Sarah Palin quit on Sunday, exiting "stage far right" as Talking Points Memo put it. Point Guard Sarah couldn't finish the third quarter -- she quit with 17 months, or nearly a third of her term, remaining. In Saturday's New York Times, Alaskan political legend William Iggiagruk Hensley noted that Alaska's first Governor, Bill Egan, stuck out his term through a fiscal crisis and crippling gall stones. Palin, Hensley argued, has the national stature to help Alaska through an emerging fiscal crisis, but she quit instead.
I'm finally reading Rick Perlstein's excellent book, Nixonland, and the similarities are disturbing. Nixonland charts the rise of an unscrupulous, polarizing political figure who suffers a national defeat, "quits" politics and tells the press that he's leaving the world stage, then fashions a stunning political comeback by stirring the pot of race and class warfare for his own political gain. We know how that ended. From page 46:
Nixonland ... is the America where two separate and irreconcilable sets of apocalyptic fears coexist in the minds of two separate and irreconcilable groups of Americans. The first -- enemies of Richard Nixon ... take it as an axiom that if Richard Nixon and the values associated with him triumph, America itself might end. The second group believe ... as did Nixon ... that if the enemies of Richard Nixon triumph, the Alger Hisses and Helen Gahagan Douglases ... the hippies ... and all the rest -- America might end.
Three weeks ago, after Palin's strange, rambling press conference-slash-salmon-bake in her backyard, I wrote that her re-emergence on the national stage could be effective if she seized the mantle of economic populism, especially if the economy is slow to recover. I was struck, then, by this passage from Nixonland about how Nixon positioned himself:
Nixon was now the poster child for a ... deranged new politics of mass consumption. It felt divorced from any mature and reasoned and logical analysis of who really ran things in society ... how power really worked. This was a new style of political demagoguery, a kind of right-wing populism.
No time to waste: teach US youth to avoid idleness; they can lead new American Industrial Revolution w/WORK & embrace "Buy American" mission 12:08 PM Jul 19th from TwitterBerry
But just like Nixon, she knows that populism is a good message even if her policies don't back it up. It's not what she's promising -- it's what she represents to parts of a frightened nation in a time of crisis. From Nixonland, Page 43:
To a new suburban mass middle class, admiring Richard Nixon was becoming part and parcel of a political identity based in seeing through the pretensions of the cosmopolitan liberals who claimed to know so much better than you what was best for your country. This side saw everything that was most genuine in Nixon, everything that was most brave."
Like Nixon, Palin blames the media. "Stop making things up," she told the gotcha press on Sunday. The biggest similarity though, is the willingness of Palin -- like Nixon -- to just say some shit. Let's look at her speech. Objectively, Palin has achieved almost none of her core campaign objectives. How did she handle that? "Alaska: What I promised, we accomplished." Oh! Great. Why are you quitting Sarah? "Isn't it obvious?! A lame duck Governor can not serve their state." That's insane, of course -- by that standard, 15 governors should resign, or never should run for re-election, but then they would be lame ducks in their first terms, so there shouldn't even be Governors. Or something. It doesn't make any sense. She loves to just say some shit.
In my post from July 4th, I wrote that Palin's plan could work because the 2010 election presented an opportunity for her to roll out a killer stump speech, and go town to town to town (through "real America," the towns that hate cosmopolitan liberals) campaigning for Republicans and attacking "elitist" Democrats while exploiting lingering race and class tensions. In Nixonland, I've just gotten to the point where Nixon, campaigning for Republicans door to door in the midterm elections of 1966, is shadowboxing with Lyndon Johnson on Vietnam:
Nixon ... took just about every possible position on Vietnam. Liberals who paid attention were enraged. Every Nixonian twist and turn on Vietnam fit a specific pattern. Whatever he said, whenever he said it, was exactly 180 degrees from the current line the President was taking.
For Alaska it's a bright day -- an unethical, ineffective, quitter of a governor is gone, headed to the Ronald Reagan Library for an August speech and then back up there to Wasilla to write her hateful book. For the rest of us, I'm afraid she's just beginning: A "Palin-land," where Sarah Milhous Palin barnstorms the country arguing that drilling can stop climate change, tax cuts can stop the recession and "family values" can win the day. (Uhm...) We can look forward to more Levi Johnston, likely in fewer and fewer clothes, but Sarah Barracuda isn't going away - like Richard Nixon in 1966, she may just be getting started.
This post first appeared at Pinko Magazine, http://www.pinkomag.com, which the blogger co-edits.
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