Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Palin: Limbaugh Lite

Matt Taibbi has a provocative post on his blog that I’m not sure I agree with, but it contains some really amusing and well-written elements. Basically, he declares Sarah Palin to be Rush Limbaugh for those who can’t even handle the kind of discourse Limbaugh lays out. I think he does rather overstate Limbaugh’s credibility, however, in this bit:

The reason for that is that poor Rush is an anachronism, in the sense that his whole schtick revolves around talking about real political issues. And real political issues are boring.

Listen to Rush any day of the week and you’ll hear him playing the old-fashioned pundit game: he goes about the dreary business of picking through the policies and positions and public statements of Democrats and poking holes in them, arguing with them, attacking them with numbers and facts and pseudo-facts and non-facts and whatever else he can get his hands on, honest or not, but at least he tries. The poor guy nearly killed himself this summer trying to find enough horseshit to arm himself with against the health care bill, coming up with various fairy tales about how state health agencies used death panels to try to kill cancer patients who just wanted to live a little longer, how section 1233 is Auschwitz all over again, yada yada yada.

Rush is no Einstein, but the man does research. It may be fallacious and completely dishonest research, but he does it all the same. His battlefield is world politics and most of the time the relevant action is taking place in Washington. As good as he is at what he does, he still has to travel to the action; he himself isn’t the action.

I think that’s overstated a bit. The kind of research Limbaugh does is the kind of research done by those who originate all those breathless viral emails your inbox is littered with. It’s not genuine research, it’s just a shallow search for even the tiniest and most insignificant thing that he can blow up and exaggerate and manufacture faux outrage with.

But I think he’s essentially correct to say that Palin is operating at an even lower level than that:

Sarah Palin’s battlefield, on the other hand, is whatever is happening five feet in front of her face. She is building a political career around the little interpersonal wars in the immediate airspace surrounding her sawdust-filled head. And in the process she connects with pissed-off, frightened, put-upon America on a plane that’s far more elemental than the mega-ditto schtick.

Most normal people cannot connect on an emotional level with Rush’s meanderings on how Harry Reid is buying off Mary Landrieu with pork in the health care bill. They can, however, connect with stories about how top McCain strategist and Karl Rove acolyte Steve Schmidt told poor Sarah to shut her pie-hole on election day, or how her supposed allies in the McCain campaign stabbed her in the back by leaking gossip about her to reporters, how Schmidt used the word “fuck” in front of her daughter, or even with the strange tales about Schmidt ordering Sarah to consult with a nutritionist to improve her campaign endurance when she herself knew she just needed to get out in the fresh air and run (If there’s one thing Sarah Palin knows, it’s herself!).

Complaining about the assholes we interact with on a daily basis is the #1 eternal pastime of the human race. We all do it, and we get to do it every day, because the world is full of assholes. Me personally, I waste an enormous amount of time seething over people who get onto crowded subway cars with big backpacks on and/or talk in the Amtrak quiet car and/or drive 57 mph in the fast lane or, my personal favorite, walking with glacial slowness in a horizontal row four overweight tourists across on a New York City sidewalk. We all get into furious arguments at work that make us want to explode in self-righteous fury (in my office dramas I always realize I was actually the asshole a day or so later) and when we get home from work, this is usually what our loved ones hear about for at least the first hour or so.

Not health care, not financial regulatory reform, not Iraq or Afghanistan, but — assholes.

Sarah Palin is on an endless crusade against assholes. It’s all she thinks about. She doesn’t really have any political ideas, in the classic sense of the word — in fact the only thing resembling real political convictions in Going Rogue revolve around the Trans-Alaska pipeline and how awesome she thinks it is.

Most of the rest of the book just catalogs her Gump-esque rise to national stardom (not having enough self-awareness to detect the monstrous narcissistic ambition that in reality was impelling her forward all along, she labors in the book to describe her various career leaps as lucky accidents or mystical acts of Providence) and the seemingly endless parade of meanies bent on tripping her up along the way. The book is really about her battles with these people, how much they did and do suck, and how difficult and inherently unfair life is for a decent hardworking American gal who just wants to live life, serve God, and try to be president without being bothered all the time…

Palin’s extraordinary ability to inspire major national controversies around these injustices done to her immediate person is going to guarantee her some kind of major role in American politics for the next dozen years. In this regard she is going to have a willing ally in her supposed keen enemy, the mainstream media, which likewise loves nothing more than a political narrative that has nothing to do with politics. It’ll be a virtually endless war over nonsense like this latest Newsweek cover, which hilariously is being seen as one or the other of a) a liberal media plot or b) a sexist assault on a prominent female politician by the male-dominated media world when in fact, as all of us in this dying print media business know, the magazine’s motive was grounded entirely in the nihilistic desperation to sell newsstand copies.

And Sarah Palin sells copies. She is the country’s first WWE politician — a cartoon combatant who inspires stadiums full of frustrated middle American followers who will cheer for her against whichever villain they trot out, be it Newsweek, Barack Obama, Katie Couric, Steve Schmidt, the Mad Russian, Randy Orton or whoever. Her followers will not know that she is the perfect patsy for our system, designed as it is to channel popular anger in any direction but a useful one, and to keep the public tied up endlessly in pointless media melees over meaningless nonsense (melees of the sort that develop organically around Palin everywhere she goes). Like George W. Bush, even Palin herself doesn’t know this, another reason she’s such a perfect political tool.

Hard to argue with any of that.