12/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Tears Were Real; Palin Was A Pawn

Maybe I'm just a sucker, or perhaps some misplaced machismo makes me want to defend damsels in distress (even ones who can take down a moose), but watching Sarah Palin tear up during John McCain's concession speech Tuesday night, I actually felt a twinge of sympathy. "Nonsense," my tough, liberal-fighter side sneered back. "Get over it; this is the same barracuda beauty queen who invites poachers to take down wolves from Cessnas, opposes abortion in all cases, and has witches exorcised from her up-do!" The whole slew of anti-Palin talking points blew up in my face.

Still, so did an even more alarming realization: Sarah Palin wasn't a power broker; she was a pawn. Her selection as VP, a move brokered by campaign manager Steve "The Bullet" Schmidt and allowed through by McCain's flimsy hold on his own campaign, was far worse than a mere cynical "political stunt." It was an act of cultural abuse; an exploitation of Palin's own novice aspirations, and an insult not only to the women whose votes the McCain campaign had hoped to sway, but to the millions of "real" Americans to whom the politically and socially naive Palin was expected to be an object of identification.

The later abject tokenism of Joe the Plumber took this gross manipulation of the working-class to new heights, but the real Freedom Fry fake-out starts with Palin. The GOP leadership plucks from obscurity an ambitious but woefully uninformed, inexperienced small-town mayor and small-state governor, whose narrow-minded, backward views are likely less deliberately sinister than just sadly symptomatic of her insulated upbringing, and splashes her out onto the battlefield of presidential politics with little more than an overpriced Neiman-Marcus wardrobe and a gaggle of shopworn, Salvation Army talking-points. Naturally, she got shot down. (Even if she did finally learn to pronounce "Ahmadinejad.")

But her public excoriation couldn't have been in the least surprising to those same shrewd political operatives who used her down-to-earth "you betcha" persona as both working-class fetish and human shield. Surely, they factored in the possibility of collateral damage. Evidently, whether it's sending powerless, politically naive and less-worldly Americans into military conflict, or, as in the case of Palin, throwing them as chum into shark-infested political waters, the neo-conservative wing of the GOP, in their Machiavellian, real-life version of the computer game God of War, rarely hesitates to use small-town Americans as game pieces and pawns.

As for her heinous proclamations on the stump, including accusations of Marxism, terrorist affiliations and general "otherness"; be real. Do you think Sarah Palin has the slightest idea what Socialism is? Do you think "surplus value" means any more to her than a special on Chunky Soup at the local Safeway? And do we need to contemplate what the various permutations of the term "Weathermen" might have meant to her before she was rush-tutored at the Republican convention? C'mon: These absurd arguments were shoved in her face; read 'em or weep, kid. That she is woefully inarticulate and misinformed about public policy, history, social issues and global affairs is a given; but, to be fair, so are many, many people around the world who nevertheless figure that running for Vice-President should probably not be on their To-Do list. Sarah Palin flew much too close to the sun, and she got burned; the smoke still hangs in the air.

And yet, perhaps the most pungent aromas still lingering from this election are the squalid vapors of alleged grown-ups like Rudy Giuliani, Lindsey Graham and Sam Brownback bogusly cheerleading Palin's selection as if it were the thoughtful, circumspect decision of elder statesmen. "She's got more experience than Barack Obama!" crowed Giuliani, grinning like a pop-up doll at the Republican convention. Like McCain and many in the GOP, Rudy saw no ethical conflict in shamming the confused religious and moral melting-pot that is the disintegrating American heartland. He detected no hypocrisy in selling to economically downtrodden rural America an attractive if empty symbol of their own unrecognized ambitions, even as his own party--through reprehensible tax cuts for the rich and imperial ambitions abroad -- has made it increasingly impossible for them to reach for the same stars.

Sure, Palin may have courted the VP slot, and may even -- if reports are accurate--have had eventual designs on the Presidency. But on stage in Arizona on Tuesday night, her disappointment palpable behind foggy faux-designer glasses, she appeared less the ambitious political pitbull-with-lipstick and more the kind of human animal we've seen time and time again: a sacrificial lamb lying ruined in the wreckage brought about by a Bush administration and McCain-led GOP who preaches allegiance to so-called Christian values and the virtues of "good, hardworking" blue-collar citizens, but has made their disdain and disregard for--and their eventual disavowal of--those same people abundantly and repeatedly manifest.