth about her lies somewhere in between. Where, exactly? That is secondary, because there is a more important point here relating to Palin's political future.
She doesn't have one.
I know this will raise the hackles of many, but you can forget Sarah Palin. I say this not because of her defects in ideology or lack of competency, but for a very simple reason: She has been Quayled.
Many of you know that I'm referring to what ensued after former Vice President Dan Quayle gave a public appearance at a school spelling bee in Trenton, New Jersey in 1992. His problems started because he'd been given a cue card with "potatoe" written on it, and, doubting the spelling but trusting the school materials, corrected a student who had spelled the word properly. The media seized upon this, pounding home the narrative that the vice president was a mental vegetable who couldn't even spell his own kind. And it was easy to make the image stick, too. Quayle was blonde, attractive, and relatively young, so he fit the Ken-doll stereotype. It wasn't fair, of course, but the public generally sees only the picture the media paints of you.
So being Quayled is a version of being "Borked"; the difference is that the media doesn't paint you as a menace, but a moron. And while Quayle is an intelligent man -- he shredded Al Gore in their 1992 debate -- he never could live down the label.
Sarah Palin has suffered the same fate. Like Quayle, she is attractive and relatively young, so she can easily be and has been painted as a Barbie doll. Because of this, unlike Hillary Clinton, Palin actually had to be the smartest woman in the world (or at least in contemporary politics), but she did nothing to help her cause in this regard. By her own admission, the now infamous Katie Couric interview was a crash-and-burn affair. Moreover, if even ten percent of what has been alleged about her wanting knowledge base is true, we have to wonder if she was busy going rogue when she should have been paying attention in the classroom. And what of her shocking resignation from the Alaska governorship, one of the oddest political happenings in memory? Oh, that was just Sarah Barracuda being a maverick? Good luck selling that one.
Many may protest here, but this is where quelling that emotionalism is imperative. You can disagree with my estimation of the ex-governor, but again, the facts of her saga are secondary. Simply wanting something badly won't make it a reality. Fair or not, like it or not, Palin has been Quayled, and all the GOP's horses and all the GOP's men couldn't put Sarah's image together again.
If that seems a bold statement, understand that being Quayled is one of the worst things that could happen to a politician. Lamentably, Americans will elect a corrupt person president, as Bill Clinton proved. They will elect an individual who belonged to a socialist party and waxes socialistic, as Barack Obama proved, even if it's partially because they don't really understand what socialism is. But people know what stupidity is, even if it's only because some have very close acquaintance with the condition. And Americans will not elect a politician who they believe is stupid any more than they would buy a toothless guard dog or bet on a legless horse. Emptiness between the ears, real or perceived, is simply a deal-breaker.
Here some will say that Palin inspires passion and attracts crowds like no one else on today's political scene -- and she is the rage du jour. But national elections aren't won by attracting zealous masses. They are won by capturing the middle. A shallow ocean of support beats the deep well of admiration that Palin enjoys. That's not to say that her supporters aren't legion, and it is to say that many of them would follow her to the ends of the Earth. But she'll never capture liberals, of course, and elections are swung by that twenty-odd percent of "undecideds," those non-ideological voters who make up their minds -- or, to be more precise, their feelings -- late in campaigns. They are generally quite susceptible to media manipulation and emotional appeals, which is why they can vote right in one election and hard left in another. For the most part, all they see is image. And that image is...?
Accepting this truth is hard for many, as they've hitched their hopes to Palin's star. They will complain about the unfairness of it all, saying that to yield to media manipulation is to relinquish this generation's Ronald Reagan. But is that really what we'd be giving up? Let's look at the image within the image -- the picture of Palin as political savior.
Why did we even start talking about Palin in the first place? Here's a hint: It's related to why people started talking about another erstwhile unknown, Barack Obama, in the first place. That is, she fits a profile. But also as with Obama, many behave as if they're unaware of this factor. The truth is, however, that most would be just as unaware of Palin if not for it. And the "it," Dear Watson, is that she's a woman.
Sorry if this bursts some bubbles, but it's true: Like Obama, Palin is a cultural-affirmative-action selection. This isn't to say she is no better than Obama, mind you, so try not to ask for my skin. But just as the media glommed onto Obama largely because of his skin color, John McCain chose Palin mainly because of her chromosome configuration. He needed to not only invigorate his campaign, but also match the Democrats' quota quality. And just as millions rallied around Obama because they wanted to make history and elect the first black* president, millions of others just love the idea of supporting a woman because, well, it's oh-so-fashionable. It's dictated by the New Chivalry.
This, of course, doesn't mean Palin possesses no secondary qualifications. Sure, she doesn't look like Janet Reno, she doesn't require a bigamous relationship with a teleprompter to string two sentences together, she is somewhat magnetic, and she is fairly sound ideologically. But ask yourself this: Would she have been selected had her name been Scott Palin? Would she get the Elvis treatment? Come on, now. Be honest. We all know the answer.
When pondering our time, I can't help but think of that apocryphal saying, "When small men cast long shadows, it's a sure sign that the sun is about to set." Where is the sun relative to America? We'll Bork a Bork, Quayle a Quayle, elect an Obama, and then convince ourselves that Palin is the answer -- the next Ronald Reagan. But she is no Ronald Reagan. In fact, she's no Sarah Palin.
Don't get me wrong -- if she is somehow the nominee in 2012, I'll still editorialize against Obama. And I'll give her just due. Having her Down's syndrome child, Trig, was not only the moral thing to do, but the admirable thing as well. Moreover, in this world, where one-child policies are respected but Western population implosion is the reality, her willingness to have five children is praiseworthy. Yet she and her family would be better served if she stayed home with them. And if I'm correct, she'll have plenty of time to do just that.