I don't believe we fully grasp the likelihood of Sarah Palin actually winning the presidency. Despite the giddy snickering at the notion, she could seriously do it. It's happened before, and we underestimate the frivolity of the American voter at our own risk.
Admittedly, I've been guilty of laughing off her odds -- wishing for her to win the Republican nomination and therefore exponentially boosting the president's chances for reelection. The political calculus is that Palin is hilariously unelectable, especially given the outstanding contrast between the president's seriousness and legislative accomplishments and Palin's awkwardly-cadenced screeching, her dissonant incomprehensible populist word salads and unserious, airheaded public flailings.
And so we hubristically snark about how voters will never elect such a national punchline to the highest office in the land. The White House is reportedly relishing a Palin nomination.
But there are several X-factors that we're not considering here, t-minus two years from Election Day. The perfect storm is composed of 1) pop culture gawking, 2) backwards Fox News Republican propaganda and how it plays to kneejerk swing voters and, 3) progressive apathy/complacency.
No one recognizes how this can happen more than Palin herself who, in response to criticism from Karl Rove, outlined the persuasive influence of pop culture. First, by way of a recap, here's what Rove said:
With all due candour, appearing on your own reality show on the Discovery Channel, I am not certain how that fits in the American calculus of 'that helps me see you in the Oval Office.'
And where it is I'm coming from, when I talk about some interjection of my life into pop culture, he needs to understand that pop culture is the influencer in this country in our society. So we are to be salt and light. We're not to just be sitting there in our own little circle of influence and though the Fox News viewership is huge, larger than any other news organization of course [yada yada word salad bumper stickers, etc.]...
I never thought I'd ever write this, but Sarah Palin is exactly right. (As I step away from my computer seconds before lightning vaporizes my chair.)
We're not breaking any news by suggesting that American culture is dominated by a "famous for being famous" mindset. Some of the most well-known media figures are ordinary hoopleheads who stowed their dignity and their self-respect and stumbled their way onto reality television.
Why are these people famous? Well, because they're, you know, famous. They don't really do anything and they don't really possess any particular talent beyond self-promotion and an uncanny ability to embarrass themselves with enough frequency so as to perpetually nail the timing of multiple news cycles. The bigger the freak show, the bigger the ratings, the higher the Q-score. Three basic steps: blurt out crazy shit, act wounded and victimized by the reaction, repeat.
This is Sarah Palin's public strategy. Much like George W. Bush before her, she just stubbornly marches forward like a white trash T-1000 Terminator as though entirely botching something like the meaning of the First Amendment to the Constitution never happened -- repeatedly. (The First Amendment doesn't protect Dr. Laura from being fired nor does it protect you from press criticism, Sarah. Sorry. Read a book. Oh, and if she's elected, her lack of grade school awareness of the First Amendment could be a dangerous problem.)
She just grins on Hannity and plows forward -- and it's subsequently spun as "strength and influence" even though she's fully and completely wrong in every way. Suddenly her stupid "pit bull" persona is ballyhooed by embarrassingly horny Baby Boomer men even though the original reason for the criticism would normally disqualify even the most popular national figures from being considered as a serious contender for elected office.
Speaking of Hannity, the FNC-GOP-Industrial Complex will obviously be instrumental in getting Palin elected. As we've witnessed since the 2008 election, the trifecta's collective ability to completely obfuscate reality and guide the debate around those terms is uncanny and more than a little frightening.
If Palin is going to win, her grotesquely obvious negatives will have to be spun as "presidential." That's a long road to travel, but it's entirely possible. Just look at the ever-lengthening roster of zombie opposite-day lies floating around.
Death panels are still a thing, even though lingering Republican experiments in healthcare are killing people (sorry, "both sides are insane" hipsters, but this is absolutely true and Alan Grayson was right). Or how basic high school level economics and math indicating that an extension of the Bush tax rates won't stimulate economic growth is attacked as "liberal math." Or how the public option was unpopular even though it was wildly popular. Or how President Obama's has a terrible record on jobs even though more jobs have been created during his term than were created during all eight years of the Bush administration. Or how President Obama is ballooning the deficit even though he's responsible for the single largest one-year reduction in the deficit -- ever ($122 billion!). The list goes on and on. And instead of exposing the FNC-GOP-Industrial Complex's lies, the rest of cable news takes these views as valid points of debate, allowing hired goons to repeat them over and over until the lies become just another angle on the truth.
So Palin can slot nicely into this process. Her ridiculous, misspelled and otherwise disqualifying social network outbursts and Fox News appearances can and have easily become reality. Again, "death panels" was a Palin thing and it helped to turn public opinion against universal health care even though, to that point, the public had resoundingly supported it.
And finally, progressive apathy and complacency could play a major role in the election of Sarah Palin. It doesn't require much searching through various liberal blogs to see evidence of often angry dissatisfaction with President Obama. Of course, progressives won't vote for Palin, but they might support a third party candidate or just stay home.
The 2000 election was enough precedent for this to be a valid concern. Speaking for myself, I was of the tragically misguided opinion that both major party candidates were more or less the same. If, as my idiotic reasoning dictated, both candidates were the same, why not vote my conscience? Yeah, it sounds crazy in hindsight, but I certainly wasn't alone. It was a dominant view among many liberals at that time. And so I stood in the voting booth and, at the last minute, decided to vote for Ralph Nader instead of the obviously better and more practical candidate: Vice President Gore. A lot of liberal voters joined me in that decision, unfortunately.
There's no reason to believe this can't happen again and with enough impact to swing a close election to the Republican nominee, in spite of what sorts of awfulness will inevitably follow. We're already beginning to hear about a third party challenge from Michael Bloomberg. And even though third party candidates have virtually no chance of winning, they can still successfully swing an election.
Perhaps I'm being overly cautious and pessimistic. Perhaps common sense will win the day and Sarah Palin will be laughed off the stage and chased back to her compound in Wasilla where she can instigate liberals for her own personal shits, giggles and growing fortune. I hope that's the case. But if we turn our backs on the possibility of this perfect storm, we could be unleashing a presidency that would make the Bush years seem comparatively painless.