Joshua Green – The Tragedy of Sarah Palin – fills in the details behind the unrealized promise of Sarah Palin – what some of us saw in her as a possibility based on her reformist and bi-partisan record, but which instead quickly crashed on the rocks of far-right resentment politics.
Let’s stop here and go back for a moment to the convention speech—the alchemic moment of excitement and fantasy when Sarah Palin became the star of national politics. Listening to it today, you can practically hear her shift registers, the state figure morphing into a national one, the old Palin becoming the new. She touches on the pipeline, the corruption, how she broke the oil companies’ “monopoly on power” and ended a “culture of self-dealing.” But all of that is overshadowed by the full-throated assault on Barack Obama, rooted in deep cultural resentment, that became the campaign’s ethos and remains Palin’s identity. What resonate are her charges that Obama wanted to “forfeit” the war in Iraq and that he condescended to “working people” with talk of “how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns.”
That didn’t carry her to Washington, but it did reshape the contours of American politics. Today, there aren’t many Republicans of the type Palin was in Alaska; but nearly every Republican seeking the White House strives to evoke the more grievance-driven themes of her convention speech. Regardless of whether she runs too, her influence will be more broadly and deeply felt than anyone else’s. But it’s hard to believe that her party, or her country, or even Palin herself, is better off for that.
What if history had written a different ending? What if she had tried to do for the nation what she did for Alaska? The possibility is tantalizing and not hard to imagine. The week after the Republican convention, Lehman Brothers collapsed, and the whole economy suddenly seemed poised to go down with it. Palin might have been the torchbearer of reform, a role that would have come naturally. Everything about her—the aggressiveness, the gift for articulating resentments, her record and even her old allies in Alaska—would once more have been channeled against a foe worth pursuing. Palin, not Obama, might ultimately have come to represent “Change We Can Believe In.” What had he done that could possibly compare with how she had faced down special interests in Alaska?
I find his narrative – with Palin’s personal flaws and inexperience on one side, her talents and determination on the other – persuasive, and not only because it’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.