Like many electoral weary Americans, I have this urgent post-electoral request of Governor Sarah Palin: is it too much to, like, just fade away? It’s the patriotic thing to do.
John McCain knows his job as loser is to fade away. The press is helping. The other day he spoke at a campaign rally for incumbent Saxby Chambliss, who is in a runoff election for the Georgia Senate seat against Democrat challenger Jim Martin. You probably didn’t know this. That is because the press largely ignored the event. CNN showed some live pictures from the rally, but was far more interested talking to Ted Turner, who was also at the rally, than reporting McCain’s endorsement speech.
But Sarah “I can field dress a moose” Palin, McCain’s stunningly bad choice for a running mate, simply refuses to fade away. She had her sixty days of national fame. She liked being recognized by sight by most of us in the lower forty-eight. Between her welcome home rally, an interview in her home with NBC’s Matt Lauer (where she made some moose meat chili in her gosh darn real kitchen), another interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, and trying to steal the show at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Florida, Mrs. Palin is working hard to make sure we will not forget her.
I know I sure would like to forget her. I would like to forget the $150,000 her campaign wasted on her clothes and a hairdresser. I would like to forget her annoying “you betcha’s”, her Canuck accent, her high heels and her pregnant daughter Bristol. I want to forget about Trig having Downs Syndrome, and her being for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. I would like to purge forever from my brain her claims about being a tax cutter when she raised taxes on oil companies. I would like to forget about the bloated sports complex she built in Wasilla as mayor. In fact, I would like to forget even the name of Wasilla. I would love to forget her crude campaign to remove her ex-brother in law from the state police. I would love to forget that condescending wink she gave during the vice presidential debate. If she would just fade away, maybe in time these memories would vanish!
In short, I would be happy to go back spending as much time hearing about the governor of Alaska as I do about the governor of Delaware. Unfortunately, the media will not let me. They remain intrigued by all things Sarah Palin and she is happy to take every opportunity to make sure she stays in the national spotlight. Is she trying to succeed in her comeback by never leaving our national consciousness? You betcha! Since we are pretty much sick of Paris Hilton, she is glad to assume the role of our new national feminine distraction. The first rule of politics is that negative attention is better than no attention at all.
It might help if our president elect spent more time in the public spotlight. Instead, Barack Obama seems determined to hide behind the scenes until President Bush leaves office. It is already clear what an Obama Adminstration will look like: it will be unsexy, low key and pragmatic, lead by a serenely unruffled president. Our new president may have a magnetic personality to many, but if he likes being vainglorious, he is keeping it well hidden. In the years ahead, when there are political successes from an Obama Administration, do not expect them to break out the champagne that often.
So perhaps instead the media fixates on Palin. Palin knows that she has an image problem. The whole point of inviting Matt Lauer to Wasilla was to begin an image makeover. Maybe Mrs. Palin does know that Africa is a continent after all (it was an urban legend that she did not, but it sure sounded like something she would not know), but she might be able to soften her image a bit by showing that while being governor she too is a domestic goddess like millions of other wives and mothers. Obviously there is little point in softening up her image if she imagined governor of Alaska being the zenith of her career. No, quite clearly being a party’s vice presidential nominee and speaking to all those adoring crowds whetted her appetite for grander ambitions. Her next stepping-stone may be to serve in the U.S. Senate. Her real ambition, after having a thorough image makeover, might well be to be the nation’s first female president. If I were Palin, I would begin with a large number of flashcards. Maybe she can borrow some from Bristol.
Given that the Republican brand is in tatters and a plurality of Americans thought she was unfit for the vice presidency, let alone the presidency, she might not be the ideal candidate in 2012. In fact, if the Republican Party wants to control Congress and the White House again, some reinvention of the party will be necessary. Clearly, what they are selling no longer holds much appeal with swing voters. It is unlikely that this can be done in the short term. Sticking to principles no matter how unworkable they have proven in the past, is something most Republicans view as an asset. Arguably though, John McCain did relatively well in this election in part because his role as the Republican maverick did help with some independent voters. In a disastrous electoral year, he only lost by seven points. A repackaged and more mainstream Sarah Palin could appeal to independent voters. To do so, she will have to help persuade Republicans to be less insular and headstrong party. This could be a big challenge as she exhibited both these characteristics during the campaign. Palin shows some accommodation toward reality. She is more tolerant of gays than many Republicans, perhaps due to a pervasive libertarian streak out West.
While I desperately want Sarah Palin to go away, some other part of me hopes she stays in the public spotlight because her presence is likely to be counterproductive. Now that her brand has been established, changing her image is going to be quite challenging. Memories of Republican rule may fade in time. However, if she is there as a constant reminder of why Americans threw Republicans out of power, this could actually help broaden the Democratic Party as well as harden the still wet cement of its electoral footings.
My suspicion though is that the Republican Party of 2012 is going to try to look at lot more like the pragmatic, intelligent and bipartisan Mitt Romney than the eccentric Sarah Palin. In the short term, it will probably not succeed in this marketing, given its long history. However, if Americans need a constant reminder of why they threw the Republicans out of power, having Sarah Palin regularly in the media could be the gift that keeps on giving to the Democratic Party. Since Palin insists on being in the media spotlight anyhow, perhaps I just need to cover my ears instead.