After reading some of the things Palinites have been writing this week, I am tempted to say that they are “objectively” pro-Obama inasmuch as they are doing their very best to make Obama’s re-election secure. It’s tempting, but it wouldn’t be entirely fair. What is a bit sad is simply how out of it Palinites are. R.S. McCain imagines that Palin is extremely popular. This is true only among a shrinking number of Republicans. Douglas thinks that Palin is powerful because she has become a favorite pinata of the left. In fact, she has very little power outside the conservative cocoon where she receives so much praise and deference. As her favorability ratings show, the intense and concentrated opposition to her has helped turn most of the public against her; Palin has managed to do the rest all by herself. That is evidence of her political weakness. She certainly generates a remarkable degree of irrational loathing, but then she also generates irrational and excessive admiration that makes her supporters believe absurd things about her and her political potential.
What McCain misses in his article is that liberal journalists actually take great delight in the Palin phenomenon. Yes, of course, they don’t want to see her in power, but I think they do want to see her prosper and thrive as the face of the Republican Party. An American right led by or identified with Palin is one that they can very easily ridicule and discredit, and at the same time they can be confident that a Palinized GOP poses no threat to anything they value. Palin is not going to bring the party out of the minority, and were she to lead the party it would more or less guarantee continued Democratic ascendancy for many years to come. Her content-free pseudo-populism ensures that the legitimate political concerns of her constituency remain irrelevant to real policy debates. Media outlets also thrive on controversy and conflict, both real and manufactured, and Palin continues to give them plenty of opportunities for both.
One of the lessons we were supposed to have learned from the off-year elections, and one that I think is correct, is that the public craves competent leadership and that it penalizes any party that fails to deliver it. 2006 and 2008 were repudiations of the GOP because of the war in Iraq and the financial crisis, but more broadly these elections were the public’s demands that the government be ably and competently administered. If McCain ever had a chance of winning, his erratic and confused response to the financial crisis destroyed it, and between his selection of Palin and his insane response to the war in Georgia he drove away many others who simply could not trust someone with such poor judgment with such great power. The elections earlier this month were much the same in that they were protests against Democratic failure to govern well. The Palinites propose to rally behind someone who has no particularly impressive record of accomplishments, who abandoned the highest executive office she has held before completing one term, and who seems to have no great expertise behind her. In other words, Palinites are telling the public that they have no interest in providing competent leadership, and they expect the public to respond favorably to this. Following one of the worst Presidencies in postwar history, one that was marked by incompetence and ideological demagoguery, the Palinites believe that the country is desperately seeking to relive that experience under an even less-experienced, less well-informed, more malleable Western governor.