She's back -- and she's "dirtier" than ever.
Whether it's lambasting New Jersey governor Chris Christie for "getting his panties in a wad" over Newt Gingrich's challenge to Mitt Romney, or ridiculing the media for getting "wee-weed up" over Rick Santorum's reference to Satan, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is fast becoming the most provocative -- and outlandish -- trash talker in US politics.
Arguably, Palin's use of sexual innuendo isn't new. She's been telling GOP politicians, the media, and even President Obama to "man up" for a good two years, and she's had a corrosive influence on other leading conservative figures, including commentator Bill O'Reilly and fellow Christian Rep. Michele Bachmann, who've freely adopted the same language, and for much the same reason -- to portray everyone but the Republican far-right as simply too "weak" to lead,
Still, no one trash talks, or walks the fine line between vitriol and verbal abuse, like Palin does. And with her use of highly-charged and salacious language growing, even some leading conservatives are wondering if she's crossing a line -- and heaven forbid, engaging in "sexism" -- when she publicly ridicules politicians, including leading figures in the GOP, by calling into question their masculinity.
No one on the right seemed to complain, of course, when Palin was training her ire on President Obama. Back in August 2010, in an interview on Fox News, where she's practically an honorary co-anchor, she praised Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's harsh new immigration crackdown law, and suggested that Obama, by contrast, "lacked the cojones" -- the Spanish slang word for "balls" -- to protect America's borders.
If anyone found the comment outrageous -- and to assail any president in that fashion clearly is -- no one said anything at the time, not the FCC, Fox or even her many critics in the "lamestream" media. But it may be that Palin herself was warned about her coarse language, because for much of 2011, she seemed to be on her best behavior -- and indeed, was spending considerable time out of the limelight altogether addressing the tabloid dysfunctions of her family, her cable TV show, and of course, her on-again, off-again now-finally-cancelled-due-to-poor-ratings presidential bid -- arguably one of the longest running political "cock teases" in American history.
But beginning late last summer, Palin's been on a verbal tear -- or jag -- of sorts. Appearing before a fired up evangelical Christian crowd in Iowa in August, she cited an opinion poll about her -- and then, in a bizarre aside -- reassured her audience that she didn't really believe in "polls."
"I've always thought polls were for cross-country skiers and strippers," she joked, meaning "poles," of course. The loyal Palinista crowd, apparently stunned by her suggestive reference, tittered nervously for a moment, before roaring their approval.
In fact, Palin's use of sexual innuendo seems to have become a constituent part of her pop-idol image, which, much like Madonna's, never dies, but simply morphs, seemingly overnight, to meet its author's ever-changing mood and needs. At times, Palin fancies herself the quintessential "Mama Grizzly,' a solid Christian housewife and mother who's out to protect her brood -- and by extension, she suggests, the entire nation, from the Godless hordes of liberalism. Other times, of course, she slips easily into the role of political sex kitten, hopping on the back of a Harley-Davidson Ann-Margaret style at national motorcycle conventions and spontaneously whooping it up with the biker dudes -- as only Palin, it seems, can -- as if she hasn't a care in the world.
But Palin's sexualized persona, combined with her overt narcissism and often ditzy policy commentaries, has cost her dearly with most women, including most Republican women. She has perhaps the widest "gender gap" of any leading Republican political figure, except, perhaps Newt Gingrich, who's seen his presidential fortunes fade in Florida and elsewhere as women, especially Republican-leaning independents have turned solidly against him. Much the same has happened to Palin, in fact, and for much the same reason: her sexualization, while titillating, and still highly appealing to conservative Republican men, simply rubs most others, especially women, the wrong way. Even if they still like Sarah -- her feistiness and her in-your-face outspokenness, above all -- and are willing to look beyond her less than stellar command of policy details, she's not really considered "trustworthy." And loyal husband or not, her increasingly rough sex talk -- and the tawdry misadventures of her one-time barefoot-and-pregnant daughter, Bristol, the acorn who's fallen so close to the tree, perhaps -- surely has something to do with it.
Why does Palin persist in bullying even members of her own party with sex? It could be some kind of political penis envy, in fact. As her own political fortunes have faded -- she's no longer an anxiously awaited presidential candidate, and her once-prominent SarahPAC is down to its last $1 million -- Palin's looking for new ways to generate headlines and to keep the focus on her favorite subject -- herself. She can't actually compete with the candidates currently in the race, but what better way to get even with the GOP establishment that spent a year openly torpedoing her candidacy than by making a tawdry display of herself and by showing just how easily she can publicly humiliate future rock stars like Christie?
And don't think Republicans aren't intimidated -- they are. In the past week alone, Scott Rasmussen, a leading GOP pollster, and Sean Hannity, her loyal colleague at Fox News, have both predicted that Palin would emerge as a key power broker in Tampa, especially as Romney and Santorum continue to split the Republican vote wide open, leaving no obvious front-runner. Helen of Troy once set two powerful armies and nations at war. Palin, more like Delilah, seems destined to sap what little strength the GOP has left to do battle this November -- all because, as Bill Clinton once said, she can.
Follow Stewart J. Lawrence on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stew_law