Sarah Palin doesn’t deserve the ridicule she receives from the mainstream media, nor does she merit the adulation she inspires from her legions of fans. The over-reaction on each side feeds the super-heated response on the other: if she didn’t get regularly mocked and mauled by elite commentators, she’d never be taken seriously as a presidential possibility by Tea Party conservatives, and if she weren’t trumpeted as the second coming of Reagan by rightwing true believers she wouldn’t absorb the obsessive abuse directed at her by prestige pundits.
In reality, she draws disproportionate denunciation and wildly inflated adoration for the same reason – an undeniable factor so awkward and embarrassing that most observers feel uncomfortable acknowledging it in public.
The great Paul Revere debate constitutes a particularly silly example of the irrational obsession with Palin’s personality. Of course, she badly bungled the attempt to summarize the famous Midnight Ride, erroneously suggesting that Revere’s prime purpose involved warning the British, not rousing the Colonial Minutemen. But her clumsy handling of American history hardly constituted an unprecedented gaffe for prominent politicians: in 1992, Vice Presidential candidate Al Gore strode into Jefferson’s home at Monticello, gestured at busts of Adams and Franklin and blankly asked a guide, “Who are these guys?” The same Harvard-educated political prince also mistranslated the national motto “E Pluribus Unum,” suggesting it meant “out of one, many.” Meanwhile, Joe Biden, campaigning in 2008, suggested that FDR rallied the country during the Great Depression with his inspiring performances on TV – a major feat given the fact that the television medium didn’t arrive in American homes until a few years after Roosevelt’s death.
Unfortunately, rather than simply correcting her goofy Revere’s ride stumble, Governor Palin and her defenders tried to insist she was correct after all, twisting accounts of one of the most celebrated episodes in American history beyond recognition. By the same token, Palinistas respond to exaggerated media contempt for the former Governor by offering their own exaggerated praise for a record of public achievement that counts at best as thin and flimsy. They try to justify her resignation after completing scarcely half of her term as governor by asserting that she’s still more qualified for high office than was Barack Obama when he first sought the presidency– an assertion that’s not only inaccurate but utterly irrelevant, since his candidacy in 2012 will boast four full years of experience (full of dubious achievements, to be sure) in the world’s most powerful position.
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