In Game Change, the HBO movie about the 2008 presidential campaign that airs on March 10, Julianne Moore portrays former Vice President Sarah Palin as blindly ambitious, emotionally unstable and intellectually unfit for national office. Moore's Palin, according to David Hinckley of the New York Daily News, has "a look in her eye that you see in horror flicks just before the adorable 12-year-old chops her whole family into bite-size pieces."
In his review of the movie, James Poniewozik of Time magazine criticized Moore's portrayal of Palin as little more than a caricature.
"It's a lowest-hanging-fruit approach," Poniewocik says. "The movie seems to want to make a larger point about modern politics from the way Palin's nomination was used by the flagging McCain campaign -- as a shiny object to `change the narrative' and shift the buzz from Barack Obama -- but the movie itself gets distracted by its own shiny object, Palin."
Palin deserves our ridicule. But if the movie reduces her to a punch line, it fails to explain what Palin says about the state of politics.
There is no other contemporary politician in the United States who reveals more about the sound and fury of the far right than Palin. Palin is nearly as important to our time as U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy was to the 1950s. McCarthy didn't create the anti-communist hysteria, but he did personify it. Palin didn't create the anti-Obama hysteria on the far right, but she became its face and voice. Not only did Palin become queen of the Tea Party, the Tea Party may not have thrived without her.
Palin, like McCarthy, knew what she knew (and didn't seem to know what she didn't know). And, like McCarthy, she argued that the unknown could be explained by the unraveling of conspiracies and by pitting the pro-Americans against the anti-Americans. Once the anti-Americans were exposed for what they were, then all that was wrong could be set right again.
"We are all sufferers from history," Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Hofstadter said, "but the paranoid is the double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well."
History tells us that there's little under the full moon that gives conservative extremism its distinctive pathology. Conservative extremists, like Palin, have long said they stood for American ideals. But their ideologies are universally bad ones: nativism, jingoism, authoritarianism, militarism, racism, anti-intellectualism and so on.
The far right talks reverently about the Constitution and such American ideals as freedom, justice, and limited government but then casts them aside for sedition laws, segregation laws, loyalty oaths, warrantless wiretaps, and torture.
Palin, like other demagogues on the right, thrives among the ignorant and fearful. If fear doesn't exist, she creates it. If it does exist, she exploits it. Palin uses ad hominem attacks and lies to advance her reckless ambitions.
According to many on the far right, Obama was not born in Hawaii; Saddam Hussein committed the atrocities of 9/11; all Muslims are terrorists; creationism is a science but evolution is a pseudo-science; global warming is a hoax; due process is a legal technicality; and Fox News is fair and balanced.
Both Palin and McCarthy became influential because the GOP's establishment became distracted by the shiny object of demagoguery. Eventually, the GOP rejected McCarthy and other demagogues when they became political liabilities.
Fifty years ago, William F. Buckley, the founder of modern political conservatism, argued that the Republican Party needed to purge itself of the extremists who poison conservative ideology. By doing so, Buckley transformed the political right into a force that elected Ronald Reagan president in 1980.
"I've spent my life separating the Right from the kooks," Buckley once said.
It's time for the GOP to separate itself from Palin.
Christopher Lamb, professor of communication at the College of Charleston, is the author of a new book, "The Sound and Fury of Sarah Palin".
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