According to Jonathan Chait at the New Republic, Sarah Palin will run for President in 2012. It’s a surprise announcement roughly as surprising as the announcement that the cat will lick itself around noon—sure, there are a lot of reasons why she wouldn’t, but that is also the kind of thing she is prone to do. As Chait points out, Democrats might regard a Palin nomination as a free ticket back into the White House. “But here’s the thing,” he writes, “no one is ‘unelectable.'” Thus begins the rush to assert that Sarah Palin would be a qualified, serious candidate in 2012—a rush by which political commentators, in their natural desire to take up a contrarian position, all wind up saying the same thing. In preparation for an election that may well be determined by how many Americans take up our civic duty to call stupid statements stupid, I’m inaugurating a brand-new feature called Unintentionally Hilarious.
The inspiration for this new element of spitefulness in my life comes from Mark McKinnon and his recent column in The Daily Beast, entitled “She Can Win!” As you know, all the most piercing works of inquiry have exclamation points in the titles—q.v. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding!
According to his bio, McKinnon is a public relations strategist and president of Maverick Media, in which capacity he’s served clients “including George W. Bush, John McCain, Lance Armstrong and Bono.” All of these people have seen their public images improve dramatically in recent years, so we know that McKinnon is a clear thinker. We also have this sentence:
This week’s primary elections, in which two Palin-endorsed candidates won—one in a huge upset—was all the fuel Palin needed to hit the ignition and start gassing up her presidential ambition.
I can see it now—Sarah Palin decides to run for President, pulls into the Sinclair station, parks in front of the pump, starts the car, then begins pouring gasoline into the tank and saves us all a tedious primary season. McKinnon’s ability to navigate a metaphor seems second only to his ability to navigate a thesis, since the conclusion he reaches in “She Can Win!” turns out to be that Palin will alienate moderate Republicans and open the way for the third-party candidacy of Mike Bloomberg.
No less coherent in her message is fellow Daily Beast correspondent Kirsten Powers, whose “Stop Mocking the Tea Party” compares the movement to the 1964 Republican nomination of Barry Goldwater. Powers declares that the Tea Party will not be knocked off the national stage by “snarky media coverage* and clueless attacks from the establishment,**” noting that “they are clearly poised as the heir to the Goldwater movement that was also ridiculed by elites in both parties during the early 1960s.”
Goldwater—whom Powers praises for “shooting from the lip”—lost in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson in 1964, a fact which Powers acknowledges but also glosses over to assert that the ultra-conservative senator really won, since Reagan became President in 1980. Her willingness to extend the Goldwater movement sixteen years and five Presidents into the future suggests that she might have chosen her topic first and her evidence second, but whatever. I really just brought her up so that I could talk about this:
Today’s GOP is torn about the Tea Party, with the recent win of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware setting off recriminations and denunciations from the likes of Karl Rove and other Republican Party pooh-bahs. The conflict was inevitable; movements can be messy.
Gross. Powers’s unintentionally hilarious choice of phrase—immediately after a sentence that has “pooh” in it—brings us to the point of all this, which is that sometimes the message isn’t the problem. The Tea Party and its adherents aren’t being ridiculed by “the establishment” and suffering “clueless attacks” in the media because they’re so conservative. It’s because they’re so stupid.
Notions like “Barack Obama is a secret socialist” and “condoms don’t prevent the spread of AIDS” aren’t conservative. They’re groundless. By the same token, the Tea Party’s opposition to health care wasn’t what made them problematic; it’s that their opposition was based on rumors about death panels, made-up statistics and other methods of reasoning that suggest they can’t fucking think. I’m not opposed to conservatism. I’m opposed to a political philosophy that bases itself on xenophobia, empty appeals to patriotism, religious prejudice and anti-intellectualism.
Such people should be actively prevented from controlling our national discourse. The problem with Sarah Palin, Mark McKinnon, Kirsten Powers and their messy movement is how they think, not what. When Senator Goldwater suggested that battlefield commanders in Vietnam be given the authority to deploy nuclear weapons, it wasn’t a problem of political ideology. Not every idea is as good as every other. That a movement of Americans who don’t understand that has risen to political prominence is a reason to make more fun of them, not less.