Democrats and Sarah Palin 

A campaign style video released by Sarah Palin’s political action committee, SarahPAC, has further intensified speculation around the idea of having Palin take over chairpersonship of the Republican National Committee. Not surprisingly, Democrats are giddy over the idea.

At Politico’s The Arena, numerous Democratic strategists express their approval about the idea. In response to the proposal, former Clinton White House Adviser Erik Lui says, “Yes. Please. Immediately”. Maria Cardona, a public affairs specialist, offers, “Michael Steele has been the gift that keeps on giving – for Democrats. Dare we hope for a better gift in the form of an RNC Chairman Palin? I am giddy at the prospect!!”

Mo Elleithee exclaims, “As a Democrat, my answer is simple. Please, God, YES!!!!” And contributing editor for the Daily Kos, Greg Dworkin, concludes, “The RNC really needs to re-look at their procedures to make sure in the future there’s a good mechanism to recall or replace a chair if they screw up as badly as Steele has. That’d be especially vital to have in place if they picked Sarah, who would, like Steele, do a wonderful job in that position for Democrats.”

Undoubtedly many Democrats who salivate at the idea of Chairperson Palin do so based on Palin’s well established unfavourables.

Back in mid-January, CBS’ Political Hotsheet put distaste  for Palin at 41%, with 19% undecided and 13% not feeling they’d heard enough about the once Vice Presidential hopeful. More recently, a Washington Post-ABC News poll measured Palin’s unfavourables as having risen as high as 55%.

To be sure, those are hard numbers with which to argue. So Democrats can be forgiven for frothing at the mouth over Palin’s continued presence.

The problem; however, is that those numbers and Democrats’ enthusiastic political analysis misunderstand the most powerful dynamic that Palin brings to the table. Measurements of Palin’s favourables/unfavourables generally revolve around the idea of her as a candidate of some variety or another, most commonly a presidential candidate in 2012.

In this regard, a majority of Americans have been fairly straight forward in their expressed skepticism about Palin as a prominent elected national leader. But Palin has already chosen to leave public office once and has yet to indicate in any significant way that that is a life to which she intends to return.

In a 2009 interview with talk show host Oprah Winfrey, Palin specifically said, “I'm concentrating on 2010 and making sure that we have issues tackled as Americans to make sure that we're on the right road[.] I don't know what I'm going to be doing in 2012."

Despite the campaign style of the video Palin recently released, she has over and over again demonstrated that her greatest strength to American conservatism is not in running for office but in getting liberals and Democrats to react to her comments.

Whether it was White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs mocking Palin by writing crib notes on his hand in advance of a a press corps question period or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Bachmann or Palin Quiz, liberals often can’t help responding to Palin in a razor sharp rebuttals.

Even the generally unflappable President Obama was forced to respond to criticism from Palin on his nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia.

Whatever the issue, Sarah Palin has the uncanny ability to get under liberals’ skin. And more than just her ability to illicit a response is the kind of response that Palin’s vituperative seems consistently to draw.

The Gibbs incident in particular is endemic of the kind of vitriol with which liberals so often respond to Palin. It isn’t enough just to refute her, Palin’s jabbing invective requires mockery and scorn. And in many regards, I remain convinced that this is precisely what most of Palin’s efforts are designed to illicit.

Each time liberals like Robert Gibbs take a moment to mock the know nothingness of Sarah Palin, they reinforce a stereotype about what it means to be liberal to precisely the voters they have the hardest time reaching: the ones in the middle of the country. The 2004 second-term win of President George W. Bush demonstrated just how important those fly-over voters can be.

With each barb they hurl her way, liberals participate in a self-fulfilling prophecy that only serves to reinforce feelings of alienation amongst more rural voters with whom Palin continues to have an overwhelming degree of support. And the more those stereotypes are reinforced in the current national climate -- a climate that puts most Americans on the other side of the Obama administration on things like the Arizona immigration law, provides the President with his lowest approval rating amongst independents to date, and economic confidence continuing to sink -- the more Palin and her camp come out on the winning side of the national debate.

At present Sarah Palin might not know what she will be doing in 2012, but one things is clear: presidential candidate or not, Sara Palin is not going anywhere. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Democrats shouldn’t necessarily see that as an obvious boon.   

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Scott Payne

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