Quite a few people have been fooled by some new stories about Sarah Palin. One report had her describing how Jesus celebrated Easter and then quoted her charging President Barack Obama with keeping a Muslim museum open during the government shutdown. Both are false, and so bizarre that no one should have believed them. They were humor, fiction. Unfortunately, as usual, the Sarah Palin lampoon was entirely plausible.
She’s back, roaming around the country to promote her latest book, “Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas.” The impose-the-Christian-faith theme of her tome is obvious, but let’s save a discussion about that for another time.
Instead, let’s consider the staying power of someone whose real utterances resemble satire. In just the past few days, she’s let fly with some brand-new babble. Her publicity tour included the requisite stop on the “Today” show, where, of course, she trashed Obamacare — a handy target these days for anyone on the far right, where she prowls. Then, Matt Lauer asked her repeatedly if she could articulate the tea-party position on health reform. Read it several times, because there will be a quiz:
“The plan is to allow those things that had been proposed over many years to reform a health-care system in America that certainly does need more help so that there’s more competition, there’s less tort-reform threat, there’s less trajectory of the cost increases. And those plans have been proposed over and over again. And what thwarts those plans? It’s the far left. It’s President Obama and his supporters who will not allow the Republicans to usher in free-market, patient-centered, doctor-patient relationship links to reform health care!”
Here’s the question: What in heaven’s name does that mean? Can someone please make sense out of that reply, or is it simply incoherent?
Her “Today” show triumph came right after she regaled an Iowa audience with her commentary on the national debt: “When that money comes due, and this isn’t racist, but it’ll be like slavery when that note is due. We are going to be beholden to a foreign master.” What is it with ultraconservatives and comparing everything with slavery? Are they trying to prove that their approach to policy, as she said, “isn’t racist”? Are they that sensitive? Are they incapable of more nuanced rhetoric, or is the true-believer audience always looking to feast on red meat? For instance, had Palin used the word “servitude,” that could have opened up a reasoned discussion about the imperatives of reducing the debt. Incendiary comparisons to “slavery” have no value whatsoever ... except to promote the Palin brand.
She’s amazingly adept at that. It’s not that Sarah Palin is the only extremist saying dumb things all the time — far from it — but she is a tea-party icon, drawing adoring crowds wherever on the fringe she appears, and stirring up the media pot at will. Here I am writing about her. Why? She doesn’t really bring anything to the table, except being famous for being famous. She’s the Kim Kardashian of politics, with a clan to match. Those of us in our political branch of celebrity reporting hang not just on her every move, but also on those of her family members. Every seamy detail of her family’s personal life becomes news. That really says a lot more about us than it does them.
It’s not altogether harmless. Giving a hoot about Momma Bear’s thoughts and opinions and amplifying them have consequences. It’s not just that she called New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s appearance “extreme” or that she took Pope Francis to task for being “liberal,” but we have to wonder why CNN’s Jake Tapper even asked for her opinions. Maybe she’s right about all of us: Maybe we are the “lamestream media.”
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.