Monday, September 20, 2010

Rethinking Palin

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

It's time to rethink Sarah Palin. From the moment that Republican presidential candidate John McCain plopped her on his ticket, the supreme article of political faith from all pundits, much of the press, most Democrats, and the GOP establishment has been that Sarah Palin is a laughingstock, a sideshow diversion, an ignoramus on the issues, a gossip and celebrity starved media creation, and, of course, a closet race tinged crowd baiter. The Palin allure is built squarely on elements of these features. But what's now painfully obvious, is the allure has turned Palin into a political force, threat, and danger.

The millions of Palin loathers gag at the thought of this. But her string of victories by candidates she endorsed in the primaries, and a flip-flop in some polls that now show more people than not say that she should run, and a more than a few say that she should win, have radically changed the game.
The tough to swallow truth is that she has greater national political name recognition than any other Republican and that includes her former ticket head, McCain. She energizes and rallies conservatives, and polls say more Americans self-identify themselves as conservatives than liberals, let alone progressives. Palin's motherly, family-values, fundamentalist pitch fascinates even those who personally detest her message. This includes much of the Palin obsessed media. Her political ineptness, naiveté smacks of a bumbling political innocence that far from being a liability endears her to throngs. This makes her the hot ticket item she is on the media and lecture circuit. It also now has more GOP candidates and some incumbents begging her and her Tea Party pals to troop through their neck of the woods and say a word of praise on their behalf.

GOP regulars and political pundits still shrug her off as a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2012. And she's still a favored running joke of late night comics. But this has endeared her to many as a scorned mother non-politician. That serves to keep her public stock and appeal high. The Christine O'Donnell and Joe Miller GOP senate primary victories in Delaware and Alaska sent her stock through the ceiling.

Palin exploits another feeling that GOP mainstream politicians have been inept, clumsy, or gun shy about exploiting. And that's race and Obama. During the campaign McCain wisely declared that off-limits. But Palin didn't. She quickly trotted out the GOP's old reliable playbook of racially tinged code words, phrases, and digs at Obama, "paling around with terrorists," and "This is not a man who sees America as you see America and as I see America." Far from turning voter's heads in disgust and revulsion at the word play, they got rousing cheers whenever she spewed them out on the campaign stump.

That sent the signal that there were millions of voters who would never accept an Obama presidency, no matter what he said, or did, and no matter how well he said or did it. They just simply could not stomach the idea of a black man in the White House, and they would go to any lengths to get him out of there. But to make the counter assault on Obama work, it would take a media savvy and manipulative, galvanizing figurehead to rev up the crowds, and a vehicle to organize them once they were revved up. Palin and the Tea Party were the manna from above to try and accomplish that. Even while the much of the press and the pundits continued to bash her harder than any GOP candidate since Hoover Herbert during the presidential campaign, the crowds that wildly cheered her didn't slack up one bit. And neither did the endless refrain from the Palin cheerleaders that she was one of us. And since winning elections is still as much about which candidate can win the hearts not the heads of the voters, Palin was clearly the one who could tug at the voter's heart strings.

The final vote result proved it. Despite the colossal baggage McCain and the GOP carried, and colossal advantages Obama and the Democrats had, the majority of white moderate and conservative voters, and a large segment of young whites and independents still voted for McCain. In the nearly two years since Obama's election, Palin has been the GOP stalking horse to stampede the herd of moderates and conservative independents even further away from Obama.

The Palin success in grabbing headlines, firing up anti-Obama mania, and snapping the heads of the GOP establishment to attention hasn't been lost on Palin. She's adroitly moved her game plan to the next level, and has extended the Olive Branch to the GOP mainstream with saccharine public appeals for the party to make peace and target Democrats for the boot in November. Her party unit pitch is aimed at doing one thing, and that's to bring her in from the fringe cold and establish her as a worthy, even credible, presidential candidate in 2012. So far she's done everything else right, and there's no reason to think that she won't make some headway on this either. This horrific possibility is more than enough cause to rethink Palin.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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