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The Quayling of Sarah

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

With Dan Rather-like subjectivity, Chris Matthews talked recently about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s new book deal.

“Plus, Sarah Palin – now don’t laugh – is writing a book. Not just reading a book: writing a book. Actually, in the word of the publisher, she’s collaborating on a book. I love the way that sounds. Does that mean that she answers questions of the writer, and then the writer writes the book? I guess the reason to have someone write a book for you and claim it’s your book is you get to do a nation-wide book tour, and act the part of a, of an author yourself.”

Well, in the famous laugh-words of Ralph Kramden: “Har-har-hardy-har-har.”

I’m sure some network executive was at that very moment picking up the phone and calling yet another NBC bigwig. The conversation probably went something like:

“Hey, did you just hear Chris - what’s his name? - Yeah, that’s him. Well, I was thinkin’ that we might want to review our plans about sending the dude with the floppy hair out to California.”

“You mean Conan The Barbarian?”

“No, his name is O’Brien, I think.”

“Whatever - I usually watch the Hannity encore on Fox News at that time.”

“Ok, Ok – not the point. What I am saying is – I think this Matthews guy may be pretty funny – and we could get him for less money for chin man’s replacement. He’s cheap and easy, I hear. Real easy, in fact, you just gotta make his legs tingle and you have him at ‘Hello.’”

Of course, the MSNBC host of Hardball wasn’t the only talking head trying to hide a smirk - the way disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich tries to hide his hair - when describing Palin’s multi-million dollar pact with publishing giant HarperCollins. The widely reported story received coverage from the mainstream media that was occasionally only dismissive.

That’s because most of the time it was outright derisive.

The “Dan Quayling” of Sarah Palin continues and this make-her-look-stupid-campaign testifies to the fact that she remains a formidable political figure. The irony of this is largely lost on most of the “beautiful” minds over at NBC, MSNBC, CNN, CBS, & ABC, where the teleprompters double as mirrors.

The charismatic Governor of Alaska draws enthusiastic crowds wherever she goes – even after the defeat of the Republican ticket at the hands of the yes-we-can guys. And the very idea that she can make millions with a book at a time when publishers are shy about taking many risks in these challenging economic times, suggests that the lady has not-too-shabby metaphorical legs, as well as real ones.

Any nine-year-old child or MSNBC show host (pardon the redundancy) understands that the idea is to vex and therefore hex Sarah Palin. The goal is to click repeatedly on her image and drag her into a folder marked either “too dumb to lead,” or “demonize by caricature.”

The problem is, all this will do is make her more popular with an important constituency – her core base, in fact – that could very well propel her to the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Sure, it’s way too early. But did anyone really think a community organizer from Chicago, who had just been elected to his first term as a junior senator, would beat a presumptive nominee named Hillary, not to mention mop up the floor with a genuine American hero en route to the White House, way back in 2005?

For Matthews et al to mock Sarah Palin’s book deal in a way that suggests she doesn’t know how to write and therefore has to depend on a “collaborator” – that word used almost as a synonym for “sneer” by Chris Matthews – is beyond hypocritical.

It’s also stupid.

He apparently has so little respect for his audience that he assumes they won’t dig into this a little more. Or maybe Matthews has studied his show’s demographics and is therefore confident that his viewers themselves don’t read much beyond the titles touted on his show – and maybe those of Keith Olberman, Nora O’Donnell, and Rachel Maddow.

I write, you decide.

Chris Matthews is an all-things-Kennedy fan from way back (though as a kid, he wanted Nixon to beat JFK in 1960 and cried when RN lost), so while he mocks Palin he is, of course, aware that there is a ghost, or at least a skeleton, in the Camelot closet.

When I was a young boy, my dad gave me a copy of Profiles in Courage, written by none other than John Fitzgerald Kennedy. It took me a while, but I made my way through it and still have that copy in my library. It was a cool book about statesmen who had defied the political correctness of their day (another irony?) and did what they thought was right. It was as much a work about character as it was about courage.

I loved the book and the author became an early hero of mine. When he was killed, I cried.

Later, though, I learned – as most of us do when we grow up – that the story behind the story is often the real story. Discovering that the man who wrote about two important virtues and values seemed himself to be deficient in both was, well, a bummer, to say the least. He had a lot of girl friends, a practice that didn’t seem to reinforce the idea of sterling character. But, at least, I still had that courage thing to embrace.

Then I found out – oh, sad, sad day that it was – that the book I loved, that little bestseller that had won a Pulitzer Prize (which I heard was, like, a really big deal), had been written mostly by, gulp, someone else.

I must have spent days walking around in a funk, looking down at bells at the bottoms of my not-quite-long-enough-geek-jeans, for days.

A guy named “Theodore” had done most of the work, I heard. Theodore? The very name didn’t not bespeak, “cool” as Kennedy’s did. I had an image in my head of a bookish guy with old-man glasses. So, I looked him up in the library – and sure enough.

Then it got worse. You remember that Pulitzer Prize? Well, I came to find out that John F. Kennedy’s daddy – a pretty rich and powerful guy, I was told – got a buddy of his on the Pulitzer committee, New York Times columnist Arthur Krock, to champion his boy’s book. Originally, the book was not on the committee’s short list, one that had been submitted by some expert reviewers, but somehow it made it to that important table. At any rate, it wasn’t as “weighty” as prize winners usually turned out to be. But, before long “it came out of nowhere” and won the roses.

It was all pretty good publicity in the run up to the 1960 campaign. After all, though most candidates these days have books out while they run for the big office, Kennedy was one of the pioneers of the practice. And his had won a Pulitzer, which said that he was smart, erudite, eloquent, and therefore would make a good leader.

But his erudition and eloquence were implants.

So, Mr. Matthews – go ahead and make fun of Sarah Palin. Do your best to color her ditzy and as someone with no depth. But just remember, she actually has character and courage. And Americans will be seeing more of her graceful, politically popular, and winning profile for many years to come.

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