The Tragicomedy Of Sarah Palin

Andrew Sullivan —  May 11 2011 @ 10:33am


Joe McGinniss asks if the Atlantic could have picked a more flattering painting of Sarah Palin. Maybe a slightly more obvious halo?

Josh's piece, while perfectly accurate and fair in describing her big tax increase on the oil companies, seems to me to make a massive amount of inferences about that achievement, and fails to grasp – because establishment Washington cannot really cop to its own recklessness – that Palin is not and never was driven by policy but by resentment. It reads like a piece from the Weekly Standard in 2007.

That oil tax was a way to get back at the Republicans she hated (and who had humiliated her), and to win power by a populist appeal, backed up by a virulent Christianism – hostile to the moneyed elites of the GOP and unmentioned by Josh. It was a massive new windfall for Alaskans, already accustomed to a socialist state, and doesn't hinge on good government reform arguments to make political sense. Which ambitious politician wouldn't see a tax on oil companies as worth trying for? And she wasn't stupid. Sending much fatter checks to Alaskans boosted her ratings into the stratosphere, and created that brief bubble when she was attractive to national Republicans. Yes, she allied with Democrats to get back at the Murkowskis. But does Josh really think there was a unifying, bipartisan, pragmatic  reformer underneath? Does he think she was and is a Republican Barack Obama? That Matthew Scully wrote a speech Palin really didn't want to give? Does he think her entire behavior since her insane selection by McCain has been foisted upon her when she'd really rather be discussing healthcare policy at the New America Foundation? I mean, seriously.

I guess it's counter-intuitive to argue that Palin, deep down, is a bipartisan progressive reformer, foiled by a cynical McCain campaign, trying to galvanize the base. But it's also – from every single thing we know about her – untrue. The only consistent thing about her is not bipartisan reformism, but a will to power, fueled by resentment of whomever foiled her last. More paranoid and vengeful than Nixon, more divisive than Buchanan, more deceptive than Clinton, more delusional than George W. Bush, more psychologically unhinged than any candidate for the vice-presidency in modern times, she is what she always has been. And Josh's attempt to resuscitate her reputation is about as persuasive as the soft-lens, North Korean-style portrait attached to the story.