Friday, November 20, 2009

Can This Ever Happen to Palin?

h/t LGM From the Colorado Independent:

Carrie Prejean, the decrowned Miss California USA and darling of the Christian right, appears to have been scrubbed from the National Organization for Marriage website. The move comes in the wake of a TMZ interview with the man whom Prejean reportedly met through MySpace and had a four-day hotel fling with in 2007. He alleges Prejean sent a series of sex tapes to him over the next couple of years. It’s the latest chapter in the story of Prejean’s partygirl past, which keeps leaking into the public sphere, ruining what had been her budding career as a Christian-values conservative politics spokesperson.

“She’s just using religion to get to where she’s at right now,” Prejean’s former lover told TMZ. “Really, I mean if she was just herself and she’d just take the route of ‘Hey I just like to party and I like to have a great time and I’m hot,’ hey, that sells too. She’s just trying to sell to a different crowd right now, and I’m not buying it, and a lot of people that know her, I mean, they don’t buy it either.”

Prejean became a darling of the values-voter bloc when she told gay blogger Perez Hilton during this year’s Miss USA pageant that marriage should be restricted to straight couples.

Now, Carrie Prejean is a straight up fake, and Palin is (presumably) a true believer (after a confused fashion) in the cult of Sarah the conservative icon, but the belief of the believer doesn't matter. In a cult of personality, its what the cult believes that is important. Another way of looking at it is that if you want to be a spokesmodel for soap, you've got to keep your image clean or people don't want to buy your brand.

The problem for us is-do we want Palin to keep succeeding, on the theory that she can never pull more than a fraction of the GOP base and will split the party and render it electorally null. Or do we fear that she can somehow get over on a large enough portion of the country's newly minted "independents" and even delusional democrats and somehow rise to power? In the first case, I don't want to see her discredited because she does more harm than good to the GOP brand while out on the trail. In the second case, I want to see her discredited fast before Palinism becomes a successful brand of populism and she ends up in the White House. But either way, I'm not sure if there is anything--short of Doug J's brilliant "second shooter" theory (that is that Levi was simultaneously having an affair with Bristol and with Palin herself)--which could discourage all of her fan base.

Palin is a very protean figure--she's loved and admired because she is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. She represents herself as a small time, small town, girl--but these things are themselves represented as, well, representative. She represents herself as distant from a corrupted America because she's Alaskan. But Alaska is then represented as a new, authentic, heartland, identical with the real America of our dreams. Personally, she's represented as a MILF. A PTA mom. A Hockey Mom. A successful politician. A Christian. A rogue. A conventional member of the majority. Sexy/Wife. Pure/Mother. Fighter and Winner. Fighter and Loser/Victim. Most of all she represents herself as loving her fans and, through them, America. As long as her fans feel that love, they will rally to her and give it back.

I've said this elsewhere--neediness is the watchword of this decade. People feel tremendous fear, and a need to be loved, mothered and taken care of. Palin gives people a chance to feel that there are easy, obvious, solutions--common sense!, anyone can see!, you don't need no book larnin' to see that... The lure of this approach to America's various crises is obvious--people loved Bush for the very same reason. He seemed to promise them that any idiot could step into power and fix things. McCain tried the same thing--remember he offered to solve our problems in Iraq by sitting the Shi'a and the Sunni down and telling them to "cut the bullshit?" But underlying the assertion that our solutions are right there, obvious and easy to find, is a deeper assertion--mommy is going to fix things for you. People are hungry for that. Maybe they like it packaged with sexy kitten heels, or starbursts and winks. Maybe they like it packaged with Holy Virgin Mother of Trig. Or Joan of Arc. Or Kali the Destroyer. But they like it.

So will anything break the bond between Palin and her followers--or so destroy her image that new followers can't coalesce around her? I hope so. I think a Prejean style sex tape would do it. I think irrefutable proof from Levi that he or someone else had had sex with her would do it. But Sarah has already survived other forms of public humiliation--forms that usually drive women (and even some men) from the spotlight, at least temporarily. She already lost a major election. She already had her poor mothering skills put on show with Bristol's pregnancy. She already had her leadership abilities undermined by Bristol and Levi refusing to get married. She should have lost points among Evangelical and retro-Christians for her obvious marketing of her sexuality and her failure to "submit" to her husband. None of these things made a dent in her popularity. In fact all of her flaws as a mother, a woman, a leader, a governor, a candidate have only caused her fans to cling more tightly to her as authentically one of them--a screw up who, miraculously, if she makes it to the White House, will never screw up again.

It beats me what will break the tie between Palin and her fans. Perhaps, like Thatcher, even age and loss of sexual power won't do it.

Edited to add:

Spoke too soon. If these reports are correct Palin's inability to deliver on the emotional demands of her fans will bring about her downfall. The second link takes you to Rumproast and an astonishing list of angry facebook comments from devastated Palin fans. This is a new variant on the old PTA standby "if momma ain't happy, nobody's happy." If Palin isn't showering her loyal fans with love they will turn on her in a heartbeat.


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