Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

The GOP's 'Palin problem' is much bigger than one person


I tried.

I tried to watch Sarah Palin's 35-minute speech to the Iowa Freedom Summit, right after she had declared herself "seriously interested" in running for president. I could not come close to finishing it, largely because the embarrassment I felt on her behalf was more than I could bear. I finally ended her misery and mine as well by shutting it off.

For those with a higher tolerance for humiliation humor, the whole thing is on YouTube. But here's a bit of it in as large a dose as I could personally handle:

Even most conservatives found it deeply uncomfortable. Writing about "the GOP's Palin problem," conservative writer Byron York calls the performance "long... rambling ... barely coherent ....petty". He quotes conservatives in the Iowa audience who called it "terrible," "weird", "sad", "painful." And he strongly suggests that the Republican Party find some way to keep Palin far away from more serious candidates for the GOP nomination, where she can do no more damage to herself or her party.

I agree that the GOP has a "Palin problem," but my understanding of it is considerably more broad than what York describes. In fact, Palin is merely a symptom of that problem, not its cause and not its its primary example. You could also call it the "Herman Cain problem," the "Donald Trump problem," the "Ben Carson problem," "the Benghazi problem", "the birth certificate problem", "the no-go zone problem" ....

From the moment Palin made her entrance on the national stage, it was glaringly apparent that this is who she was and is -- utterly unqualified for high office. She lacked experience, intellect, temperament and even basic curiosity about how the world worked, and the thought that she would be one heart-beat away from the presidency should have been terrifying to anyone who cares about this country and its future.

But the refusal of most conservatives to acknowledge what was screamingly obvious at the time was disheartening. To hear them tell it, Palin was merely the victim of a biased liberal media, and they closed their eyes and ears to anything but the emotions of resentment, victimhood and frustration that she tapped among the GOP base.

That's a real problem. It's hard to work out our very real political differences when a large portion of the electorate retreats inside a protective bubble, where you can believe what you choose to believe and you can find comfort in the company of many others doing the same. And if you can talk yourself into believing that Palin was in any way tolerable for the position that she sought, you can talk yourself into believing almost anything.

Nicolle Wallace, in an appearance on "Morning Joe" earlier today, pointed out that Byron York, the same Byron York now so critical of Palin, "had been one of her staunchest defenders" back in 2008. "I remember being on the cell phone with him --he was one of the harshest critics of the (McCain) campaign's handling of her," said Wallace, who served as Palin's top staffer at the time. "He really thought that the problem with Palin was in our packaging of Palin. And to kind of see him come full circle -- I mean, this is who she is."

Since '08, Wallace has admitted that even during the campaign she had grave reservations about Palin and her emotional and mental stability. She has even suggested that had McCain won, the Republican Party would have tried to prevent Palin from becoming vice president, which is ludicrous. But despite her profound misgivings, Wallace played the game too, claiming for example that Palin "did fantastic" in her interview with Katie Couric and complaining about "the vicious hate-filled commentary coming out of so many of the women in cable news. It’s something I’ve never seen before. I find it startling and stunning."

“My personal theory is that she’s something that they can’t grasp. They don’t know how to process her. She is beautiful, accomplished, successful, pro-gun and pro-life. They’ve never seen all those things in one package. She totally disorients many in the liberal media, especially a lot of the women.”

Finally, Palin too is a victim in this. She found herself thrust into a situation for which she was totally unprepared and ill-equipped, a situation in which she was guaranteed to come off as a fool and eventually a laughingstock, and that is exactly what has come to pass. She's an object of pity, and the liberal media didn't do that to her. John McCain did, with an important assist from those who pretended to see her as someone she could never ever be.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.