A standup comic once joked about his inner monologue while rubbernecking through the scene of a car accident. First the serious reaction: "Oh! How horrifying! How awful!" Then the morbidly gleeful: "Cool! Is that an arm?"
Watching the Republican Party implosion and subsequent bloody flailing has become my favorite spectator sport. "Wow, the Republican Party is really, really horribly mangled," then, "Cool! Palin's making an ass of herself on TV again!"
Why the excitement? Well, it appears as if she's being christened as the de facto leader of the Republican Party. Wednesday, for example, instead of attributing his victory to the well-known Republican majority in Georgia, Saxby Chambliss credited his expected victory to Sarah Palin's stump speeches:
"...when she walks in a room, folks just explode."
Explode? Smart choice of words, Senator. Sarah Palin makes Republicans explode. Perfect.
If Palin, in fact, becomes the leader of the Republican Party, exploding is precisely what will happen -- and not in the weirdly excited-slash-sexual way Chambliss seemed to imply. Specifically, Sarah Palin is a walking, talking psychobomb, and elevating her to anything beyond a near-term novelty will be disastrous -- in a word, "explosive" -- for the Republican Party.
And it'll be almost too much fun to watch.
As of right now, we have several contenders for this post. There's "Sister Sarah" (a nickname I don't quite understand). There's the twice divorced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. There's Bobby Jindal, the far-right governor of Louisiana. And Tuesday, we learned that Jeb Bush might be running for Senate and thus throwing his gigantic hat into the fight for the future of the party.
How screwed are the Republicans right now? Put it this way: the sanest contender in the above list is named "Bush." Yes, Bush: a name that proved to be even less popular this year than the name "Hussein." Yet there he is front and center.
Now, it's important to clarify the schadenfreude and why the aforementioned Republican contenders are so much fun, and, more importantly, why many fellow liberals are rooting for them to keep talking.
Simply put, Palin and the others will serve to more or less confine the Republican Party to the deep South where there are enough white fundamentalist hoopleheads to provide the GOP with a respectable electoral showing, but not enough support to seriously compete nationally. In other words, the Republicans are inexplicably pushing names that will do much more harm than good. And that's just fine and dandy.
For instance, apart from her unserious pageant walking and clueless turkey geeking, it's practically impossible for Sarah Palin, with her far-right ideology and divisive politics, to expand a Republican electorate that's already suffering from, well, shrinkage. Her appeal is so laser-focused on a rabidly fanboy-ish chunk of the GOP base that many more Americans who would otherwise vote Republican will surely continue to snap to other options. Meanwhile, the Palin base -- the fanboys who are "exploding" over Sarah Palin -- are a mélange of Bush dead-enders, disgruntled former Bush loyalists who haven't yet realized that the only difference between Palin and Bush is, well, lipstick, and, of course, way too many disturbingly pervy older men. Outside of this narrow demographic, everyone else thinks she's more or less an earnest yet embarrassing joke.
Anecdotally speaking, while working the polls on Election Day, I overheard more than one relatively uninformed, uneducated Republican -- I mean, guys who probably think "peeance freeance" is an actual foreign policy term -- turn to their buddy and say (paraphrasing), "Palin's kind of an idiot. And she probably don't know what peeance freeance means neither."
The only possibilities for the resuscitation of the Republican Party are either, 1) a failed Obama presidency or, 2) an as-of-yet unannounced transformative and inspirational Republican figure.
There's nothing to really indicate the former, but there's always the freak possibility that a random cascade of uncontrollable events could swing the White House into turmoil. It happened to President Carter.
As for the latter, I really can't think of a Republican answer to Barack Obama. Once again, however, the Republicans are betting on either Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal to be the knock-off Bizarro Obama. Palin aside, the notion that Jindal is the "Republican Obama" amplifies how truly ridiculous and desperate the Republicans are.
They're making a huge mistake in assuming that just because Jindal is young and of unusual ethnic origins that he's the equivalent of Barack Obama -- in the same way they mistakenly calculated that Sarah Palin would attract female voters just because she's a woman, even though she possessed none of the positive qualities of Senator Clinton. It's totally shallow and vaguely racist. A party which has so often dealt in identity politics and racial divisiveness to suddenly go, "Hey, look over here! We have an ethnic, too!" seems weird and awful to me.
Additionally, Jindal's religious extremism won't manufacture any new Republican voters from the middle -- he's anti-choice without exceptions, he supports teaching creationism as a science in public schools and, yes, he once performed an exorcism on a friend who he believed was possessed by a demon. Yeah, if there's one thing the Republican Party needs more of, it's religious zealotry.
So we have an exorcist, a Bush, a turkey geeker who makes people explode, and Newt, who, by the way, wrote a book imagining if the South had won the Civil War. If these cable reality show misfits represent the future of the Republican Party, it's going to be a seriously entertaining four years.
Order my new book: One Nation Under Fear, with a foreword by Arianna Huffington. Also available in stores.