What is Sarah Palin doing?

What is Sarah Palin doing?

Sarah Palin. Somehow a year later she is still one of the most polarizing and important politicians in the media, often getting the nod as the most important and viable member of the Republican Party. Her recent decision to step down as Governor of Alaska is igniting hot debate around the country.

Frank Rich wrote a great op-ed column in the New York Times this week. Rich asserts that Palin in fact “… stands for a genuine movement: a dwindling white nonurban America that is aflame with grievances and awash in self-pity as the country hurtles into the 21st century and leaves it behind.”

There is a lot of truth in that assertion, I believe, and a lot of crap. Can a “dwindling white nonurban America… aflame with grievances and awash in self-pity” actually be a movement? Isn’t a movement supposed to be “for” something, not just a bunch of people bitching about the same thing? And don’t movements grow as they pick up supporters, not flame out in the corner because their minions are “dwindling?”

My point is, Palin may indeed be the figurehead who “stands” for the Republican Party as it exists in this political moment, but I don’t see that Republican Party as starting or engaging in any sort of movement. There is no drive to make anything happen. Obama pretty much has that side of the political debate nailed down right now.

I agree with Rich that the scariest part of Palin’s grandiose poor-me approach is that it is an emotional appeal to a demographic that is seriously disenfranchised and will most likely not go quiet into any good night. For an demographic characterized as pro-Christian and pro-Gun to be rallying around an angry and charismatic leader with a message that stokes the fires of self-pity and self-righteousness… well, you can see how that could cause problems. 

Rich’s comparison of Palin’s “other-ization” of her naysayers, namely her claim that people who question her decision to leave office mid-term are the ones who are strange and “insane,” with Sharpton’s message to Jackson’s children that their father’s adversaries are the “strange” ones is astute and reveals both Palin and Sharpton as astute politicians who thrive on conflict, not conflict resolution. Sharpton’s message is a good one for preserving Jackson’s legacy and comforting his children. Palin’s message is just intelligent field general political hogwash. But if you tell your supporters that the people who don’t like you are weird and that your own erratic behavior is actually maverick and revolutionary (not politics as usual), well, you have a good chance of galvanizing that group, especially if they are used to self-pity and getting marginalized. Nice job, Sarah.

Palin knows how to pick a good fight. During the 2008 presidential campaign she said, “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.” Right. Luckily, she lost that fight.

Most of the rumors around her leaving office point to cashing in on her 71% national approval rating and a possible rallying of support early for a 2012 presidential bid. Whether that happens or not, Palin most certainly is planning something.

It will be interesting to see Palin’s next move. For my part, I can see her laying low until after the climate change talks in Copenhagen, letting Obama trip over his feet somehow with the incredibly difficult international politics of that summit and necessary decision, and grabbing hold of a sure to be angry measure of the American population in the spring of 2010. Ride that wave, write a book and do a tour, get some campaign contributions locked in over that next year and launch a campaign in early 2011. Not bad. We’ll see…