Last fall it seemed as if Sarah Palin would light a fuse and cause a social explosion. Behind her beauty-pageant smile lurked the shadow, the dark side of human nature. Her tactic of appealing to the worst impulses of the electorate had a long history in the Republican Party. Indeed, Palin inherited the selfish, mean-spirited values of another politician with a gleaming smile, Ronald Reagan.
When it first dawned in American politics, the shadow was shocking. Values were turned upside down. The AIDS crisis? Ignore it. They deserve what they got. The deficit? Doesn’t matter as long as the rich get what they want. Huge unemployment and falling incomes among the working class? Feed them crank social issues so they have someone to hate. Palin breathes this noxious atmosphere like the clear air of Alaska and thrives on it.
Now, however, Palin brings a smile. When she quit her job as governor, it was obvious that someone had whispered in her ear, “You’re fading. Soon you’ll be a nobody. Grab the money while you can.” And so she did, earning a hefty advance, much of which, fittingly, goes to paying off lawsuits related to her ethical violations while in office. The shadow that seemed so dangerous a year ago has been defanged, reduced to spiteful backbiting against the McCain campaign, the very people who gave Pain her spot in the limelight to begin with.
I hope the left will take a deep breath and stop treating Palin like a diabolical force. The American character has always had a large dose of orneriness in it, and the more ornery you were, the farther west you moved. Alaska has a reputation for being an icebox for malcontents. Palin came straight from the source, and countless Americans root for her. In hard times, being the bellyacher-in-chief is a valid role. Hence the rise of Glenn Beck.
But nobody is being fooled. A recent Gallup poll showed that 67% of responders don’t want Palin to run for President. Fear of Palin is ill-advised on two counts. First, fear is what the shadow wants. Without it, the shadow has no power. Second, the left needs to learn how to win graciously. The current upheaval in American society, which has been an enormous threat on many fronts, called forth a President and a constituency that knows how to handle crisis. The voices of sanity are prevailing. The solutions that have emerged on all fronts, economic, social, and international, represent the best in the American character.
But you can’t expect everyone to join the party. As long as we know that Palin is fooling nobody all of the time, the darker side can be tolerated. The shadow is always with us. Today it’s on a book tour.
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle