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Ben Wyskida

Ben Wyskida

Posted: July 27, 2009 02:28 PM

Is Sarah Palin Our Richard Nixon?


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.

Oh! Well, I'm certain Sarah Palin would destroy the country. And I know she thinks I'm out to destroy it too, especially since we haven't been so kind to the Governor, going so far as to invite a guest blog from a dead General to condemn her.

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.

Weird. Then check this Sarah Palin's tweet from July 19th:
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

Palin opposes virtually every single solitary policy position that would actually make that happen. The stimulus and federal funding for manufacturing? She fought it. "Green collar jobs?" She's ridiculed them. She's vigorously anti-union and against the right to organize. She sees little to no role for the government in industry except to "get out of the way," which is what George Bush did for eight years. She laughed at community organizing and opposes federal funding for community service programs, which exist to turn idleness into engagement.

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."

Ahhhhh! It's like how when I see Sarah Palin talk I want to spear my eyes out, but some Americans see a "maverick." At least Nixon studied his policy. If he were alive today, I doubt that Nixon would tweet that "sealife near lush wet rainforests to energy housed under frozen tundra atop permafrost, God most creatively displays His diversity in AK," tacitly implying the support of God for arctic drilling. In a way that makes Palin scarier -- while Nixon was personally shy, and comparatively reticent about religion, Palin can be an outright zealot.


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.

He just said some shit. Substitute the economy for Vietnam, and the script could look familiar in 2010. The moose hunter will be taking aim at the stimulus package, health care reform, climate change legislation and our slide to socialism, and you can bet that none of it will be true.

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.

Follow Ben Wyskida on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wyskida