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08.19.10

The Palin Twitter Backlash

Black Republicans tell John Avlon that Sarah Palin's tweet in defense of Dr. Laura was ridiculous and indefensible—and that she may be "no longer fit to lead."

Sarah Palin’s post-VP nominee career has so far benefitted from bomb-throwing. The process follows a tight script—a crude, semi-calculated comment is shot into the middle of a political debate via Facebook or Twitter. It gains national attention. Liberals are outraged. Conservatives rush to her defense. Sarah Palin dominates a news cycle and becomes more beloved by her base.

But by unnecessarily rushing to the defense of Dr. Laura Schlessinger—after she dropped the N-bomb 11 times and told the caller “don’t marry outside of your race”—Sarah Palin might finally have gone too far and picked a fight she cannot win.

Palin is “trying to shock us each day with more and more outlandish commentary,” said one black conservative. “And at that moment that person is no longer fit to lead.”

This is the sound of Sarah Palin jumping the shark in two tweets:

• Dr.Laura:don't retreat ... reload! (Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence"isn't American,not fair")
• Dr.Laura=even more powerful & effective w/out the shackles, so watch out Constitutional obstructionists. And b thankful 4 her voice,America!

The few black conservative candidates, columnists, and media figures—who represent the GOP’s only hope for reclaiming the legacy of Lincoln and, with it, long-term demographic relevance—are not amused. They’re now saying what many in the GOP increasingly believe: Sarah Palin is not fit to be a serious leader of the Republican Party.

I spoke to Michel Faulkner, the former NFL player and Harlem preacher challenging Charlie Rangel for a House seat, and he was unsparing in his criticism: “Why Sarah Palin feels she needs to join in to Dr. Laura’s personal meltdown is beyond me. She’s sounding like she just likes to hear her own voice—and the voice that she has is no longer credible. It says that a leading voice among conservatives has joined the ranks of the entertainers—trying to shock us each day with more and more outlandish commentary. And at that moment that person is no longer fit to lead.”

“The constitutional stuff she’s saying doesn’t even make any sense,” Faulkner said. “She doesn’t know what real shackles are… But ‘don’t retreat, reload?’ Lady, are you kidding me? That is scary language in anyone’s terminology. Sarah Palin scares me.”

Nationally syndicated conservative columnist Deroy Murdock took an even stronger line. “Sarah Palin's tweets resemble something scribbled by a ninth-grade cheerleader. Is it asking too much for a reputed American political leader to communicate in complete sentences? Palin's gravitas gap is growing into the Gravitas Canyon,” said the media fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. “Even worse, she deploys her vacuity to defend an acerbic talk-show host who just detonated herself by tossing around the word 'nigger' on the air 11 times, as if it were a volleyball. The American right can do better than this. And it must."

Joe Hicks recently launched a first-of-its-kind program called Minority Report on PJTV.com, from the perspective that “conservative blacks and other minority conservatives are routinely vilified by leftists and liberals as well as often marginalized by the right.” But this California-based Marxist-turned-conservative-convert, who’s a Tea Party-favorite, isn’t buying the party line when it comes to Palin’s Dr. Laura defense.

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“When I first heard this stuff, what came across was an extremely lame white chick trying to school this other woman about the N-word. … So I’m certainly not one to try and defend Dr. Laura. She has a history of being a negative and nasty persona. But Sarah Palin’s comments? Well, this is confusing stuff coming out of a woman who would have been the vice president if McCain had won. … Palin seems to be as equally detached from the real world where people operate and where race is a really volatile topic.”

“First Amendment rights? Of course. But [Dr. Laura] wasn’t fired—she decided to drop her show. So I’m not exactly understanding what Sarah Palin’s understanding of the Constitution is here. And it isn’t completely out of character, which is very unfortunate. She keeps dropping this bizarre stuff,” Hicks said. “It says this woman really has no larger vision of what she is trying to do in a political sense—there’s a pretty narrow intellect at work here ... Attempting to defend the indefensible is just kind of insulting.”

Earlier in the day, my colleague at The Daily Beast, Samuel P. Jacobs, got in touch with Timothy Johnson, chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, the organization that helped recruit a record 32 African-American Republican congressional candidates this year—a feat first reported in The Daily Beast. Johnson was clear: “Sarah Palin is not the chair of the Republican Party. … She is a leading Republican, but from what I can tell many black Republicans don’t use Sarah Palin as a benchmark. I hope Chairman Steele comes out in relationship to this issue. … You can support the sinner and not the sin. We need to separate respecting the doctor versus respecting what she says. … If she chooses to run for president in 2012, she is going to have to answer to black Republicans.”

By mid-afternoon yesterday, RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s office was still offering no comment on this controversy. It is a silence he will not be able to keep indefinitely.

Calling health-care plans “death panels” proved devastatingly effective for Sarah Palin and helped set the tone and terms of debate for many of her fellow conservatives. But Palin’s amen-corner echo-chamber may be too well insulated. The essential diversity of American life seems to escape her. And whether she’s become addicted to controversy or reflexively rallying what she calls "real America" to the defense of the indefensible, she is on the wrong side of history. And those are odds you can’t wink your way out of.

As Michel Faulkner explained: “As a conservative running in Harlem, it is very difficult to get our message of responsible government out if all our spokespeople are wingnuts. We need people that understand how to bring our culture together and not divide us… [Sarah Palin] made it even more difficult for those of us who view ourselves as true conservatives in an age of political correctness, because racism can never be one of those things that we can accept without consequence.”

John Avlon's new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and a CNN contributor. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.