Sunday, January 23, 2011

Palin and the GOP: When the Sideshow Becomes the Show

Take a look at Jesse Jackson's campaign platform from 1984. Three decades later, it's still a great expression of progressive ideals. From public works programs, to creating single-payer health care, to reducing the military budget, Jackson's platform is more relevant and needed today than it was even during the Reagan years. Maybe if the Democratic Party had adopted some of Jackson's platform in 1984, they wouldn't have lost the election by 18 points.

I want to say some good things about Jesse, because unfortunately, I'm about to compare him to Sarah Palin.

I've heard it said that one of the problems with the 1984 Democratic campaign was that after Walter Mondale secured the nomination, Jesse Jackson continued to soak up so much media attention that if you didn't know better you'd think that Jackson was the nominee rather than Mondale.

Consider what that means. Here it is a Presidential election year, and the person who always seems to be the one speaking on behalf of the Party is someone who is not an elected officeholder, Party official or candidate. Jackson ignored his responsibility to step away from the microphone.

Today, I'm reminded of these lessons every time Sarah Palin starts spewing her latest nonsense. From the media coverage she gets, you would think that Palin is one of the most -if not the most- important person in the Republican Party, rather than someone who very briefly held public office and who now has a favorability rating of 33%.

Sarah Palin wants the spotlight and microphone, and the major media in the country is only too happy to oblige. The massive coverage of her hateful remarks following the tragic shootings in Tucson brought this into focus. As Russ Douthat of the New York Times noted,

"Palin decided that what the country really needed was for her to use the day set aside for mourning (assassin Jared) Loughner’s victims to make a speech complaining about her own victimization. (Or as she put it, rather more pungently, the “blood libel” being leveled by her critics.) Which, needless to say, gave the press exactly the excuse it needed to continue its wall-to-wall Palin coverage for another 48 hours."

"Palin, meanwhile, officially despises the “lamestream” media. But press coverage — good, bad, whatever — is clearly the oxygen she craves."

"To the media: Cover Sarah Palin if you want, but stop acting as if she’s the most important conservative politician in America. Stop pretending that she has a plausible path to the presidency in 2012. (She doesn’t.) Stop suggesting that she’s the front-runner for the Republican nomination. (She isn’t.)"

It also quite clear that many Republicans realize the damage that Palin is doing to their party. I thought Kaili Joy Gray of summarized the situation nicely,

"It isn't how many times her name is mentioned on cable news or in the columns of Very Serious People like (the Washington Post's Dana) Milbank. The problem is how those Very Serious People cover her every nonsensical utterance as if it were a legitimately debatable point within our political discourse, as if her accusation that the president wants to establish "death panels" to kill grandmothers is a valid counterpoint to healthcare reform...The problem is the media's addiction to false equivalence, to balance every point with a contrary one, regardless of its validity."

"It isn't surprising that many Republicans want the media to ignore her. Last week, former Bush speechwriter David Frum said "She should stop talking — now." William Kristol, who has been one of her staunchest supporters, was critical of how she has responded to the Tucson shooting, and advised her to instead "deal with things that are at a sort of presidential level.""

One more observation from 1984. There was a reason why Jesse Jackson managed to steal the limelight from Walter Mondale all the way to election day. Love him or hate him, the public found Jackson a lot more interesting than the actual Democratic nominee for President.

The Republican Party is going to have a similar problem in 2012, assuming that Palin is not going to get the Presidential nomination. In terms of the amount of interest the various potential Republican candidate are generating on the internet, Nate Silver of the New York Times notes, "Ms. Palin’s search traffic, since the start of 2010, is roughly 16 times that of Mitt Romney, 14 times that of Newt Gingrich, 38 times that of Mike Huckabee, and 87 times that of Mr. Pawlenty. (It is about six times greater than these other four candidates combined.)"

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