Now that former Alaska Gov. and possible 2012 candidate Sarah Palin has made her much-anticipated visit at CSU-Stanislaus, let’s look at the damage.
Better yet, let’s look at why Palin herself is the cause of so much controversy.
In case you missed it, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate came to California last Friday to lend her talents (at an undisclosed price) to help raise money for the CSU Stanislaus Foundation, as part of the college’s 50th anniversary.
The speech itself wasn’t all that noteworthy — in fact, this story is pretty much par for the course; it spends little time on what she said (civic education and freedom of speech were two themes) and far more on the bigger dust-up surrounding the guest of honor . . . kinda like Pig-Pen in “Peanuts”.
But, oh, the collateral damage!
Local protestors showed up for the event — or, more precisely, they were there to get on the early evening news, leaving not too long after the tv feeds ended.
Up north from Turlock, in Sacramento, the State Assembly’s Higher Education Committee passed a bill demanding more transparency from groups that perform government functions at California’s higher ed campus. This, after students claimed to have found pieces of Palin’s appearance contact after a round of dumpster-diving.
Meanwhile, the state’s political press corps wrote the obligatory “Palin: Asset or Liability” stories about her endorsement of Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina.
This much fuss you arguably won’t find about most any other politician in America, not even President Obama.
So why Sarah Palin?
My theory: it’s because she’s a walking, talking metaphor for so many contentious aspects of modern politics.
Think “Six Degreees of Kevin Bacon” and filmdom, and apply the same rules to Palin and politics. You don’t have to go far to find many of the rhetorical cul de sacs that divide folks.
Is Palin smart enough to be the leader of the Free World? Welcome back to the same back-and-forth that divided the nation from 2001 to 2009, when the left argued that the Harvard-MBA president was a dunce . . . which segues to Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama as bright but feckless . . . which segues to Reagan and Eureka College, and so forth.
Is Palin hellbent on destroying the nation? Welcome to the current argument, made by the right, that the Obama Administration is Chicago-style European socialism . . . which segues to conservatives and fascism . . . and LBJ and FDR and centralized government, and so forth.
Is Palin unfairly treated by the media (including these reporters caught snickering during her remarks). Welcome to the argument, put forward by the right for decades, that the mainstream media are left-leaning and biased . . . which segues to Fox News vs. MSNBC, and the Wall Street Journal vs. the New York Times, and so forth.
Is a gun-toting, pro-like Mama Grizzly conservative woman really . . . a woman? Welcome to the same argument over whether conservative African-Americans and Latinos are true to their group. whether a gay man or woman can really be a Republican, and so forth.
And on it goes . . .
Clearly, controversy will follow Palin at least for as long as she’s the subject of presidential speculation. Yet, that works for her in this current environment, much in the same that controversy means bigger books sales for Ann Coulter. It may limit her ceiling a year or two from now should she actually run for the White House, but for now she’s laughing all the way to the bank.
As for California and this year’s Senate race, I don’t think the issue is Palin as a vote-loser for Fiorina.
Sure, she doesn’t help with independents. But odds are a voter who sides against Fiorina based on a Palin visit earlier that summer likely wasn’t going to vote Republican anyway. Besides, this isn’t condition unique to either Palin or California. Keep an eye on Arkansas later this fall, when struggling incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln campaigns alongside Bill Clinton, but avoids being seen with the current guy in the Oval Office.
Here’s the bigger problem, in my opinion: as the Turlock visit showed, a one-day visit from Palin can easily morph into a week of coverage. And for a challenger’s campaign in an uphill effort (which if Fiorina’s situation), that’s a week it can’t afford to lose — i.e. a week when none of the coverage pertained to making the case for unseating Barbara Boxer.
Such controversy tires voters, much in the same way that so-called “Clinton Fatigue” may have contributed to Hillary’s demise as a presidential contender. And a tired voter? Well, they might not vote Republican. They might not vote Democratic. They just might not vote at all.
And in an anti-incumbent year, that’s bad news for the challenger.