As a communication professional I have largely been at a loss to explain the judgments being drawn about Governor Palin by allegedly expert pundits. The general meme from pundits is that Palin is a quitter who cannot take the heat.
It seems like the 'heat' has been more like hate -- maybe we are dealing with a simple spelling error? Journalism has gotten rather weak of late.
A public figure openly called for Palin to be raped during the campaign. Months after the losing campaign was over, a major comedian joked about the fictitious rape of one of her daughters. Immediately after the election, her church was burned. It's fairly difficult to reconcile this 'heat' as something conventional in politics. In fact, there might be some good reason to collectively indict Palin critics for their silent complicity.
This would go a long way to explain why many in the public seem more drawn to Palin after the resignation and the absurd media reactions to it. Keep in mind that these incidents remain unrepented public attacks. The media refused to offer much comment on the burning of Palin's church -- a silence which conveyed an implied endorsement of that attack. Imagine if Obama had lost the election and Jeremiah Wright's church had been burned. Where would the punditry be?
Given the peculiar failure of pundits to "understand" her July 3 statement, it is useful to return to the actual text of her statement. With such attention we can discover some of the possible confusion of pundits and reveal the largely ignored messages contained in Governor Palin's statement. Most interesting is the discussion about her children:
"In fact, this decision comes after much consideration, and finally polling the most important people in my life -- my children (where the count was unanimous... well, in response to asking: ‘Want me to make a positive difference and fight for ALL our children's future from OUTSIDE the Governor's office?' It was four "yes's" and one "hell yeah!" The "hell yeah" sealed it - and someday I'll talk about the details of that... I think much of it had to do with the kids seeing their baby brother Trig mocked by some pretty mean-spirited adults recently.) Um, by the way, sure wish folks could ever, ever understand that we ALL could learn so much from someone like Trig -- I know he needs me, but I need him even more... what a child can offer to set priorities RIGHT -- that time is precious... the world needs more ‘Trigs', not fewer."
The mocking of a disabled child, Trig Palin, must stand out as one of the most uniquely cruel and despicable contemporary trends of American politics. Could this be what Bill Clinton envisioned when he asked the nation to bring to an end the politics of personal destruction in the 1990s? It is clear that the entire Palin family would like to broaden their advocacy beyond the borders of Alaska. What is also clear is that pulsing at the center of Media contempt toward Palin is not simply stated positions on abortion but real life actions that are so striking and meaningful that they enrage a pretentious political community feigning interest in "women's rights."
Palin was one of the rare political figures recently courageous enough to defend Carrie Prejean -- another conservative woman who "needed" to lose her job for speaking her mind on gay marriage. While Republicans stood around and stared at their political feet, and Democrats cheered from the sideline, Prejean was treated to a vicious rhetorical stoning in the national media. Palin stepped into the fray and in defense of another strong conservative woman. It is rather easy to see how Palin envisions trading her provincial limits of Alaska for a national pedestal on such transparent political problems confounding our culture.
Palin's conclusion utilized a quotation from Douglas MacArthur -- an American general famously dismissed by Democrat President Harry Truman. Truman's dismissal of MacArthur and the ensuing public controversy did great damage to Truman's public credibility. Despite his rogue disposition, MacArthur continued through his rebuttals to secure a place in history as a tough fighter on the military battlefield as well as the political battlefield. Here again pundits seem to miss the rhetorical boat about the larger fight Palin will bring in the next campaign after an apparent "defeat in the Philippines" of 2008.
Consider further the unique context of current events. Michael Jackson is revered at his funeral as someone who really knew how to love children -- unlike Sarah Palin who the Huffington Post reported would be running on the "more retardation platform" in 2012. Governor Sanford gets a slap on the wrist from his Republican colleagues and pundits agree -- he should not expect to resign. Could life be more absurd?
Punditry confusion over Palin's decision and statement is a strategy to absolve critics of their low moral stature in observing the despicable cultural conduct toward Governor Palin and her family. After all, America's political punditry does have an informal role as referee. Some partisans were not unafraid to suggest that Palin had crossed the line when she accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists." It was in their view inappropriate and excessive. The failure to fairly call the playing field of American politics has rightly left the American public observing an obscene scene of political mayhem. The scene clearly disgusts and offends the public across the political spectrum. According to the current commentators, all of the events since August 2008 are some sort of confused nightmare from which we in the electorate can now awaken and come to our senses. Nothing really happened since there was not a "real" candidate in Governor Palin. For some in the politically elite class, such absurd rationalizations will work, but for a sizable component of the public who saw in Palin their own cultural and political fortunes, these comments will serve as further fuel for their partisan fires.
I suspect that many journalists watching their market shares evaporate and their shareholders sell, are aware that the American public is not sad to witness their collective demise. The stony silence among the media class about the hateful vitriol dispensed upon Governor Palin and her family has not gone unnoticed in the public. Whatever the future of Governor Palin, it's a safe bet that her political career will last longer than a great many pundits who make themselves complicit in this disgraceful conduct of American politics and culture.
Ben Voth is Associate professor of Communication, Southern Methodist University