It must have been a slow weekend for much of the media. In one fell swoop, Sarah Palin was promoted from one-line soundbite, photo-op tinsel queen to the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. In a wild flight of fancy and print stage management Time magazine emblazoned the headline, "Sarah Palin in '12? Why She's for Real." The Palin presidential infatuation is fueled by more than a media titillation and desperation to sell papers, magazines and boost tube ratings.
Obama has plunged in the polls, independents have defected from him in droves, and if the GOP captures the House, or even makes an appreciable dent in the Democrat's majority in the House, the GOP will say a deafening "No" to Obama's agenda and endlessly bottle up legislation. A big, warlike, politically-energized, and financially well-oiled GOP, with just the right fresh-face candidate who can appease social and fiscal conservatives would pose a major reelection challenge for Obama.
Palin is not that candidate. She is the most polarizing Republican since Lincoln. If the GOP were dumb enough, scared enough, or crazy enough to nominate Palin, the 2012 presidential election would make the FDR-Hoover 1932, and Johnson-Goldwater 1964 landslides, look positively benign. But this won't happen. The GOP pragmatists that control the money, media spin and party apparatus, will maneuver and massage the primaries and convention to ensure that the noise and mischief outsider Palin makes will eventually die, and she'll toe the party line. In the meantime, Palin is a still a powerful asset -- powerful, that is, for Obama. She's the perfect distraction, foil, and ultimately, perverse reelection trump card for him.
The mere mention of her as a possible candidate would terrorize liberals, and progressives out of their Obama inertia. They would turn his reelection into the same type of Holy Crusade they turned his 2008 presidential campaign into. Many would come out to vote against her as to vote for him. She would singlehandedly reverse the stampede of independents from Obama and drive them back to him.
Then there's America's fast changing political demographic. Latino and African-American voters make up nearly one-third of the voting numbers. But it's not just the numbers, it's where their numbers are concentrated. Latinos voted in bigger numbers and in a higher percentage for Obama than for Democratic presidential loser John Kerry in 2004. Their vote helped seal the win for him in Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. Bush won Colorado and Florida in 2000 and all three states in 2004. But the electoral math shows that, even if Obama had lost both states, he still would have beaten Republican rival John McCain.
Pennsylvania, Ohio, and arguably North Carolina were the must-win states for Obama in 2008. They will be must-win states for him again in 2012. Bush won two of the three states in 2000 and 2004 and cinched the White House. In 2008, Obama won all three. If he had lost Pennsylvania or Ohio, the outcome might have been far different. Blacks make up 20 to 30 percent of the vote in these three states. They gave Obama the crucial edge there. The more than 15 million black voters made up more than 20 percent of the overall Democratic vote in 2008. They gave Obama 96 percent of their vote. This was an all-time percentage high for a Democratic presidential candidate. Palin's base is rural, Deep South and heartland America, and she doesn't make any pretense it's anything else. That base is narrow and shrinking, and that shrink is reflected in the straw polls that give strong hint how dismally she'd fare in a real presidential contest.
Even more deliciously tantalizing for Obama, Palin would confuse, rile up, and split Republicans. Her support in the party could translate out into millions of disgruntled, frustrated voters who would be sorely tempted to push, prod and hector the GOP to give Palin her due. Many would be just as sorely tempted to vote for Palin as a maverick candidate, or if her name is not on any ballot, stay at home. This is tantamount to a vote for Obama.
Palin's strength is to play on and to stoke popular rage and frustration with tin ear politicians who've turned voters into invisible men and women. But things could change in the next two years. A sharp upturn in the economy, the disappearance of the much loathed -- by Palin's cheerleaders -- Obama health care reform law as the thorn in the side issue it was for months during the congressional war for its passage, the fade in public fury over Wall Street's free booting wheeling and dealing, a wind down in the Iraq War, and the semblance of stability in Afghanistan, would vastly strengthen Obama's political playing hand. Palin's presence and the chaos she creates is the trump card that strengthens his playing hand even more.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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