Who, exactly, comprises Sarah Palin’s political base? The pundits are constantly trying to convince us that it’s made up of “real America”, that largely fictional demographic of simple working-class folk whose credo of Bible, billfold and belligerence carries them through every travail and without whom no one can win an election. We’re also frequently assured by these professional propagandists that she is beloved by women, sportsmen, cockroach capitalists, and the Religious Right. But is this accurate? It seems more that she represents a sort of caricature, a cartoon of these subgroups held by the creepy campaign strategists of the right. Her position as a champion of the working class is too easy to assail; though not born rich, she’s fully embraced the heartless arriviste bootstrappery of the New Right, and her husband’s role as a union man won’t fool any real unionists (who will simply note her preeminence in the nation’s most anti-union party) or placate real conservatives (who already hate her for her state’s dependence on so many federal aid programs.
Likewise, her ‘strong-woman’ role is a joke to anyone who really along those lines; most female voters who were drawn to Hillary Clinton (or, for that matter, most female voters who were drawn to Margaret Thatcher) found the appeal in her policies, not in her mere lack of a Y chromosome. Her policies are, if not explicitly anti-woman, at least aligned with those of the party perceived as anti-woman, and if she were ever to express any kind of progressive sexual politics, or to define her womanhood as a quality that exists absent a defining male presence, she would be thought of by the Republican right in the same way as Michael Steele: a demographic token who got beyond her place.
Genuine sportsmen find her air-spotted wolf hunts detestable; genuine small businessmen are distrustful of her selective policymaking as regards federal regulation and government assistance; and to the Religious Right, she is a woman of dubious parenting skills, no one to be ashamed of, no doubt, but not nearly vociferous enough to stand as a national symbol of their ethos. Even traditional neo-conservatives frown on the lawsuit-happy hatchet-woman she became after her Checkers speech. Aside from the rump organization of morons who have had nowhere to go since the Know-Nothing Party fell apart, her main constituency, more and more, seems to be that curious segment of the G.O.P. who do things based on their crude calculation that it will ‘piss off the liberals’. This has probably won a few elections here and there, but as far as I can see, every liberal in America is loudly cheering for Sarah Palin to stay in the public eye for as long as humanly possible.
Recent polls show that almost no Republicans take her seriously as a party leader; any reasonable reading of the 2008 election shows that her presence hurt rather than helped John McCain’s chances; and her own unpopularity with liberals, combined with the rather vocal elements of the conservative movement who are likewise disenchanted, gives her numbers that rival those of George W. Bush’s second term. Unless you think her boosters are moles planted by the Democrats to make the GOP look bad, the only explanation is that the party is pulling a Herb, putting a deliberately horrible spokesperson in hopes that the negative reaction alone will propel her to the stars.
Remember Herb, the cretinous spokescreature for Burger King in the late 1980s? Exactly.