This article is adapted from Going Rouge: Sarah Palin–An American Nightmare, edited by Richard Kim and Betsy Reed, available only by direct order from OR Books.
In one way of looking at it, Sarah Palin is the best thing that ever happened to the Democratic Party.
Electorally, she is the GOP gift that keeps on giving. First there was Campaign 2008, which flamed out with her car-crash Katie Couric interview just as spectacularly as it had begun, three weeks earlier, with her star turn at the Republican convention. More recently, in the November 3 elections this year, she played a crucial role in delivering the Democrats one of their few victories. Palin and her culture-war comrades Rush Limbaugh, Dick Armey and Glenn Beck took up the cause of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in the 23rd District Congressional race in New York. As a result the moderate, prochoice Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, bowed out, endorsing Democrat Bill Owens. Hoffman was unable to convince the district’s overwhelmingly white rural voters that banning abortions and gay marriage and bashing government held the answers to their concerns, and on election day the Democrat triumphed, capturing a district that had been in Republican hands since the nineteenth century.
With enemies like this, who needs friends? If only Palin had intervened more forcefully in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia–where, unbidden, she issued robocalls to get out the vote for Republican Bob McDonnell–Democrats might be celebrating an electoral trifecta.
It’s tempting to cheer Sarah Barracuda on as she cannibalizes what remains of the Republican Party. The Going Rogue book tour, the 2010 targeting of moderates like Florida’s Charlie Crist, a 2012 bid for the presidency–bring it on! While the percentage of Republican voters who say they would seriously consider voting for Palin for president stands at 65 percent, among all voters the figure is mired at 33 percent. As former McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt–one of the key architects of the Palin veep pick–put it recently, "Were she to be the nominee [for president in 2012], we could have a catastrophic election result." Three more years of Palin poison infusing Republican politics will likely spell supermajorities for Democrats and a second term for Obama.
But what of the poison’s other effects? Her nonsensical statements may inadvertently provide comic relief, but it’s no laughing matter when serious debate is distorted by the wild misinformation she feeds to her increasingly paranoid base. Sometimes the lunacy is contained on the fringes. At a recent Wisconsin Right to Life fundraiser, she somberly raised the decision to move the "In God We Trust" motto to the edge of the presidential dollar coin. "Who calls a shot like that?" she said, insinuatingly. Actually, George W. Bush did. It was an embarrassing gaffe that also neatly captures the key elements of Palinism: fact-free conspiracy, hollow patriotism and public religiosity–the very coins of Republican populist rage.