By now you have probably heard that Sarah Palin has joined Fox News as a contributor, and will be providing “her political commentary and analysis across all Fox News platforms,” which by 2012 will presumably include blimps and children’s mouths. This is the kind of news event that makes so much sense, once it has happened, that you feel like you were time traveling and have suddenly caught up with the actual present. Why hasn’t Sarah Palin been working for Fox News since she graduated from college? It’s like watching Joseph Goebbels fuck The Riddler: difficult to see coming, but once it starts happening you know that only circumstances kept them apart for so long. “I am thrilled to be joining the great talent and management team at Fox News,” Palin said in a press release. “It’s wonderful to be part of a place that so values fair and balanced news.” And so it begins.
As a nation of people who speculate on things, our inability to predict this turn of events is an abject failure. The only thing left to do now is conjecture wildly about what it might mean. The BBC has been so helpful as to publish this general roundup of mediasphere reactions, which range from the perspicacious to the stunningly banal. Really, Linda Killian at US News & World Report—you consider it “an interesting question” whether this decision will affect Palin’s political career? I’ve never played Clue with Linda Killian, but I assume that she can’t get through a game without blurting out, “You guys ever wonder what’s in that envelope?” Among people with more than ten minutes to construct their news analysis, Palin’s move is generally considered a sign that she won’t run for President in 2012. That’s how Democratic strategist Paul Begala interprets it, anyway, in this article in which one CNN political analyst reports on the analysis of another CNN political analyst for CNN.com. Does this kind of news uroboros disturb you? Get used to it, because Sarah Palin just got a job at Fox News.
The CNN article points out that Palin is the latest in a long series of politicians who made the transition to punditry, and most of them never came back. Begala, who appears to be kind of a dick, praises the job as “indoor work” and makes a series of jokes about the possibility of her quitting, but he seems to believe that it’s a clear sign Palin doesn’t want to run for President. It’s unlikely that regular appearances on Fox are going to expand her political base, and if you take her run for the Vice Presidency of the United States—a turn of events Palin described as “God’s will”—out of the equation, her biography doesn’t really indicate a lifelong commitment to politics. She’s got two terms as a small-town mayor and .85 terms as governor of Alaska, which we all know is the weirdest state. That’s not exactly a calling to serve.
But you know me—I’m not one to settle for clean, concrete evidence when an abstract global explanation will do. In that spirit, I would like to point out that signing on with Fox gets Palin out of a difficult position. Right now she’s the scion of a movement that might be strong enough to carry her to elected office but can’t offer her any guidance once she gets there. Palin’s brand of conservatism, which is roughly the same reactionary populism espoused by the Tea Party and Glenn Beck, is charismatic and idea-free. Millions of Americans may want to get back to the principles expressed by the Founding Fathers, but they have yet to articulate how those principles should be applied. The former governor’s constituency is vast, but it’s also fickle; they have no concrete opinions on government except possibly that it should be destroyed, which would make it difficult to figure out from the Oval Office how to keep their support. Plus, if you’re President, there’s so much reading.
Palin’s politics is better suited to commentating than to governance. The current rhetorical climate, particularly over at Fox News, is critical rather than constructive. They’re an opposition bloc, like pretty much all the most vital elements of contemporary conservatism. Like Beck, Palin speaks in vague platitudes about “empowering freedom” and “real Americans,” which makes for rousing indictments but isn’t conducive to actual policy initiatives. Rather than trying to figure out how getting back to our values can control carbon emissions without putting insuperable regulatory and financial pressures on the energy and transportation sectors, Palin is now free to snipe at the governance of others from the Fox studios. As a politician, she has always generated much heat but little light. What better place for her than a cold, bright television studio?