Palin didn't have to run

She can finger-point all she wants, but the blame rests ultimately with her.

Published October 28, 2008 8:04PM (EDT)

I'm going to agreeably disagree with Joan Walsh about who deserves the blame for the problems of Sarah Palin's increasingly disastrous candidacy and whether, in general, the Alaska governor has been treated fairly or not by the McCain people and the media.

First, let's stipulate that Palin is not the dummy people are portraying her to be. She's clever in the way George W. Bush is: She likes to be underestimated; she chooses to play the Rick Perlstein underdog "Franklin" card to undermine you and your "Orthogonian" elite chums; she opts to employ charm to get her way and deflect criticisms. Whatever one thinks of these behaviors, they take skill to deploy as political weapons, either offensively or defensively.

But to continue the vernacular, they are mad skillz -- and I mean that play on words in two ways. First, Palin has some mad-as-in-crazy ideas about evolution, God, the environment and so forth. She's a true believer, again, just like George Bush and in the same, faith-based way that convinces her that believing something makes it true. So there's almost no such thing as unfair treatment of her ideas when she tries to use cheekiness and anti-elitism to cover up for her crazy belief system. Second, there is a palpable, mad-as-in-angry aggression lurking somewhere beneath the bubbly, can-do, Nicole Kidman in "To Die For" personality Palin projects in public. Is she angry for being underestimated, for being disrespected, for just representing a small, remote and quirky state? I don't know, but as somebody also born into a working-class family who went to public schools and state university, all I can say is you can use that chip on your shoulder as motivation without letting it turn into hostility toward those who drew a better lot in life.

All of which brings me to my primary response to the question of whether we should sympathize with or scoff at Sarah: She could have declined McCain's offer. If she felt inadequate or unprepared before taking on the task of being a major-party national ticket nominee, or if she was worried about the scrutiny she, her record, her ideas, or her family would receive, she could have simply said "No." Maybe American politics today has gotten so out of control that it deters otherwise great future leaders from running for office because of the expectations and level of scrutiny imposed on them. But it darn sure doesn't seem to deter folks who have some strange ideas, conflicting records, weird personal backgrounds and other odd features from running. The fact is that Sarah Palin is an adult, with eyes wide open, who understands the consequences of modern politics, and who chose, like Kidman's character in the movie, to walk straight ahead toward those beaming, bright lights. And so, ultimately, the blame rests with her and her only.

As for "Palin 2012," as I suggested Monday, that development would just be the latest in a long list of blessings for the Democratic Party since early 2005, when Bush's Social Security privatization scheme collapsed, starting a downward spiral that led the Republican Party, among other dead-end paths, toward Juneau, Alaska. So, to that prospect, I say: Run, Sarah, Run!

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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