News item: Sarah Palin gets blamed for mass murder in Arizona.
Follow-up news item: In responding to getting blamed for the killing, Palin gets faulted for saying something insensitive in reference to tragic Jewish history. She calls herself the victim of “blood libel,” a term used to refer to false accusations against Jews, and for which Jews were widely persecuted, that they kidnapped Christian children for blood sacrifices.
Here is what I wonder from time to time: Why does Sarah Palin thrive so in the public consciousness, where she does not seem to belong on any meritorious basis?
She offers a mildly engaging personality and a certain physical attractiveness. But the same could be said of millions. There are legions of people out there who aren’t bad-looking and can gin up a form of charm from time to time.
Otherwise, Palin has well-demonstrated that she possesses scant command of public policy and that she is not a person of discernibly serious substance.
Her educational background is average and her political experience is abbreviated. Yet millions wanted her to be vice president of the United States. Now an uncertain number seem to want her to be the actual president.
The media report on her obsessively. As now. As here.
On her reality television show (which tells you something right there), Palin once asked her husband/cameraman a simple preparatory question on business and economics seconds before doing a satellite remote interview from her Alaskan lair with one of those Fox News talking heads.
Her query had to do with private-sector hiring, with which her husband presumably was more directly familiar than she. And it no doubt was preparation enough for the venue. (I saw this only while channel-surfing and moved on quickly. I promise.)
Anyway, there is a simple explanation for this curiosity. It is that Palin stays propped up in the public consciousness by two constituencies — significant, heavily invested and wildly disparate.
One consists of frontier-minded independents who lack sophistication in their political and public policy thinking. They adore Palin because they see themselves in her outsider’s commonness. They see her as their champion because of her feisty, combative nature and because of the way she drives supposed elitists to distraction.
These people like sassiness. They like a regular gal. And their regard for a sassy regular gal grows the more she becomes subject of the establishment’s disdain.
I rather doubt that many of these people seriously see her as president. But they enjoy that she is considered in that context. Feeling alienated themselves, they get a giant kick out of the way she parlays her alienation into celebrity and prominence.
That other constituency that props up Palin? It consists of politically savvy Democrats who — quite rightly — see fear of her as the best ticket to President Obama’s re-election in 2012. So they take every opportunity to showcase that commoner’s feistiness that so enamors the aforementioned independent-minded outsider minority.
Modern presidential races are about two things — a prevailing public mood and a prevailing public fear — and about which of those, if in conflict, proves stronger. Chances are that the economy will have rebounded just enough by 2012 to ease the public mood of anger. That would elevate fear.
Republicans will want to persuade Americans to apply that fear to Obama’s supposed liberalism or even socialism and to his “Obamacare.” Democrats stand ready to trump that with Palin, either as the unlikely Republican nominee or at least as someone who pulls her party perilously in her alienating direction.
So there are three things to watch as we head toward 2012. One is the economy. The second is Republican demonizing of Obamacare. The third is Democrats’ happy lavishing of attention on Palin.
John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of “High Wire,” a book about Bill Clinton’s first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.