The most astonishing thing about Sarah Palin’s career, since the conclusion of the 2008 presidential campaign, is how frequently the Left breaks itself to pieces against the sunny rocks of her good humor. The latest example is the website Gawker, which seems on the verge of being sued out of existence because they rushed to leak photocopied pages from her new book, America By Heart, before it was published. When Palin called them on it, Gawker ran a snotty response, complete with an unflattering photo of the former Governor, suggesting she try reading fair-use copyright laws. Mary Sue at the Ruby Slippers blog makes a compelling case that no one at Gawker bothered reading beyond the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on the laws in question, while Palin and her publishers sensibly contacted their lawyers.
Before that, we had the “refudiate” tempest in a teapot, in which a simple verbal gaffe, followed by a Twitter joke in which Palin compared herself to Shakespeare, drove the Left into a frenzy. It ended with conservatives cheerfully stitching “refudiate” into their battle flags, and the New Oxford American Dictionary declaring it the 2010 Word of the Year. Conservatives who enjoyed a soft chuckle about the whole affair have no idea how serious liberals were about this. They flooded the Internet with howls of outrage. How could anyone support a stupid, ignorant chill-billy who would get simple words like “repudiate” or “corpse man” wrong? (Wait, sorry, the latter was Barack Obama.) I’ve read stories as recently as this weekend bitterly castigating Palin because the writer thinks she meant it when she compared herself to Shakespeare.
Many liberal reputations died when their “1773” bomb detonated in their faces. This was based on another Palin tweet, in which she advised Tea Partiers not to “party like it’s 1773.” This was, of course, the year in which the Boston Tea Party occurred, but idiotic liberals like Markos Moulitsas pounced because they thought she really meant 1776. Even Gwen Ifill of PBS, moderator of the Palin/Biden debate, made an utter fool of herself over this. It’s amazing how much of American political culture is shaped by Palin’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Every time Palin closes her eyes and holds out her sword, a hundred liberals race up to impale themselves upon it. They’ve tried to gin up some kind of weird conspiracy theory about Bristol Palin’s success on “Dancing With The Stars.” David Letterman nearly ended his career (and it should have ended) by making rape jokes about Palin’s youngest daughter. Tina Fey got famous by lampooning Palin, who was a good enough sport about it to appear on Saturday Night Live in person… but recently made headlines by launching into a vicious anti-Palin tirade – complete with tired and discredited smears – during a comedy award ceremony. The audience was left to fidget nervously, while an embarrassed PBS edited the worst of the garbage from its broadcast. Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic twisted himself into a laughingstock whose continued presence disgraces the magazine, by obsessively peddling conspiracy theories about the true parentage of Palin’s son Trig. Liberals wrote her “death panels” Facebook post into the pages of history by screaming themselves hoarse over it.
What’s going on here? Is the Left simply out of their minds with hatred for Sarah Palin? That’s part of what motivates them, but the reason she keeps getting the better of them is because they’re slavishly devoted to following an outdated playbook. They think they almost got her with the “stupid, ignorant chill-billy” meme during the 2008 campaign, and they’re determined to twist that knife until they hit a vital organ. Along with their complete lack of understanding for her enduring appeal, it leads them to consistently underestimate her.
The Left instinctively understands their control of the media is a powerful weapon. Experience has taught them it’s a first-strike weapon. They can do the most damage by defining their targets out of the public discourse, smothering them with a shroud of contempt swiftly after their debut on the national stage. They don’t have to worry about competing against an opposing player who has been ruled out of bounds.
This tactic has worked on numerous targets in the past. Even when it’s not completely successful, it can do lingering damage. Anyone familiar with the writings of Ronald Reagan, perhaps through the marvelous collection of his letters entitled Reagan In His Own Hand, knows he was a prodigious writer and learned thinker, but the Left paraded a caricature of him as an amiable dunce all the way through the Eighties. It obviously didn’t destroy him, but you can measure its effects by exposing the average middle-aged Regan hater to some of his work, and watching their eyes widen in surprise. They might still disagree with him, but no one who leafs through Reagan In His Own Hand will come away thinking he was a clueless dolt.
The general contempt of the Left for middle-class Americans is reflected in the attacks they launch against hated targets. Liberal politics is rooted in such contempt, as a matter of logic: the belief that all affairs must be managed by the State absolutely requires the belief that free people cannot manage those affairs on their own. At best, the people are sweet-natured dopes who have no chance against the corporate machine that preys upon them. At worse, the people are greedy and selfish idiots who require the firm hand of enlightened liberals to avoid consuming each other in an orgy of capitalism. Populist, or even just popular, conservatives receive a stiff dose of the venom boiling in the liberal heart for the common folk who elevate them to stardom.
The Left can’t help underestimating Palin. Their world-view will not permit serious engagement with someone they have formally ruled beneath their notice, championing ideas they try very hard not to think about. She’s not just arguing for minor adjustments to the system liberals have constructed over the past century. She questions its very existence, alongside a Tea Party movement that gets the same treatment she does. They’re also very sensitive about threats to their cultural dominance, which Palin threatens with her easygoing charm… frequently broadcast through Fox News, which has already done irreparable damage to leftist media control.
The Left drew some blood from Palin during the 2008 campaign, hitting her hard when she was still learning how to handle a national audience, and getting precious little help from the McCain campaign. She survived, and liberals who try to dismiss her with casual slander increasingly find themselves sneering at each other across a media space the general public has long since vacated. If she runs for office again, Democrat political operatives would be wise to consider what she’s actually saying, not Tina Fey’s fevered opinion of it, and understand that the number of people willing to completely ignore her is not going to increase. The public will not have a difficult time choosing between a pleasant lady with a winning sense of humor and some serious ideas to discuss, and the bitter scolds who think they can drown her out, if they can just put enough spittle behind calling her an idiot.