Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen evidently felt compelled to write something about the movie "Game Change" because that was the big shiny thing over which everyone inside the Beltway was cooing.
And so today, he goes on at length about how Sarah Palin personally ruined politics forever. That's a pretty rough charge to lay on someone whose role in "politics" has more or less been reduced to writing stuff on Facebook.
But to Cohen, Palin is the reason that so many of the once-and-continuing 2012 candidates from the GOP are so awful. And then, in a masterstroke of evidence-free false equivalence, he darkly warns of Palin's future influence on the Democratic side of the aisle.
This is what appears to be Cohen's generic thesis:
Apres Palin has come a deluge of dysfunctional presidential candidates. They do not lie with quite the conviction of Palin, but they are sometimes her match in ignorance. As with Palin, it seemed hardly to matter.
He then goes on to rate the various candidates who have run for the GOP nomination, illuminating sins that, to his mind, seem Palin-esque. Among these are Herman Cain's "9-9-9 Plan," Michele Bachmann's "fib about vaccinations" and Rick Perry's not knowing "who governs Turkey." He goes on to cite Santorum's commentary on John F. Kennedy and higher education and Newt Gingrich's megalomania in the same vein.
The question I have is, What did Sarah Palin have to do with any of this? Cohen seems to imply that her brief rise to acclaim was sufficient to inspire all these candidacies. But it seems to me that each of these contenders had reasons that animated their runs for the White House. Bachmann was particularly aggrieved by the Affordable Care Act. Cain was peddling a new version of the old "government should be run like a business" line. Perry was practically dragged into the race. Rick Santorum reemerged in 2012 entirely unchanged from the last time he sought office. And Gingrich has been semi-officially running for president for 16 years.
Now I can hardly blame Cohen for not liking this cast of characters. And if he's particularly concerned about the way each seemed to briefly flare as a potential front-runner on the GOP side, then so be it. But let's not get things twisted; the opportunities that were created for Cain, Bachmann, Perry, et al., came by virtue of the fact that potential candidates like Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, John Thune and Jeb Bush decided not to run. (They had various reasons. Daniels didn't want GOP dark artists coming after his family, Bush's position on immigration is a nonstarter with the GOP base at the moment, and Thune, ironically enough, opted out because of the book upon which the movie "Game Change" is based.)
Now, I think one can and should argue that these GOP luminaries chose not to damage their brand names in an election year when there was foolishness in abundance. But to lay all that on Sarah Palin is a cheap distraction. At the present moment, Orrin Hatch is insufficiently conservative, as are Dick Lugar and, in some circles, Lindsey Graham.
At the moment, it is seen as a perfectly acceptable policy position to threaten to plunge the global economy into cataclysmic contractions if hostage-taking demands over the utterly banal raising of the debt ceiling are not met. And at the moment, supporting a budget plan that featured even a shred of revenue raising -- even a 10-to-1 ratio in spending cuts to revenue -- will earn you the threat of an opponent in the GOP primary.
That's a whole lot of foolishness, but can you lay any of this at the feet of Sarah Palin? I'll hear out the argument, but it seems to me that most of the conditions are prevailing within GOP political institutions and not blowing down to the lower 48, borne on an ill wind from Wasilla. Of course, to confront this "foolishness" as institutional within the Republican Party would prevent Cohen from extending his thesis in a way that suggests that pretty soon the Democrats are also going to succumb to Palinism. Maybe not now but someday!
So far, the Palin effect has been limited to the GOP. Surely, though, there lurks in the Democratic Party potential candidates who have seen Palin and taken note. Experience, knowledge, accomplishment — these no longer may matter. They will come roaring out of the left proclaiming a hatred of all things Washington, including compromise.
This is just daft. Is there a possibility that one day, some Democrat will run for president and prove to be some sort of generic ignoramus? Sure. But the idea that some viable Democratic candidate will come "roaring" onto the scene "proclaiming a hatred of all things Washington, including compromise" is just patently absurd. Does Cohen not understand some of the guiding principles of the Democratic party and its base? They believe that government (read: "Washington") is an institution that can have a positive impact on people's lives. And Democrats love compromise.
So what would happen if such a candidate "roared" into a Democratic presidential primary, running a "Death to Washington and Compromise" campaign? Spoiler alert: They wouldn't go anywhere.
But while Cohen's reasoning here is poor, I have to say that I am astounded that all these weird ideas were prompted simply by watching the "Game Change" movie, which seems to be less about Palin's transformative effect on the politics of the past four years and more about the regrets of McCain staffers in saddling their candidate with an untested running mate in the first place. I can't begin to fathom how Cohen missed this, given the fact that it's been so well explicated in movie coverage that it seems like the story's key turn has been spoiled in advance.
Perhaps Cohen was just dazzled by the shiny images on the screen? I say that because notably he doesn't begin this thought exercise by stating up front that Sarah Palin is some sort of ignoramous. Rather, he states, "The movie portrays Palin as an ignoramus." One would imagine that it would be a bad practice to develop stark conclusions about the future of American politics from a "based on a true story" movie running on HBO, but this is apparently precisely what Cohen has done.
But the bottom line, I guess, is that Julianne Moore has somehow managed to convince Richard Cohen that the Democrats will be running a bunch of Palin-inspired candidates in 2016, for some reason.
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