The GOP Wasn’t “Ruined” By Sarah Palin–They Created Her
In an op-ed in this Sunday’s Washington Post, former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley suggested that Sarah Palin was to blame for all of the party’s current state of dysfunction.
In this piece, Daley argues that Palin, along with Michele Bachmann, Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin, are the reason why all the GOP candidates are so comfortable with going around saying batshit crazy things.
But you know what? I don’t think they are. Not even a little bit. I also find it a little strange that three of the people he mentioned as being responsible for this “dysfunction” happened to be women.
Now, I have not been known to stan for Sarah Palin ever in my life–but I am going to say right now that this is some bullshit. There are a lot of things I’m happy to blame Sarah Palin for, but this ain’t it. If anything, the Right itself is to blame for Sarah Palin. She is their monster. They created her. Just as they created Michele Bachmann and Todd Akin and Ben Carson and Donald Trump. They have been headed in this direction since at least the 1970s, and they have no one to blame but themselves. Her supporters, Trump’s supporters, did not just pop up out of nowhere, for no reason.
The seed from which Palin grew was planted long ago. It started with Nixon’s Southern Strategy, with Falwell and the rise of the Christian Right, with the fact that Ronald Reagan was actually elected president. The GOP made a grand embrace of utter stupidity and ignorance and bigotry in order to win elections, and it worked. Sarah Palin is the product of over 40 years of concerted effort in this area.
You can’t understand today’s Republican Party without looking back on Nixon’s Southern Strategy. The gist of this strategy was to win over poor white Southerners by appealing to their racism against black people. These voters were specifically courted by the GOP in large droves. They wanted them. They went into their towns and their cities and essentially said “Freaked out by black people? Vote for us! We’ll protect you! States rights!”
They also wanted the Christian Right, and they got them–and with them they got people who don’t believe in evolution or global warming, and think we’re all about to be raptured at any moment. These are now the people who make up the Republican party, for better or for worse. I would argue for worse, but that’s just me.
But let’s talk about Ronald Reagan for a second here, ok? Because, as my mom says “Once Reagan was elected, anything was possible and nothing could ever be considered ridiculous from then on out.” Reagan was a B movie actor who had previously been best known for naming names during the McCarthy hearings. It is freaking absurd that he was ever, ever President of these United States.
While he was praised for giving “great speeches,” as dazzling as those speeches were, half the time they were based on things that happened in movies rather than in real life. We’re talking about a guy who went on and on about how he and his army unit liberated a concentration camp in WWII–which never actually happened. He spent that time in Hollywood processing footage of other people liberating concentration camps, and then later thought that he was really there. And people were basically OK with that. For the most part, they did not even question it.
Reagan also perpetuated Nixon’s strategy of convincing poor white people that he could protect them from predatory minorities. He went on and on about “welfare queens,” he started the so-called “War on Drugs.” He embraced Falwell and the Christian Right, and in turn, they helped him win two landslide elections.
In addition to Falwell, they also ended up with people like Rush Limbaugh. You can go and look back at things Rush Limbaugh was saying in the late ’80s and early ’90s that are essentially the same things that today’s “Tea Party” Republicans are saying now. None of this is new, it’s just now more out in the open.
The strategy in the ’80s and ’90s was for “establishment Republicans” to be the ones running for office. People like Bush the First and Bob Dole–people whom you might disagree with, but who could at least affect a demeanor that didn’t seem completely unhinged. They used dogwhistle phrases to subtly indicate their allegiances rather than coming right out and saying whatever absurd and bizarrely offensive thing popped into their heads at any moment.
But behind the scenes, people like Limbaugh and Falwell worked to rile people up–telling them that feminists and gay people and black people and poor people and immigrant were all out to get them and “destroy their way of life.” Telling them that they were the True Patriots, the Real Americans, making fun of “intellectual elitist” liberals , etc. etc.–but most importantly, telling them “You are great the way you are, you don’t have to change, it’s someone else’s fault your life is fucked up.”
After Ronald Reagan there was Dan Quayle, who could not spell the word “Potato” and thought Murphy Brown was going to be the downfall of society. After Dan Quayle there was George W. Bush, who, let’s just say, was not a smart man. He was, in fact, essentially elected (“elected”) because people thought he was a dude they could have a beer with. They didn’t care about what dumb shit, or what lies came out of his mouth because those lies validated the things they believed to be true about the world. Which is not a thing to be “misunderestimated.”
Eventually–and frankly, understandably–these people, who had been the base of the Republican Party for so long, got fed up with the party relying on them for consistent votes while still trying to affect a slightly more moderate and reasonable appearance in public. They yearned for one of their own. Someone who wasn’t afraid to say the ignorant things they deeply believed in their hearts to be true.
For many of them, Sarah Palin was that person. She threw her crazy out on the table for the world to see–and when she did that, these people thought “Finally! One of us!” This was, in part, exacerbated by the election of the first black president–an event these charming people repeatedly said they were “not ready for.”
But that doesn’t mean that any of this is “her fault.” It is the fault of the Republican Party for having set the trend to begin with, for having coddled these people and their prejudices and ignorances all along. For having trained them to believe that the truth doesn’t matter as much as what they feel in their guts. For feeding into their fears and prejudices for so many years. The chickens have come home to roost.
The people who have long been the “silent majority” of the Republican Party now want their say. They want their people up there rather than anyone who feigns sanity or moderation. They want blowhardy Donald Trump talking about Mexican rapists and giant walls, they want Ben Carson talking about having gone after his mom with a hammer–they are the id of the Republican party. I’m sorry, but you can’t court stupid, ignorant, hateful people for over 40 years and then act surprised when they want their say.