Madam of the Mediocracy
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)
Couric: Well, explain to me why (Russia's proximity to Alaska) enhances your foreign-policy credentials.
Palin: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of. And there…
Couric: Have you ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?
Palin: We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state. - Sarah Palin interview with CBS's Katie Couric, September 2008
There are literary and intellectual hoaxes both in the latter day and in the days of antiquity, such as young Thomas Chatterton selling a series of fake medieval poems to Horace Walpole. However, at least the starving teenage scribe showed astonishing talent and a grasp of source material in a body of work that literary scholars consider the seedbed of the Romantic movement that began a generation later at the end of the 18th century.
Walpole may have suddenly grown wary of Chatterton's Rowley forgeries but that does not subtract from their intrinsic beauty and depth of understanding of the medieval poetic forms. Yet the days of antiquity clearly show a morality prizing intellectual and artistic honesty and Chatterton, for all his precocious intellect and talent, was still one of the earliest victims of literature's often perverse morality.
Let's fast forward to present day America.
In late August of 2008, desperate to keep up with a younger opponent who had just named a senior senator and foreign policy wonk named Joe Biden to be his running mate, John McCain made perhaps the greatest blunder since Victor Frankenstein tried to resurrect the dead. Mere days before the GOP National Convention, against his better will, McCain named as his running mate a first term governor so obscure that no one outside of Alaska had heard of her. The move had caught the McCain campaign so off-balance that they found themselves racing to the Klondike before the national media could beat them to it because neither McCain nor his handlers had had the chance to vet her (McCain, in fact, had met his future running mate only once).
The GOP presidential ticket now full, Sarah Palin wasted little time in embarrassing and hamstringing the campaign, even co-opting it in a notorious "Palin-McCain administration" moment. Her interview with Katie Couric less than a week later was the political analogue of the Titanic's maiden voyage. In the five weeks she was attached to the McCain campaign like a tick, she had compiled perhaps more gaffes than George W. Bush in the preceding eight years combined. It would have been easy to blame Sarah Palin for torpedoing the McCain campaign but her subsequent popularity reveals a very different reason.
John McCain lost his campaign. If anything, his reluctantly supportive base was energized by this toothy, earnestly but carefully earthy buckskinned Queen of the Klondike. All John McCain was was a sidekick who had been badly bombing in warming up the audience for the real star attraction. It's notable that while McCain bumbles and dodders his way all over Capitol Hill and is just one more elderly, out of touch Republican Senator fighting for political survival, one embattled by his own party, Palin is the one who whips the Tea Partyers into a frenzy. And she's making a very good living doing so.
And therein lies the seemingly insoluble question: How can such a stupid, misinformed woman who speaks for only a small but vocal minority have so much mainstream appeal that it's resulted in millions made on the rubber chicken circuit, millions more in television deals with two networks, a seven million dollar payday from Harper Collins with yet another multimillion dollar publishing deal on the horizon? How can such a disingenuous opportunist get paid more money than 600 unemployed workers who would kill to make even poverty-level wages?
This woman, this madam of the mediocracy, is no Thomas Chatterton but a self-professed fraud. She had not written her book and the entire thing was based on a few hours of interviews dictated to a racist hack. Yet, unlike the likes of McCain, Bart Stupak and other politicians whose flim-flamming and flip-flopping and contradictions had finally caught up with them, Palin's own neverending series of contradictions not only have not caught up to her, she actually seems to be lapping them.
And Palin's inexplicable appeal and the MSM's obsession with her has to, at some point, be construed as a referendum on the errant stupidity and impenetrable ignorance of the American people. By all rights, Palin should've scuttled back into the shadows of obscurity from which she'd emerged a year and a half ago as had the Jack Kemps and Dan Quayles and Bill Millers of years past.
It ought to be interpreted as an ongoing symptom of the mythical appeal of self-sustaining unearned celebrity on us as a nation because Palin is nothing but a twisted bunch of double standards, falsehoods, outright lies and ravenous greed and ambition wrapped up in bright red, white and blue. In short, Sarah Palin is the very defining synecdoche of everything that is wrong with this country politically and socially as well as what is gravely wrong with the media and publishing business as a whole.
Until a few decades ago, the freaks once showcased in Todd Browning's 1932 movie Freaks were relegated to circus side shows. Now, the commonly obese would put the fat lady out of business, little people are no longer munchkins and some of the discarded prejudice against those who used to be called freaks and who have been mainstreamed into our culture is a good thing. But there are the psychological freaks like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin, DSM IVs come to life who fit in perfectly with reality stars John and Kate, Octomom, the Balloon Boy and career car wrecks like Michael Jackson, Lindsey Lohan and Amy Winehouse.
Yet we prize spectacle over substance, with NASCAR drivers assuming their place as deities throughout the Rust Belt and beyond (and, yes, Sarah's handlers were savvy enough to massage that demographic in her post-political career since there's nothing more romantic on Valentine's Day than the chance to see a driver get torn to bits).
And it seems the more contradictions this woman embodies, the more she's beloved. This "pit bull with lipstick" who embodies American courage and fighting patriotism quit her only high profile job halfway through her term to escape allegations of corruption and constantly downsizes her previously-agreed upon times to sign books and give interviews.
This hockey mom of the people is now in such rarified company that she entertains only pre-screened questions, if at all, and no longer mingles with the proletariat that's made her at least $12,000,000 in the nine months since she cut and ran from the Klondike.
Essentially, we're being given Ann Coulter with better curves. But even Ann Coulter gets her facts straight once in a while and always thinks up fresh outrages to titillate her drooling base. It seems the more Palin is exposed to the media from which she was eventually shielded by the McCain campaign, the more we hear the same stale right wing talking points. And her influence is such that her Facebook postings and Twitter tweets actually influenced the health care debate despite holding no public office and no experience or insight into health care.
Yet to this day her fans don't know they're being had because, as with Barack Obama and the liberals who still cling to his pants legs, Sarah Palin is whatever Teabaggers and Republicans want her to be to them. She's a fighter not a quitter, she's a patriot not a separatist, she's a good ole, down-home hockey mom with the common touch not a shrewd negotiator who's not afraid to have a skull session with McCain campaign strategists wearing nothing but a bath towel.
Her TLC show's inevitable failure should in no way be considered a referendum on her popularity's limits. It can be plausibly said that many of the Learning Channel's shows are viewed by liberals, progressives and independents who actually wish to learn new things. It's hard to imagine a very large overlap of common viewers of TLC and Fox "News".
Yet Palin is still chased by publishers, literary agents and television producers who completely ignore others of actual talent and artistic integrity and throwing enormous piles of money at her feet despite her having contributed not a single grain of truth in any of her musings. She's fast becoming the Teabagger's Oprah and perhaps Tina Fey's and SNL's parody of her starting her own network may not be so laughable, after all.
Sarah Palin can likely be considered the Madam of the Mediocracy that would have made extremists, liars and professional provocateurs such as her absolutely unimaginable in a more enlightened age. Thomas Chatterton was rejected and disowned by the very literary establishment that would eventually forgive and lionize him for his fraudulent works of antiquity. Sarah Palin was seemingly rejected by an electorate that said yes to her and her harkening back to an age of McCarthyesque antiquity but no to McCain. Like the phoenix, she has arisen from the ashes of McCain's political career, more terribly beautiful and powerful than ever. Palin is a phenomenon that has conclusively proved that stupidity and ignorance can actually be harnessed as an ever-renewable energy source.
(Here's the cross-post on Daily Kos, with a lengthy poll.)