Who Else Would Visit Countries That Start With The Letter “I”?

How television created and then killed Sarah Palin’s political prospects

By John Doyle

Last I heard about Sarah Palin was contained in a story with the headline, “Sarah Palin tours India and Israel to get to grips with foreign policy.”

It was tempting to see this headline in itself as illuminating, if not incisive. Who else would undertake a crash course in foreign-policy issues by starting with countries that, in turn, start with the letter “I”? You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to see some significance. And the joke writes itself.

Before that, the top item in Sarah Palin news was a spat between Palin and comedienne Kathy Griffin. As soon as it was announced that Griffin would play a Palin-like character on an episode of Glee, Palin was on the attack. On Fox News, live from Alaska – with water and trees in the background, naturally – she called Griffin a “50-year-old bully” and attacked her for mocking the former governor’s daughters.

It was familiar Palin – smiling, finger-pointing, imprecise, and attacking a professional comedienne for making fun of people. And yet it was all so lame. The Palin bite had gone. The Palin buzz has gone. Sarah Palin is over, so over.

How over? A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that her approval ratings among committed Republicans in the U.S. had faded dramatically since previously measured last October. In fact, her “strongly unfavourable” rating has skyrocketed among Republicans. In recent political commentary in the U.S., the talk is of her presidential bid “imploding.”

It was television that destroyed Sarah Palin, just as it made her. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again – the arrival of Palin as a major political figure in 2008 was an emanation of the reality-TV culture, anchored in the belief that ordinary or “everyday” people, inarticulate though they may be, and with all the baggage of messy personal lives, are truly compelling public figures. Palin was the political equivalent. A figure who refracts national identity as it is shaped by the culture’s most powerful medium. Authentic, populist and dismissive of sophistication in thought and action.

Then, television duly destroyed the Palin authenticity. The arc of her national political career began with a defining speech at the Republican National Convention in September, 2008, and ended in November, 2010, a few episodes into Sarah Palin’s Alaska. The show, a cringingly inevitable reality-TV series, gave her a huge platform and she blew it. If her exposure on TV in 2008 brought out the authenticity, the show brought out Palin’s inner princess. She talked about being a mom 87 times an episode (I’m exaggerating , but only a little) and made dubious attempts to make political parables linking her family, the outdoors and wildlife. It was ego unbounded. And this after quitting her job as governor of Alaska.

The series had many memorable moments and scenes, but what lingered – and obviously had an impact on Republicans – was the unsubtle undermining of Palin’s assertion that she and her family are “normal, average Americans.” A salmon-fishing trip for the kids involved using a private bush plane to fly to a remote wilderness lake. Palin asserted that such a trip is “an everyday thing” in Alaska, yet any fool watching at home knew the cost had to be in the many thousands. A mountain-climbing trip to Mount McKinley was presented as a trip in the family RV, yet viewers were gobsmacked to find that the vehicle was more like those giant, luxury tour buses used by rock bands.

Television is not kind to blatant hubris and hypocrisy and the series amounted to an epic failure to enhance Palin’s status as the genuine voice of authentic America. Television is flow, not content, and in politics, TV is not a problem to be managed but an instrument to be played. (Marshall McLuhan told us so and it is true.) The flow of Sarah Palin’s Alaska amounted to a river of platitudes and patently insincere assertions. Palin failed to play television as an instrument.

The medium that gave her exposure and heft as a figure representing everyday reality, and ordinary people’s views, finally diminished her fatally. After succumbing to the temptations of a reality-TV series, Palin was exposed as overexposed. The other week, while on Fox News attacking Kathy Griffin, she had all the political heft of some batty lady calling into the phone-in radio show from remote Alaska and braying about things that made sense only in her own head. The presence, the charisma were gone.

Palin arrived as a creature of TV and the medium has eaten her up. Never mind the primaries and U.S. presidential election in 2012. The political obituary can be written now.

Globe and Mail

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Syrin
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 15:52:43

    Excuse me while I bask in the glow of each and every word in this article!
    Especially this part.. “Palin’s political obituary can be written now.”


  2. AKRNC
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 17:24:12

    To everyone who initially said that $arah Palin would be the cause of her own downfall, I lift my glass to you! It’s only iced tea, but you’re still being saluted!

    It’s quite ironic that the things that were supposed to “launch” Palin’s bid to the Presidency and also “secure” the nomination are what is in reality, the reason for her downfall. I remember all too well how the delusional idiots at Crazies4Palin were applauding their idol for having such vision, for laying out her plan so well, having Bristol on DWTS and Palin’s reality show coming on its heels to be followed by the release of her newest book. Never before in politics or anywhere, according to C4P, had such “brilliant planning been executed.”They scoffed at those who said it was overload because after all, their queen knew what she was doing. Hadn’t she proven that time and again over the last two years? NO! And she didn’t do it this time, either, as America grew tired of the Palin blitz, screaming, “no more, no more”. We’d had enough, many of us had been feeling that way far longer, but the general population let them know how they felt in their polling as her numbers sunk lower and lower in the favorability column and rose in the unfavorable column. The Presidency, which she believed she had a right to call hers, was quickly shown to be out of reach despite many of us realizing that had been the case all along especially since there were many polls proving the same thing.

    Let’s all wave goodbye to Palin, show her the door that is marked very clearly with an “EXIT” sign because that is the ONLY door that is open to her.


  3. Sally in MI
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 18:22:49

    What a splendid article. With her continuing attacks on the President, and her whining about the media catching her numerous errors, I think that all of America will soon tire of the quitter and her excuses. And as more and more of the crazies enter the GOP field, she will soon be pushed to the back of the pack. She never intended to actually debate, let alone lead, anyway, and we’ll still have Bachmann and her band of loons to entertain us.


  4. akbatwoman
    Mar 24, 2011 @ 08:33:24

    I love this article almost as much as I love this quote from Jason Easley at PoliticusUSA:

    “Sarah Palin has become the political equivalent of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. America regrets the one night stand they had with Palin, but now she has broken into our house and is ready to boil our bunny. Sarah Palin is America’s ultimate political stalker. It all makes you wonder where Michael Douglas is when we need him most.”


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