Today marks the one-year anniversary of John McCain's introduction of Sarah Palin to the international stage, in Dayton, Ohio, a political battleground that the Republicans desperately needed for another shot at the White House. They lost Ohio big (by more than 300,000 votes), and they lost the election even bigger--mostly thanks to Palin's erratic, if not downright bizarre, performance as the vice-presidential nominee.
In many ways, it seems longer than a year. Much longer. Palin went back to Alaska, where her life turned into a nasty soap opera. There were revelations from McCain's staff about her behavior on the campaign trail; she was hit with a myriad of ethics charges (some of which, contrary to Palin's claims otherwise, stuck); she bailed on her relationship with the state's legislators and played politics with the federal stimulus plan; she got into a dog fight with Levi Johnston; she began a series of odd Twitterings, replete with a four-part ramble on Mama Bear; she resigned amid chaos and deception, only to return as a diva on Facebook.
And through it all she has been obsessed with Barack Obama.
I've just returned from Alaska, where I conducted interviews and archival research for a book on Palin, and many of those I spoke to in the Last Frontier, from across the political spectrum, noted that Palin was fixated on Obama. "It's like she's back in high school and someone is more popular than she is," said someone who worked closely with Palin during her 2006 campaign for governor. "It's unnerved her. She can't let it go."
Recall her recent interview in Runner's World, where she bizarrely bragged about being able to beat Obama in a foot race:
Could you beat the president?
I betcha I'd have more endurance. My one claim to fame in my own little internal running circle is a sub-four marathon. It wasn't necessarily a good running time, but it proves I have the endurance within me to at least gut it out and that is something...So if it were a long race that required a lot of endurance, I'd win.
Palin has been obsessed with Obama from Day One. In her convention speech in St. Paul, she declared that being governor was a little like being a "community organizer--except that you have actual responsibilities" (a laughable claim now knowing about her failed and truncated performance in Alaska). As John Heilemann noted in a splendid piece in New York Magazine, Palin "was unafraid to wield the stiletto" and "seemed to delight in plunging it into Obama's kidneys."
Along the campaign trail Palin hyped up crowds by accusing Obama of "pallin' around with terrorists" and not being "a man who sees America like you and I see America." When those in the crowd shouted out physical threats to Obama, Palin was silent.
Her silence says everything--about her lack of integrity and her reckless ambition.
In the aftermath of the inauguration, Palin jammed Obama about the stimulus package and lied about "purse strings" attached to the federal money. By the end, she was calling them "ropes." In a telling post-mortem on her governorship in Alaska earlier this month, a largely Republican State legislature overrode her veto, 45 to 14, with many of the legislators openly chastising Palin for playing politics with the state's economic well being. They knew her veto had everything to do with Obama and nothing to do with Alaska.
More recently, Palin referred to Obama's "death panels" and characterized his proposed health care reforms as "downright evil." It was a typical Big Palin Lie--and even Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski called Palin to task for her characterization. A national labor organization, Americans United For Change, took out an ad on Facebook urging Palin to "Stop Lying."
And now Palin's Obama obsession had taken a particularly dark turn.
In a largely overlooked passage in Time Magazine's cover story on Palin last month, Palin's official spokesperson Meg Stapleton asserted that there is a White House conspiracy behind the anti-Palin groundswell led by none other than Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. "The trail is pretty direct and pretty obvious to us," Stapleton declared.
Not printed in the article, but included in a blog posted by Time reporter Jay Newton-Small, were some additional comments on the alleged conspiracy. "To me," Newton-Small observed, "one of the most interesting aspects of the story is how vehemently the Palin camp blames Barack Obama."
"[Palin] represents the biggest threat to Obama," Stapleton stated. "She's the only one who can get the base excited....I just hope to God Rahm Emanuel isn't using taxpayer money to come after Alaska."
Palin's Obama obsession has turned into a paranoid delusion. And like many political hucksters in American history--from the Know Nothings to Huey Long to Joe McCarthy and the Fox TV news clowns--Palin has tapped into the anger and fear of the American electorate. It's the low road to political power in America, and, rest assured, it will only get lower.
This past week, Palin urged her supporters on Facebook to tune into the television show of Glenn Beck, whose paranoid delusions about Obama have come close to topping Palin's own. Beck, of course, made headlines recently by claiming that Obama is a "racist" and that the president "has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture."
That there is an underlying racism that fuels Palin's obsession goes quite nearly without saying. But her ardent support of Beck this week, on the anniversary of her being named to the GOP ticket, says oodles about her obsession.
Award-winning writer and filmmaker Geoffrey Dunn is at work on a book about Sarah Palin and American politics, to be published by Macmillan/St. Martin's next year.