I couldn’t help but notice the letter to the editor in last week’s Independent calling on an “immature” group of politically active high schoolers (high schoolers!) to collectively apologize for their peaceful protest of an incendiary and, more to the point, fully grown individual (see “Defending Palin,” Sept. 23, 2010). Before I get into it, though, I have to dispute on two counts the notion that Sarah Palin lent “her support to a very worthy cause.” On the most charitable reading, Palin’s speaker’s fee—which, based on discovered retainers from past appearances, I’ll ballpark at $100,000—was paid for by a private donor, so yes, Teen Challenge stood to gain financial support from ticket sales. But that kind of money has a way of undermining the good-heartedness of Palin’s generosity. Furthermore, this “very worthy cause” is under investigation for reportedly abusing and exploiting the teens who are court-mandated to attend or face jail time.
That aside, I’d like to dissect the author’s critique of the particularly “abusive” statement: “Sarah Palin is more of an entertainer than a politician.” First of all, as a battle cry, this slogan seems reasonable to the point of impotence. I also have to correct the author’s correction that Palin is a “damn good” statesman. No. It is not a matter of opinion that she is not. Setting aside the fact that she is no longer a statesman at all, let’s review her record: She ran for governor, and won, on the singular platform that she was not Gov. Murkowski, who everyone in Alaska hated by 2006. She was forced upon the national arena as an unvetted and unsuccessful vice presidential candidate. She then failed to complete her first term as governor (for whatever the reasons you may believe she did this, being a good statesman should not be among them). Moreover, she declined to be interviewed by…anyone while she was in town. This does not a “damn good” public figure of any kind make.
The author found the protesting teens “scary.” What’s scary is that, despite all the above, Palin has apparently become the poster politician (yes, politician) for an era of gut-feeling politics and confused and contradictory anti-government sentiment. She calls for less government and lower taxes but she wants government control over women’s reproductive rights and same sex couples’ marriage rights, and she once did this all while using Alaskan taxpayer dollars to fly her family around the campaign trail. She wants Wall Street to be held accountable to Main Street but she wants no government oversight of financial institutions. When party politics required it, she cried foul at the very health care “death panels” she herself once supported (under a less divisive moniker). That these teenage protesters “were indoctrinated on just one side of an issue” is as presumptuous as it is irrelevant. There are not two equal and opposite views of every issue, and certainly not of Palin.
What is at issue is not a matter of genuinely held and critically considered differences in opinion. Her talking points are overtly irreconcilable. Her words do not have substance. And yet she remains ever visible and no less popular. That is scary.