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Jane Smiley Headshot

Nothing to Offer

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Last night, Sarah Palin got her once in a lifetime moment, the moment where she introduced herself to the nation at large. She had a choice about how to reveal herself. We all know she could easily become president, so we were looking to see what kind of person she is, and we saw it. She's mean and shallow and aggressive. She thinks being a leader is about tearing down your rivals. She lies about her own actions and she demeans the more generous actions of others. She goes for the easy laugh, but doesn't even make up her own jokes. If there's a low road, she will take it. If she can pander, she will do it. Her performance recapitulated her actions as mayor and governor in Alaska -- holding office, for her, is about keeping as much power as possible and using it for her own selfish ends. This woman is small small small. She demonstrated that with every word she spoke.

But she inspired the base of the Republican party, all those white folks visible in the audience in St. Paul, so they must have seen themselves in her. I often wonder how, after the Bush years, anyone could be a Republican. It's an ongoing mystery, but Sarah Palin demonstrates who they are. They are small small small. They are obsessed with power. Whatever they have, they want to be sure that they keep it. They don't mind if the pie is shrinking through their own actions -- they will just employ the police state to keep their portion and get more. All other factions of the Republican party -- all the ones who once had and still have any vestiges of kindness and morality and (God forbid) altruism -- have drifted away and only the narrowest are left -- the out and out racists, the sexual opportunists, like McCain, the operatives who do it for the money, and the knee-jerk haters, the folks who leave destruction all around themselves and never even say they're sorry. It's not that they don't believe in, say, global warming. It's that they don't care about any larger issues at all as long as they get theirs.

It's obvious to everyone that Sarah Palin's life is chaos. Her record as mayor and governor is chaotic and her personal life is chaotic. Could she have orchestrated and survived two years of campaigning for the presidency with the panache, the energy, the organization, and the personal growth that the Obamas have shown? Of course not. How the campaign goes is how the administration goes. Palin is showing stress, desperation, and vindictiveness already. And speaking of that -- Obama extended respect to her and she returned contempt. Is she a mean girl? Not as harmless as that. She's more a Lady MacBeth. She IS the Republican party. She shows as clearly as anyone ever that if we as voters embrace something small, we get what we deserve.