Monday, March 21, 2011

Sarah Palin! Sarah Palin! Why Talking About Sarah Palin Sucks

One of my favorite journalists over the past few months has been Abe Sauer, who writes mainly for the Awl, a site I can’t recommend enough. I guess you could call him a blogger, since he writes for a “blog,” but he’s an old fashioned muckraker who really works his ass off finding out things that ordinary folk should know but don’t. Two months ago he published a revealing account of how US tax dollars are unconstitutionally used to support the proselytizing of Christian groups in Haiti, and more recently he’s been reporting from the union trenches in Wisconsin, documenting specific instances of Republican politicians straight up lying to their constituents and also spelling out connections between the now-ubiquitous Koch brothers, the Wisconsin Tea Party, and a new wave of anti-union, anti-government Republican candidates for office (who are often trained by organizations that claim to be “non-partisan”). Every time I read one of Sauer’s pieces I feel better educated about a topic, and though he clearly has what might be attacked as a “liberal agenda,” his opinions are clearly backed up by facts and good reporting.

His last article was a typically incisive, meticulously researched piece about Sarah Palin’s hunting and fishing license history. Wait, what the fuck? Yes, a precisely documented and hyperlinked post that disproved one of the many images that Palin has been working to develop for months: namely, that she’s an outdoorsy woman, bespectacled Mark Trail with tits who like Ozzy would have no trouble biting the head of a live animal off onstage. There’s a lot of information—again, as usual for Sauer—in the article, but the central point is that Palin doesn’t have the licensing history for someone who claims to have been a “lifelong hunter” and a frequent worker on her husband’s commercial fishing boat. As Sauer sums up:

“She certainly has not wholly concocted some fairy tale about her outdoorsmanship. But what Palin's licenses do seem to paint is a picture of a candidate who has used a few experiences to justify an image makeover that appealed to a political demographic.”

Exposing a past that a candidate for office has whitewashed or touched up in the service of ambition is an old and honorable journalistic tradition. The problem is, wait, say it with me now:


I mean, she has yet to announce her candidacy for president, although there’s widespread speculation that she will run after visiting India and Israel on a trip that only two kinds of people make: presidential hopefuls and “spiritual” 18-year-olds who have deferred their admission to Columbia.

More importantly, she is a fucking terrible candidate. Not quite Rick “Frothy Mix” Santorum-levels of terrible, but probably unelectable. Her negatives country-wide are through the roof, and even Republicans have begun to turn on her, perhaps deciding that nominating a reality-TV show star who quit the only statewide office she ever held might not be all that responsible. I imagine Obama is about as worried about Palin as Palin is worried about global warming. At this point, she isn’t even a frontrunner. There’s a small group of people who will like her up until and including the moment it is revealed that she and Todd enjoy a vigorous night of pegging every now and then, but everyone else either makes fun of her or ignores her—she’s like the cheerleader who is the most popular girl in school but only genuinely liked by the other jocks, a fairly sexist analogy that more or less stands up.

The people who like her will still like her after reading Sauer’s evidence that she shades the truth about her outdoorsyness; more to the point they won’t even read it, because it’s on a fairly liberal blog, and even if it was in the New York Times, Palinites have acquired the habit of reading only the publications that agree with them, or else not reading much at all. No matter how accurate, attacks on Palin at this point are pointless. She’s a human-shaped target covered in concentric circles of lipstick, and she’s a legendary courter of controversy. I can just hear her response to the Sauer piece in my head:

“So, y’know, some New York liberal Jew (she doesn’t say Jew, but we all know what “New York liberal” means, don’t we?) has written something on the in-ter-net, on a site called The All” (rolls eyes sarcastically like she’s having a seizure) “this liberal fella named Abe, he says that I’m a bad person because I didn’t get all my hunting permits in order every single year of my life!” (Makes “Whatta-ya-gonna-do” shoulder shrug.) “He thinks that because I don’t always go through all the beaurracratic (sic) red tape and because I have more important things to think about than remembering what years I got what pieces of government-issued paper—things like, I dunno, raising a family!” (you can’t hear it, but she just called Sauer childless, implying he was homosexual) “Now, what people like Sauer don’t realize…”

Etc. Etc. Palin thrives on attacks. She’s like the energy form of the Marvel Comics villain Onslaught, who was immune to all of the superheroes’ attacks because he lacked material form. Palin is similarly immune to any hit piece because she lacks substance. Attacking her garners page views, but doesn’t serve a larger point.

I’m not out to criticize Sauer in particular—journalists have been fairly challenging and reporting on Palin’s bizarre behavior and half-truths and willful ignorance ever since she appeared. But in the long run, attacking someone who will soon be a marginal political figure at best serves no purpose. Sauer has talents that could be better spent elsewhere, telling us things that we need to know, not that Palin lies about herself when she’s in front of a camera.

Update: Abe Sauer emailed me with an explanation that answered my question, "Why write about Palin now?"

After I did the piece on her inabilities hunting on display in Dec., I started filing FOIA requests for licenses. But, it's Alaska, and it's complicated this took a while to get the right request to the right person and then for them to fulfill it. (And I got sidetracked with Haiti in between). By the time it was all ready to go, a couple months had passed.

This information is now out there for anyone to use in the future and reference.

I know that blogging is fast and happens at breakneck speed, but sometimes information takes time to surface. Honestly, this seems so obvious that if some journalist at one of the hundreds of papers that have written thousands of articles about Palin in the last couple years would have done it, I wouldn't have had to at such a late date in her cycle of relevance.

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