David Frum

02.11.12

Sarah Palin: Still Bitter

Historians who will look back on Sarah Palin's career will be interested in how the 2008 election formed her world view. During her keynote speech to close up CPAC, it was amazing to see how resentments from the 2008 campaign still made appearances in her rhetoric.

Derision for the media and the "establishment" is nothing new for Palin. But deriding campaign consultants? That's a uniquely Palin grievance. She attacked them for trying to tell candidates what to say even though "they are not willing, or able, to run for dog catcher." It was a uniquely Palin perspective, a product of her 2008 experience.

Her warnings that the media would harass the eventual GOP ticket long after it had finished the race was also clearly born out of her own history. The speech contained an interesting tension, on the one hand the eventual GOP nominee had to be someone who meets a very high bar for being a conservative:

Our candidate must be someone who can instinctively turn right … it's too late to teach it, its either there or it isn't

But no matter who the nominee is, they must have everyone fall into line behind them:

More important for the sake of our party, we must stay united!

It makes sense, defeating Barack Obama is the obvious priority, but it surely must be the case that Palin's own sense of post-election victimization informs this.

To be sure, the speech did show what Palin is effective at: articulating the conservative zeitgeist. Her litany of indictments against Barack Obama was long and extensive, but the most unexpected rhetorical flourishes came from her condemnation of the city of Washington, DC:

While America struggles, Washington prospers. … They don't mine, they don't drill, they don't harvest, they produce nothing. The services they provide, they produce dependency.

Palin argued that the city takes those who come in with modest means and changes them so that they begin to start enriching themselves:

Often they [politicians] come to DC denouncing the place as a cesspool of corruption, but then they decide, it's not a cesspool, it's a hot tub! … It's time to drain the jacuzzi and throw the bums out!

Palin of course has done very well for herself despite not being elected (her PAC raised money for her last bus trip to Washington DC). At the presidential level, the candidate that Palin pseudo-endorsed to win for the sake of keeping the primary from ending (Newt Gingrich) is the textbook example of someone who enriched himself by providing his consulting services as a "historian".

Palin's speech was a lot like CPAC itself: focused on Obama, confident in the rightness of it's position, and scornful of what Washington DC "does to people." Doubts clearly exist about presumptive favorite Mitt Romney but at least at the conference, the public message is that defeating the President is the most important goal. For better or for worse, Palin's speech accurately reflected the mood of CPAC.