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A Sarah Palin presidential campaign would be gift from heaven above

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



As if the death of Osama bin Laden weren’t enough good news for one month to offer the once-sagging political fortunes of the Obama administration — the terrorist mastermind was killed May 1, though it already seems like a year ago — when you include the failure of the Republican Medicare overhaul to pass in the Senate, plus indications that Tea Party darling Sarah Palin might actually run for president, the mood at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue must border on unbridled jubilation.

Can’t you see Obama skipping through the halls the White House, swinging his arms wide, perhaps singing a few verses of whatever childish doggerel pops into his swelling heart — “A tisket, a tasket, a green-and-yellow basket . . .” — while staffers tip back in their chairs and grin giddily at one another?

Yes, it still feels reckless to dare hope. Palin is in the business of seeming to run for president, of projecting herself as a significant political force while draining millions of dollars from the credulous tin-foil hat wing of her party. Conventional wisdom insists that Palin won’t actually run because: a) she’s making too much money not running, and b) she can’t possibly win a general election.

Realist that I am, I’m forced to lump a serious Palin candidacy with cold fusion, zero-calorie chocolate and a robust economy in the Things Too Good to Be True file.

But with the Republican presidential field divided between notorious failures — Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney — and nameless nobodies — Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain, et al — you can see how Palin might delude herself into believing this is The Moment.

Unmistakable signs point toward a Palin run — she’s building her staff, finishing a two-hour biographical documentary, beginning a bus “listening” tour and has purchased a $1.7 million home in the nativist mecca of Arizona as a campaign base.

It’s that last detail that you really have to savor, symbolically. Arizona, of course, was the home of that far right ideologue Sen. Barry Goldwater, who ran so disastrously in 1964.

The parallels are thrilling. Then, as now, the far right was concerned with an overreaching federal government — in 1964, the intrusive feds were forcing states to treat black people as American citizens; now, it’s threatening to do something about the 12 million illegal immigrants living in serfdom.

Just as the Tea Party drapes itself in the trappings of revolutionary patriotism, so did Goldwater: “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” he famously declared.

Just as Palin’s foreign policy is a hash of ignorance and bravado, so Goldwater terrified Americans by suggesting that tactical nuclear bombs be used in Vietnam.

Like Palin, he was flayed by comedians.

“His campaign slogan, ‘In your heart, you know he’s right,’ was transformed by humorists into, ‘In your gut, you know he’s nuts,’ ” wrote historian Charles Peters.

Johnson — who, like Obama, was not a particularly popular president — buried Goldwater in the 1964 election. Palin, of course, while adored by her base, always lags far behind in the general polls, something her supporters can’t grasp because failing to perceive the existence of people who disagree with them is what they’re all about.

If I had to bet, I’d say that Palin will flirt with running, pump her fans into a book-buying, speech-attending frenzy, then pull out, the way she quit being governor of Alaska so she could work the rubber-chicken circuit.

But I could also see her deciding that, gosh darn it, her time is now, and her party would be forced to embrace her. Given that a once-respected Republican stalwart like John McCain jettisoned his love-of-country to pick a dangerous demagogue as his running mate before, it’s easy to imagine the Republicans turning to Palin again, even though the result would be the same in 2012 as it was in 2008.

A Palin candidacy would have a number of good effects. First, it would mobilize every Democrat with a pulse to work feverishly for Obama’s re-election. Second, Palin would end up losing in spectacular fashion, perhaps nudging the Republican lunatic fringe back into their caves for a year or two, which would be blessed relief, and maybe even enough time to finally get some kind of immigration reform passed.

Needless to say, this column will go all-out to support Sarah Palin as the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, no doubt joined by the Onion and “Saturday Night Live” and all the other grateful comedians who delight at the ascendance of this Old Faithful of unintentional humor, our own Niagara Falls of self-mockery. Happy days are here again.



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