Dear United States;
Hi there, been following your goings-on for awhile, and I'd like to toss in my few cents about a couple things. First of all, I gotta confess - I'm generally a big fan of what you've done. World War II, Eisenhower, the Moon Landing, and Obama, that's pretty cool stuff. But obviously, there's some things that a Canadian like me just doesn't get right away. It takes some time to ponder the character of America and really understand it.
So, let's talk about the big political to-do of the month: Former Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. Everyone knows about this lady - she's a dynamic, charismatic, and polarizing figure in American politics. I'd love to do a review of her, but why bother? Everyone already has an opinion on the lady. Let me just say that my opinion of Governor Palin is not very flattering, nor am I fond of her.
But I do not think she is an idiot, as many have said.
There's a lot of people who dismiss Palin out of hand, calling her a half-term governor of a backwards state. Some use the term "Caribou Barbie" (admittedly, so have I, as offensive as the term truly is). And others just laugh about how she "can see Russia from [her] house".
This needs to stop. Governor Palin is one of the scariest people in politics today. I spent some time yesterday considering other American political figures to whom she is analogous, and discarded many possibilities. She's certainly not George W. Bush - Bush only paid lip service to the base which Palin clearly adores and revels in. By the same manner, she's not George H. W. Bush, nor is she Ronald Reagan, both of whom were closer to centre than the second Bush. I don't think she resembles Barry Goldwater, nor do I think she is similar to Nixon.
She reminds me most of George Wallace. Like George Wallace, Palin is the embodiment of a section of American society that has been largely and loudly informed are now out of date, unwanted by the public in general. There's a lot of anger about that sort of thing, and it shows. George Wallace was a pro-segregation candidate during the 1960s; Sarah Palin is a pro-religious right, pro-life, small government, no tax, less educated white candidate, and as a result, reflects the demographics of around 30% of Americans, much as Governor Wallace did. This is a vocal, loud, and frankly vicious group of people who are demanding to be heard and considered as the majority, when they are, in fact, not.
The existence of Sarah Palin as a political force is indicative of an upcoming difficult decade of American politics. The upcoming presidential election is likely to be a divisive force on the Republican Party, much as the 1968 was divisive to the Democratic Party. This is because internal infighting over the future soul of the Republican Party will rend the GOP heavily, and Palin is going to be front and centre.
Face facts: nobody has mobilized the Republican base like Sarah Palin since Ronald Reagan. Nobody. But when she is rejected by Republican voters in the primaries (as she surely will be), how will she react? It is unlikely that the winner of the primary will offer her a place on the ticket. It is even less likely that she would accept if offered. Would she consider a run as a third party candidate, dooming the GOP to another four years of Barack Obama?
These are questions we won't know the answer to until 2012. But they are worth pondering. We can, however, guess some things by looking at the former Governor's record. We know the woman quits when the going gets tough. Don't give me that bullshit about how she quit to protect Alaska; she quit because people were watching her like a hawk after the election, and it turns out she's not a particularly good governor who was overloaded with ethics complaints. As a private citizen, she's able to make hundreds of thousands of dollars per appearance, "write" a best-selling book, and avoid the close scrutiny of her activities that must go along with public office.
I don't think the scrutiny bothers here when she's working towards a goal. Certainly it didn't dissuade her during the campaign, when she made wild and factually incorrect accusations against her opponents. I think what bothered here is that she might get bogged down and her image tarnished by her term as governor. Quitting only harms her brand in the eyes of those who already dislike her - those who appreciate her agree that what she did was for the good of Alaska.
However, one has to wonder whether, if her race towards the Republican nomination falters, she will deem the ongoing scrutiny of her brand to be worth it as the surely vicious campaign drags on. As a result, I think that unless she is an early frontrunner, she will bow out quickly - even if she is in second place, unless it is an extremely close second. Whether or not she quits the Republican Party (much as Wallace quit the Democratic Party) will be determined by how bad the damage to her is; if she was severely lambasted, I wouldn't expect to see her at the convention, especially if the person whom handled her worst wins. Sarah Palin holds grudges; one only needs to hear the excerpts from her books to realize that. She holds grudges publicly, and I am quite sure she would refuse her support to a particularly distasteful candidate.
Would she split the party?
This one I can't even guess at. She likes to portray herself as a rogue. But how far is she willing to go? I don't know. A split might destroy the GOP permanently; it would certainly guarantee a Barack Obama victory in 2012, and it would harm the GOP brand for a long time. But I don't know if she's audacious enough to do it, nor if she believes in herself enough to try. That question will stay up in the air.