Some of the best, though not last, words about Sarah Palin come from Joshua Green of the Atlantic Monthly magazine, trying to square the circle between Palin I — the prenomination, wildly popular centrist reformer — and the polarizing, divisive, culture-war icon that is Palin II.
As governor of Alaska, she was the very antithesis of the boneheaded ditz of our snottier pundits — a shrewd, canny, focused and very effective state executive.
“The Alaskan Palin fought corruption within her own party, attacked the nexus of government and big business, avoided polarizing feuds and cut successful bipartisan deals,” Ross Douthat said. She was someone who settled “insoluble” problems and put her state on a path to fiscal integrity.
Yet within months, Palin was fixed in some people’s minds as a wingnut and cretin. What occurred?
Better to ask what did not occur. First, Sen. John McCain’s idiot presidential campaign handlers cast her in the traditional role of a partisan slasher, not reformer and maverick.
Second, they showcased her weakness. She knew as much about global geopolitics as most first-term governors and needed a heavy tutorial.
Halfway into the campaign, they threw her onto the mercy of liberal anchors, while her knowledge of economic and energy issues remained a dark secret. In fact, her whole record remained a dark secret.
Third, Palin became a culture-war flash point, responding to ferocious attacks with defiance and anger that created a cycle of rhetorical violence. But what made those attacks so vicious and personal?
Let us suggest a fourth point: In an alternative universe, what might have happened had she had three children, not five? With Track, Willow and Piper, she would have had a boy about to join the armed forces and two little girls too young to be trouble, and her life would have been ideal.
It was the other two — the unwed, pregnant girl and the Down syndrome baby — that set culture-war fires aflame.
What do the pro-abortion rights activists say when in a tight corner? “Abortion is wrong in the eyes of a few, but with Down syndrome babies and pregnant teenagers, it becomes a necessity.”
Here was a woman confronted with both, but who refused to see the necessity and did not seize the opportunity to tidy up. She actually resisted the temptation to tidy up when the option was offered.
So Palin was someone whose values seemed beyond comprehension and upon whom attacks of all kinds could be made. There was David Letterman’s joke about the younger teen daughter “knocked up” at a baseball game, the incest allusions on comedy programs. The New York Times portrayed Wasilla, a suburb of Anchorage, as Dogpatch with sled dogs.
On the left, this let hatred for President George W. Bush flow seamlessly into Palin’s reputation. On the right, it prompted the gentry conservatives to rush to distance themselves from it all.
Never mind that Palin’s actual record as governor tracked perfectly with the “no labels” approach that they trumpeted later. Record? What record? Do not confuse them with facts.
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”