10.21.08

Palin's Second Act

I suspect that Palin is harboring an angry contempt for her running mate and his handlers.

If one more Republican grandee or neoconservative bigwig endorses Obama, his campaign will collapse under the weight of counterintuitive adoration. It seems it’s not enough to garner the blessing of General Colin Powell; now he’s collected the imprimatur of the neocon foreign policy hawk Ken Adelman, the guy who introduced Dick Cheney to Paul Wolfowitz at a Washington brunch the day Reagan was sworn in. Adelman came out for Barry yesterday to George Packer on his New Yorker blog.

The Republican turncoat movement is now rolling across the Atlantic. Yesterday Boris “Crikey” Johnson, the flophaired mayor of London and former editor of the UK’s prestigious journal of conservative opinion, the Spectator, told the Guardian that an Obama victory would “have a beneficial influence on the self-image of some of London's black male youth." Asked if he himself endorses Obama, Johnson replied, “Yes.” Democrats must hope Crikey doesn’t start canvassing Ohio like all those Brits in 2004 whose letter-writing campaign to testy Buckeyes helped doom the candidacy of John Kerry.

I suspect that Palin is harboring an angry contempt for her running mate and his handlers.

Adelman, like Powell on Sunday’s Meet the Press, piled onto McCain’s disastrous choice of Sarah Palin as a big reason for deserting the GOP ticket. “Not only is Sarah Palin not close to being acceptable in high office—I would not have hired her for even a mid-level post in the arms-control agency,” he emailed Packer. What about hiring her for a part in a Shakespeare play? Adelman is the co-author of Shakespeare in Charge: The Bard's Guide to Leading and Succeeding on the Business Stage, which purports to show how “Shakespeare’s shrewd understanding of palace politics and the strategies of work can just as easily be applied to the twists and turns of the corporate world.” Try this, Sarah, from Macbeth: "I dare do all that may become a man/who dares do more is none.”

The more Palin is blamed for John McCain’s demise the more I think she will outstrip them all. In fact, forget about Shakespeare. She reminds me of Nicole Kidman’s character Susanne Stone in Gus Van Sant’s classic 1995 comedy To Die For. Stone/Kidman, if you recall, is the relentlessly ambitious small town redhead who is as keen-witted as she is dumb, manically focused on getting to anchor her own show on TV. She is propelled toward her celebrity goal by such killer lines as “Gorbachev might have accomplished so much more if he had had that big purple thing taken off his forehead" and the Warholian insight “You aren't really anybody in America if you're not on TV.”

On Saturday Night Live last week Palin showed she had a key attribute for long-term political survival: the ability to pretend she finds humiliation amusing. The comedy-show ritual for politicians is a bit like humor in the seventh grade. Everyone wants to be in on the joke, but no one wants the joke to be on them. So Palin gritted her teeth and confronted Tina Fey’s devastating impersonation in the same red jacket and cottage loaf hairdo. Her newness to the game was reinforced by the way she pronounced Lorne Michaels' name—“Loren.” America’s most famous comedy producer is part of the new crowd that Palin is learning how to conquer.

According to Michaels, Palin couldn’t have been more of a gracious pro. She got to the NBC studio punctually at 4 p.m. “That’s the nice thing about Republicans,” he told me yesterday. “When they say they’re coming at four they arrive at four.” Then, says Michaels, she got down to work without any angst. “She absorbed changes very quickly. She could always ‘find her light.’ There was no attempt on anyone’s part to alter the moment, or change the tone of it.” She was actually more credible in the skit than her superstar co-actor Alec Baldwin who phoned in a weirdly perfunctory performance from cue cards. Michaels doesn’t agree with anything Palin believes but does think she’ll be continually underestimated just as “our end of the world” continually underestimated Ronald Reagan.

“There’s a real intelligence there,” he said. “She connects with people. She's got a confidence. Whatever it means to be a star she is. Plus I think she will do the work. She has incredible discipline. There’s clearly not a lazy bone in her body. She has managed five kids for God’s sake. She has a very clear strength.” He regards the Katie Couric debacle as a hazard of political life rather than a Rosebud TV moment. “Nobody can control the first movie they’re in,” he noted.

I suspect that Palin is harboring an angry contempt for her running mate and his handlers. The way they chose her in the first place reeked of dismissiveness. When Hillary got whacked, they made it clear that any skirt on the ticket would do, as long as she was sure to rouse the base. Then they treated her as an idiot and wouldn’t let her talk to a reporter. The Couric debacle was just about those idiots giving her the wrong lines. Rove, now bestowed with magician status by both parties, never allowed that to happen to Bush.

The new received wisdom is that when the Republicans lose, Palin, with a supporting Reality Show cast of Todd, Bristol, Track, and Trig, will cash in politics to become a high-rolling TV star. Why does it have to be either or? “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Lorne Michaels observed. “People always think Americans are easily deceived.” But look at the crowds who still pack stadiums for Palin and SNL’s stratospheric 14 million viewers. Not this election, perhaps, in this economic collapse, but sometimes, as we have learned, Americans just want to be entertained.