The Year in Palin
One year ago, John McCain introduced Sarah Palin to the world. The Daily Beast turned to seasoned politicos from Bush speechwriter David Frum to Democratic campaign guru Joe Trippi to help make sense of 12 endlessly fascinating—and bizarre—months of Sarah Barracuda.
David Frum, founder of NewMajority.com and former speechwriter for George W. Bush I think the McCain team had not fully calculated the negative reaction a lot of the country would have to Sarah Palin. There's a lot of poll research that suggests Palin may be the only vice presidential nominee in modern times, maybe ever, to have damaged the ticket.
The decline in the polls for McCain began not when Lehman failed, but in that first week of September after Palin's first few good days. As people learned more about her, her support declined, then McCain's support declined around the next week.
Read The Daily Beast’s article on how the pundits from Rush Limbaugh to James Carville reacted when Palin was introduced to the world.
Joe Trippi, Democratic strategist I think she fulfilled a niche need within the Republican Party and I think we'll see more like her across the spectrum of politics.
Her outsider status combined with her social positions struck at a time when people were sick of Washington. When you think about it, you're in the Republican Party, George Bush, a Republican president is there, and people are sick of DC, sick of the administration, and they want someone who is not from that place. And who is she? The gun-toting governor of Alaska. On the Republican side, certainly McCain had an independent, maverick reputation, but the person who really represented that within the party was this woman in Alaska. You couldn't get much further from DC than that.
At the same time on the other side, who could have represented Washington outsider and not the same old, same old and represent change more than Barack Obama?
Paul Begala, Daily Beast columnist and Democratic strategist The rise of Sarah Palin is a symptom, not the disease. The disease that is crippling the GOP is the overwhelming power of the ultra-right-wing base of the party. As the country becomes younger, more ethnically diverse and more progressive, the GOP is becoming older, whiter, angrier, crazier, and smaller.
The right-wing base is eager to believe the most wild, conspiratorial clap-trap; it tunes out all but the most right-wing, biased media and eagerly attacks any Republican who dares try to reach out to the center. This is a recipe for decline. It is also a pretty apt description of Sarah Palin. Palin claimed President Obama’s health plan would parade her special-needs child before a “death panel.” She cannot name a single newspaper she reads, but urges Republicans to watch Glenn Beck’s 60-minute hatefest. She refused to share a stage with a pro-choice, anti-drilling Republican.
Yet after each of these nutty actions, few if any major Republican leaders called her on the carpet. The late Sen. Pat Moynihan wrote of “defining deviancy downward.” Sarah Palin is an example of Republicans defining wing-nuttery downward. Palin suggests the president of the United States would empower a panel to kill her beautiful baby. Nary a peep from her party elders. So the definition of deviancy moves down—and right wingers claim America’s president isn’t even American. Others compare our president to Hitler. Gun nuts bring assault weapons to a presidential event. And down it spirals.
The founders of the modern conservative movement—Buckley and Reagan and Kemp and others—spent a lot of time and energy purging the right of the John Birch lunatics. Today a new generation of loonies has taken over the asylum. And Sarah Palin is the Bull Goose Loony.
Mark McKinnon, Daily Beast columnist and Republican strategist Has it only been a year?
Sarah Palin lit up the American political scene like a meteor. Love her or hate her, everyone is fascinated by her, talks about her, and has an opinion about her.
She is our very own American Political Idol. She came out of nowhere with enormous magnetic appeal and raw talent. And people are either rooting for her to go all the way or hoping she gets booted off the show.
Palin is a flavor. There is no ambiguity about her. And that's what makes her such a lightning rod for attention. Sarah Palin is not going quietly into the night. She's going to light up the political skies for years, maybe decades to come.
Theda Skocpol, professor of government and sociology at Harvard She's kind of concentrated resentment with a beautiful face and that’s unendingly fascinating. I have to admit I'm overdosing at this point. I don't want to hear more about her, but she has had an impact mainly by being one of a number of key people on the populist far right that just say crazy things and gets them out there. Given the way the media works, someone who does that and who is visible can actually help set the agenda of the discussion.
I think she has absolutely no chance at national office and I think that won't change. A month after she was nominated, independent voters, moderate Democrats, and middle-class educated voters, especially women, figured her out. And I don't think she can change that because she's just not that informed or together and doesn't even seem to be able to organize her life, either.
She might get a Republican nomination because we're dealing with a shrinking sliver of the population that’s still in it and there are people who admire her there. But even that I doubt. I just think maybe about a year from now, they'll get over this craziness to some degree and nominate someone with a shot of winning.
Reihan Salam, Daily Beast columnist and co-author of Grand New Party The latest issue of the Boston Review features a brief comment from the political scientists Richard Johnston and Emily Thorson, co-authors of a remarkable paper which persuasively argues that John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin had a powerful and direct effect on voter intentions. At first, the Palin pick was a gamble that seemed to pay off: Voters greeted the young governor with wild enthusiasm, and this led to a spike in support for McCain. Within a few weeks, however, Palin's approval ratings collapsed, and so did the number of voters backing McCain. This could be a coincidence, yet declining support for Palin seems to have directly anticipated declining support for McCain. So it could be that Palin was the most consequential running mate since John F. Kennedy chose Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1960.
Rather than blame Sarah Palin for McCain's defeat, I'm inclined to see her as a tragic figure. A shrewd political opportunist, she was framing a quirky anti-corporate populism in Alaska before she was prematurely thrust onto the national stage. And at that point she reinvented herself as a conventional culture warrior, loved and loathed by America's ideological equivalents of the Jets and the Sharks. Guilty of bullying and nepotism if not petty corruption, Palin was never a model public servant. But she was interesting and intelligent, and she represented a slice of our population that is badly underrepresented in the corridors of power. Like Barack Obama, she was a vessel for the aspirations of millions of Americans who feel ignored if not disdained. For a long time, I thought of myself as anti-anti-Palin: I wanted her to succeed, and I wanted her critics to be proven wrong. Part of me still does. But she's not helping matters.
Michelle Goldberg, Daily Beast columnist and author of The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World She lowered the bar. That should be Sarah Palin’s political epitaph. Ever since Richard Nixon, the Republican Party has made a fetish of mediocrity, lambasting the sophisticated and educated while lionizing the relentlessly ordinary. Yet this was always a bit of a rhetorical put on, because the party did not, in general, propose to turn the levers of power over to anyone with the average American’s innocence of policy knowledge or governing expertise. That is, until Palin.
Even at her supposed best—winking and flirting her way through the vice presidential debate, for example—Palin was shockingly ill-informed. Given the abrupt way she abandoned her post as governor, it’s abundantly clear that she didn’t compensate for her lack of expertise with any particular tenacity or strength of character. Palin’s sole qualification for national office remains her embodiment of the Republican id. No one else so perfectly captures its relentless anti-intellectualism, its tawdry personal scandals, its rabid resentment of Hollywood just barely camouflaging a slavish obsession with celebrity.
In a way, she provided a service by making the truth about the GOP so clear. There are plenty of other Republicans, after all, who are just as contemptuous of facts and as eager to demagogue, but most haven’t spent enough time on the national stage to truly terrify independents and moderates.
Nevertheless, the damage Palin’s nomination has done to our already lurid and degraded political culture is likely to endure. The Republican Party can now nominate virtually anyone, save Michele Bachmann, for vice president and it will look like an improvement, a sign of increasing sobriety and responsibility. And, of course, Palin herself will likely remain influential—she did as much as anyone, after all, to spread the “death panel” smear. She’s proved that ignorance really can be strength.
Thomas Schaller, author of Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South It's hard to say whether Palin's selection in 2008 now forces the Republican Party to accommodate its party's culture warriors by having a Palin-like candidate on either the top or the bottom of the ticket. As others have noted, she arrived on the national scene at time when the culture wars are fading to some degree. I think that, in that sense, she is a fresh-faced political dinosaur. That throwback identity is what made Palin so appealing to conservatives and so irritating to liberals—and a curiosity, like a museum trinket, to millions of Americans in between.