Commentary Magazine


Topic: White House Correspondents Dinner

The Embittered Sarah Palin

For the most part I stay away from commenting on Sarah Palin, in part because she has very nearly become a non-factor in American politics. But once in a while she’ll do something that is worth commenting on, if only because it provides a cautionary tale.

Take her comments on this weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, in which she tweeted: “That #WHCD was pathetic. The rest of America is out there working our asses off while these DC assclowns throw themselves a #nerdprom.”

palinscreenshot

 On her Facebook page Palin added this:

Yuk it up media and pols. While America is buried in taxes and a fight for our rights, the permanent political class in DC dresses up and has a prom to make fun of themselves. No need for that, we get the real joke.

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For the most part I stay away from commenting on Sarah Palin, in part because she has very nearly become a non-factor in American politics. But once in a while she’ll do something that is worth commenting on, if only because it provides a cautionary tale.

Take her comments on this weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, in which she tweeted: “That #WHCD was pathetic. The rest of America is out there working our asses off while these DC assclowns throw themselves a #nerdprom.”

palinscreenshot

 On her Facebook page Palin added this:

Yuk it up media and pols. While America is buried in taxes and a fight for our rights, the permanent political class in DC dresses up and has a prom to make fun of themselves. No need for that, we get the real joke.

Now I’m not a particular fan or particular critic of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. It is something of a Washington ritual, a night in which comedians and presidents deliver comments that are often funny and sometimes clever. The evening is harmless and quickly forgotten. It’s hard to get worked up about it either way. Unless you’re Sarah Palin.

Set aside the fact that in 2008 Ms. Palin tried very hard to become part of the political class in D.C. she now despises. And forget about the fact that as this report shows, in 2011 Palin appeared at both the Vanity Fair and MSNBC after-WHCD parties. (Her daughter, Bristol, went to the dinner.) From the pictures, she appeared to be yucking it right up with the elite media and politicians. Or that in 2009 then-governor Palin was scheduled to attend the dinner but canceled her plans due to emergency flooding back in Alaska. (Her husband Todd attended the D.C. ass-clown event in her place.) 

The point I want to make is that Palin’s faux populist appeal is merely a convenient cover for what appears to be a consuming bitterness–rooted, I suppose, in her bad experiences and bad memories from the 2008 campaign.

To be fair, Ms. Palin was treated unfairly by many members of the press corps, though it also needs to be said many of her problems were caused by being ill-prepared and out of her depth on the national stage. (The Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson interviews were devastating not because they were “gotcha” interviews, but because she foundered even when asked basic questions, like which newspapers and periodicals she read.) It should be said, too, that many politicians have been savaged by the press, including George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, yet they never lost their grace or dignity.

Sarah Palin is an example of what can happen when a person is consumed by bitterness and grievances. It has a corrosive effect, and over the last several years she has, if anything, become even more brittle and embittered. From a human standpoint it’s a shame. And from a political standpoint it’s precisely the countenance and bearing conservatism and the GOP need to avoid. 

The American people aren’t usually won over by angry politicians, and Sarah Palin is one angry individual. Fortunately, she’s also a marginal one.

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Will Obama’s “Cool Kid” Strategy Backfire?

Rather than seeking to challenge President Obama for the title of the “cool kid” in the race, the Mitt Romney campaign will seek to win the adult vote. That’s the spin from Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom, whom Politico quotes as telling a Washington gathering yesterday that his candidate won’t seek to top the president when it comes to “slow jamming the news,” as Obama did this past week on the “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” show. That’s a good idea, because although Obama may not be as cool as he or his idolaters think he is, the incredibly square Romney isn’t likely to convince anyone that he is hip. The real question is whether coolness will matter as much in 2012 as it did in 2008.

As Politico notes, the John McCain campaign also found itself facing a coolness deficit vis-à-vis Obama and sought to brand the Democrat as a mere “celebrity” that wasn’t fit for the White House. But in a year in which an extraordinary turnout of young and minority voters besotted with the “hope and change” mantra were a key factor in the outcome, the attempt to make the election a contest between a war hero and a celebrity backfired, as the latter won easily. Writing the day after the White House Correspondents Dinner, an event whose purpose seems to be to link politics with celebrity, the notion that sober policy may trump coolness may seem heretical. Yet after four years of an ineffectual administration with few achievements to its credit, coolness may not be as important as the fact that the economy has stalled again.

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Rather than seeking to challenge President Obama for the title of the “cool kid” in the race, the Mitt Romney campaign will seek to win the adult vote. That’s the spin from Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom, whom Politico quotes as telling a Washington gathering yesterday that his candidate won’t seek to top the president when it comes to “slow jamming the news,” as Obama did this past week on the “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” show. That’s a good idea, because although Obama may not be as cool as he or his idolaters think he is, the incredibly square Romney isn’t likely to convince anyone that he is hip. The real question is whether coolness will matter as much in 2012 as it did in 2008.

As Politico notes, the John McCain campaign also found itself facing a coolness deficit vis-à-vis Obama and sought to brand the Democrat as a mere “celebrity” that wasn’t fit for the White House. But in a year in which an extraordinary turnout of young and minority voters besotted with the “hope and change” mantra were a key factor in the outcome, the attempt to make the election a contest between a war hero and a celebrity backfired, as the latter won easily. Writing the day after the White House Correspondents Dinner, an event whose purpose seems to be to link politics with celebrity, the notion that sober policy may trump coolness may seem heretical. Yet after four years of an ineffectual administration with few achievements to its credit, coolness may not be as important as the fact that the economy has stalled again.

Critics of Fehrnstrom’s strategy rightly note that it may be easier for Democrats to demonize the wealthy GOP nominee than it will be for the Republicans to make Americans think ill of Obama. Yet that challenge cuts both ways. By attempting to revisit his 2008 style, the president may learn that the “cool kid” trick doesn’t play as well the second time around.

The coolness factor isn’t so much a presidential qualification as it is may be a prerequisite for a high turnout of the liberal voters who form the Democrats’ base. President Obama has always been better at campaigning than governing, so the return to the late night comedy shows is a natural for him. Given the liberal bias of these venues, they are also a safe haven for a president who can’t run on his record.

Though Fehrnstrom is hoping that the grown ups rather than the cool kids will predominate in 2012, what the GOP is counting on is an electorate that is more fed up with the country’s fiscal illness than the president’s celebrity quotient. Given the general dissatisfaction with Obama’s job performance and the prospect of continued slow growth in everything except gas prices, this is not an unreasonable expectation.

While Republicans are right that few outside of the chattering classes care what Obama said last night at the “nerd prom” or even what the actresses who were recruited to show up at the event wore, the president won’t lose in November because of a backlash against his faux hipster persona. If Romney is to prevail it will be because Obama will be seen as a failed president. The outcome in November will be decided strictly on the basis of perceptions of the economy, not which of the two candidates is the coolest.

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