When Elites Bash Elitism

By Joan Walsh, Salon - February 12, 2010

The same day the Washington Post released a poll showing a staggering 71 percent of Americans -- and a majority of Republicans -- don't think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president, the Post's David Broder and Time's Joe Klein wrote columns proclaiming Palin a towering political force on the American landscape. It's rare that Beltway conventional wisdom gets proven false the very same day it surfaces. But that probably won't stop it from spreading.

Broder praised Palin's "pitch-perfect recital of the populist message." Klein hailed "the brilliance of Sarah Palin," and suggested that "real Americans" can relate to "a woman who goes to war against the 19-year-old boy who knocked up her daughter and then posed for Playgirl," and who calls national policy "current events ... the high school term of art for the hour each week when students are forced to study the state of the world." Klein compared Palin to the folksy hound dog Bill Clinton and suggested they had the same kind of populist appeal. (I know it's just a coincidence Clinton wound up hospitalized for chest pains later that day.) The worst line of the piece? "One might even argue that you betcha is American for 'Yes, we can.'"

Et tu, Joe? You're going to suggest Barack Obama doesn't speak American? Really?

I had a lovely conversation with Klein a few weeks ago, about Clinton and Obama and American liberalism. He's not stupid, he just writes stupid things sometimes. I have to say, though, I'm tired of self-hating liberal elites lecturing other liberals about how out of touch we are with real America. Lots of real American voters may well like Sarah Palin, admire her moxie or her mothering, and still know she'd be a terrible president.

In fact it's the Beltway anointed who underestimate the American people. Does Joe Klein honestly think "real Americans" admire the way Palin's gone after 19-year-old Levi Johnston? I don't see that, unless you think real Americans are petty and stupid and believe it's a good idea to pick public fights with the teenage father of their grandchild.  Then there's Pat Buchanan: We were set to debate Palin's appeal on "Hardball" Thursday (until we got bumped by the Clinton news). Pat loves her. Apparently it doesn't bother him that, in her charming interview with Chris Wallace, she confused the anti-interventionist Buchanan with the neocon world conquerer Daniel Pipes. Palin cited a Buchanan column as suggesting Obama could get out of his current political fix if he decided to "declare war on Iran or decided to do whatever he can to support Israel, which I would like him to do." In fact, that was Pipes' point of view, which Buchanan was criticizing in the column.

But I guess our next president doesn't need to know the difference between neocons and anti-interventionists. Buchanan told Talking Points Memo that critics were misunderstanding Palin's misunderstanding him, but his answer made no sense. On "Hardball" I wanted to ask Buchanan, one of the nation's foremost Israel critics, what he thought of Palin's blind support for Israel, or her wearing the Israeli flag on her lapel Saturday night. Maybe issues like that don't really matter. Boy, conservatives must  be desperate.

Or at least Beltway conservatives. That same Washington Post poll showed that only 45 percent of conservatives believe Palin is qualified to be president, down from 66 percent at the end of 2008. A majority of Republicans say she'd make a bad president. Of course Palin has plenty of time before 2012, but so far time has not been on her side. The more time Americans get to know her, the more they see her as divisive and poorly informed. And her poll numbers look worse when you compare her to other outsider candidates: A year before they ran in 1988, Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson were judged more qualified by their respective parties than Palin is today. And back in 1996, during Buchanan's second run for the Republican nomination, "only" 47 percent of Americans said they thought he would not make an "effective" president -- way better than the 71 percent who say Palin's not qualified.

It's still entirely possible Palin can surprise us.'s Nate Silver looked at the electoral map today and hacked out a state by state path for her to get the Republican nomination in 2012. But as Silver acknowledged, it was predicated on the primary and caucus schedule remaining in the same order it was in 2008, which isn't likely. And it also presupposed no more major gaffes or career-ending stumbles by the former Alaska governor.

But at this point, given Palin's abysmal standing with American voters, I think Beltway insiders anointing Palin the candidate of real America are the ones showing contempt for real Americans. 

So, Sarah Palin said on Saturday that she'd totally consider running for president in 2012, and I yawned. I mean, I giggled a little, and then I yawned, which is the same reaction I've had everytime someone involved in the World Wrestling Federation has declared for office. Then, for a day or two, as the Internet burbled with speculation and as David Broder warmed up his pen, I wondered if maybe I'd missed something -- like all of the other eligible Republican candidates swearing they'd sit 2012 out. But since Tim Pawlenty was still standing, I felt confident this wasn't the case. So why was everyone interested in Palin '12? Couldn't they see what a hoax this was?

Today I got my answer.

The Internet is (finally? again?) throwing an Anti-Palin Party. First, there's this woo-hoo poll that says Sarah Palin isn't so beloved (and is certainly not trusted) by the American people, unless you define "American People" as "three crazies who like tea." The Washington Post not only published a David Broder love letter to Mrs. Palin today, it published some poll results:

Although Palin is a tea party favorite, her potential as a presidential hopeful takes a severe hit in the survey. Fifty-five percent of Americans have unfavorable views of her, while the percentage holding favorable views has dipped to 37, a new low in Post-ABC polling. There is a growing sense that the former Alaska governor is not qualified to serve as president, with more than seven in 10 Americans now saying she is unqualified, up from 60 percent in a November survey. Even among Republicans, a majority now say Palin lacks the qualifications necessary for the White House.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, that means Palin's running worse numbers than that divisive, devilish Hillary Clinton ever did:

To put this bluntly--Sarah Palin is more hated than Hillary Clinton at any point in Clinton's political career, and yet engenders very little of the love that made Clinton a political force.

Things can be put even more bluntly than that, for which we must turn to Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States and Gaffestan, who said this very clearly in that folksy way of his: "Governor Palin appeals to a group of people who are generally frustrated, feel disenfranchised, are very conservative... Tea Party people, but beyond that. She has appeal beyond that as well. But I don't know that it represents anything approaching a significant portion of the population.”

The difference, of course, between Joe Biden's folksiness and Sarah Palin's is that sometimes Joe Biden knows what he's talking about. God love 'im. Remember when everyone on the campaign thought it was going to be Joe Biden who was more prone to embarrass his ticket? Oh ho ho. I love a good proved-'em-wrong moment.

Better than all of this, though:  Someone went on Larry King's show (which was minus Larry King, so at least some things are staying normal) and tried to summon the Ghost and Spirit of Ronald Reagan by invoking his name in defense of the Great New Governor Maverick. Sadly, this failed, because sitting next to said summoner was Ronald Reagan's actual, living son, Ron Reagan Jr., who took the opportunity to call crazy where he saw it.

The entire exchange is worth reading, but a quick summary goes like this: Ron Reagan Jr. says his father would not have liked Sarah Palin "because she doesn't have a thought in her head." Pam Geller says this isn't true, that President Reagan would have loved her, and RR Jr. says maybe Pam sholdn't talk about a guy she never met. The satisfying point comes at the end:

Reagan: Is Pam still blathering about me and my father? Oh, you are. You still haven't met him, though, right? You still didn't know him, so you're just sort of making things up as you go along, right?

Geller: You never met him either. You know, you never met him either. Do you think you're making your father proud? Do you really think you're making your father proud?

Oh, yes. Now we have people -- let's call them Palinites -- who have moved beyond just questioning people's patriotism when they disagree. They now question family relationships. Yes, friends, what we've known all along is finally be played out on the bigger screen: to believe in Sarah Palin, you must reject facts and rewrite history.

Luckily, it looks like maybe only a small segment of the country is willing to do that. I'm getting around to making the very same point that TNC made in his post, which is this: Sarah Palin is not a major political force. She is the political equivalent to "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV." Which, by the way, she does now: she plays a political leader on TV, paid for by Fox. She is not now, nor does it seem she ever will be, a real political force in America.

TNC has said he's going to stop treating her as such; I feel it's time I do the same. I'm turning off The Sarah Show except as entertainment. If America doesn't take her seriously, why should I?

The headline of the year appeared in New York's Village Voice: "Scott Brown Wins Mass. Race, Giving GOP 41-59 Majority in the Senate." On CBS Evening News, Katie Couric brightly informed her audience that the former Cosmopolitan centerfold model's swearing-in gave Republicans the power to defeat all of President Obama's initiatives.

Not only has total paralysis been theoretically achieved, but our allegedly liberal "mainstream" news media treats it as entirely normal. Never mind that Republicans haven't themselves achieved a 60-vote "supermajority" within living memory. Nor that rules permitting 41 percent of the Senate to filibuster legislation to death arguably constitutes an unconstitutional violation of majority rules Republicans argued when Democrats threatened to filibuster Bush Supreme Court nominees.

The raw political truth is that the GOP reacted to its 2008 electoral losses by elevating party over country. The fundamental strategy has been to harass the Obama administration with hysterical falsehoods, prevent it from getting anything important done, then argue that Democrats are incapable of governing. So far, they appear to be getting away with it.

Maybe that's because the United States no longer has a government, I thought while watching Sarah Palin's $100,000 "tea party" speech on CNN. Instead, it has politicized infotainment, an endlessly evolving reality-TV program. Personality trumps complexity, sex appeal sells soap suds, and everything's a crisis, because conflict enhances storylines. Facts and causality can be rearranged as needed.

On all the networks, the wish to jump-start the 2012 presidential campaign -- the ultimate reality TV program -- was almost palpable.

In short, "How's that hopey-changey thing workin' for ya?" Watching Sarah, Queen of the North, wowing her Nashville fans was enough to give any rational citizen the bends. Reading from a script, she mocked President Obama's use of Teleprompters. Her fans saw no contradiction. Palin lampooned the (Bush administration) TARP bank bailouts she supported during the 2008 campaign.

Praising U.S. troops for "defending our Constitution," she sneered at Obama for teaching constitutional law -- as if it were unmanly. Like all Republicans, she pretended that treating failed Christmas terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab precisely as the Bush administration treated failed terrorists Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui indicated that he was soft on terror.

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