Palin is unlike any other national figure in modern American life—neither Anna Nicole Smith nor Margaret Chase Smith but a phenomenon all her own. The clouds of tabloid conflict and controversy that swirl around her and her extended clan—the surprise pregnancies, the two-bit blood feuds, the tawdry in-laws and common-law kin caught selling drugs or poaching game—give her family a singular status in the rogues’ gallery of political relatives. By comparison, Billy Carter, Donald Nixon, and Roger Clinton seem like avatars of circumspection. Palin’s life has sometimes played out like an unholy amalgam of Desperate Housewives andNorthern Exposure.
Now cross-check it with Ross Douthat’s recent Op-Edifier in the NY Times, which suggests that the “real America” may in fact be “tabloid country.”
[Is it] the land of Jon minus Kate, and governors who vanish to “hike the Appalachian Trail” — not to mention gossip-column fixtures like Britney Spears (rumored last week to be contemplating her third marriage in six years) and the mistress-parading Mel Gibson?
One possible answer is that our stars and politicians are a species apart — more impulsive and incautious than the average Dick and Jane, and more libidinous as well.
But the evidence suggests the opposite. The high-wire love lives of a Jon Gosselin or a Mark Sanford — or a Spears, or even a Lindsay Lohan — are remarkably true to the America that watches their shows, buys their CDs, and votes them into office.
In other words–Holy Mother of God, can it be true?–in a cultural shift that seems to have been missed by critics who think we’re still a nation of church-going latter-day Puritans despite our billion-dollar porn industry–Sarah Palin may in fact be the representative American of our time. If you look at how many of us, perhaps the majority, really live, where we put our time and money and attention, perhaps we are just about all Sarahs now.
Excuse me. I was going to ask what might happen, given that scenario, if Palin were to spend a year studying and emerge in 2012 with even a Reagan/GW Bush-level grasp of the issues. But first, I need to lie down for a while.