A close reading of Sarah Palin's Facebook message to the nation.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
July 6 2009 11:28 AM

Reading Palin Plain

Decoding her Facebook message to the nation.

Sarah Palin. Click image to expand.
Sarah and Todd Palin

Even though I live in an obscure corner of Eastern Europe, I now recognize that it is impossible to escape the assumption that, by writing in this space, I belong to the "mainstream media." I therefore feel it incumbent upon me to respond to Sarah Palin's Fourth of July Facebook message, in which, among other things, she attacked the "main stream [ sic ] media" for its reaction to her surprise resignation from the governorship of Alaska—a reaction that, she wrote, "has been most predictable, ironic, and as always, detached from the lives of ordinary Americans who are sick of the 'politics of personal destruction.' " How "sad," she continued, "that Washington and the media will never understand; it's about country."

Let's take those comments one by one. Was the media reaction to Palin's resignation "predictable"? It's hard to see how it could have been: No one can react predictably to a total surprise, and in fact the initial comments were all over the place. What about "ironic"? Most of the reaction involved wild speculation. Was she leaving politics for good? Was she launching her 2012 presidential campaign? Or could there be a looming scandal? No one knew, since Palin herself used vague and enigmatic phrases to justify her decision—"because it's right," because "sacrificing my title helps Alaska most," or because she has a "higher calling." But what is that higher calling? If you don't tell us, we have to guess—or make jokes about it.

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Palin's third charge—that the media are "detached from the lives of ordinary Americans"—is more serious, since it implies that she is "ordinary," whereas people who formulate opinions about her are not. Given the number of people who work for the "media" nowadays, not all of whom can possibly be nonordinary, and given the fact that her life is pretty far from "ordinary," this seems well off the mark. However, I do concede that there is something to her fourth point, namely that the army of writers, broadcasters, bloggers, and Twitterers who now constitute the opinion-making classes—and with whom she also communicates directly—has indulged heavily in the politics of personal destruction since she resigned. Though here I should note that the reaction among "nonmainstream" commentators was far more personally destructive than that of the ever fewer, ever less influential, and ever more badly paid mainstream professionals.

The mainstream Washington Post, for example, published a rather straightforward account of Palin's resignation ("Concern About Spotlight's Glare, Effect on Family, Prompt Palin's Decision"), but reader comments on the Post's Web site responding to Sunday's follow-up story ranged from nasty ("Palin is addicted to attention and displays all the signs of a hopeless addict." … "If she can't handle the job of Alaskan Governor what makes anyone think she could handle anything more demanding") to nastier ("good riddance to bad rubbish") to unprintably rude. There were defenses, too, but Palin does have a point: No ordinary political resignation would inspire the veritable tsunami of scorn that has poured into cyberspace over the past few days.

But perhaps the explanation for this lies in the final part of one of Palin's statements: that "Washington and the media" cannot understand her decision because "it's about country." She is a patriot, in other words—and anyone who doesn't agree with her is not.

For the past nine months, Palin has avoided difficult questions, preferring Runner's World to another Katie Couric interview. She has dragged her family into the spotlight when it suited her (baby Trig was in Runner's World, too) and grown angry when the spotlight became too strong. She has eschewed reason and logic (not to mention spelling and grammar), yet reacted in horror when her critics are unreasonable and illogical in response. Then, after all that, she smugly asserts the right to decide who is a patriot and who is not. It's not about "country," in other words, it's about hypocrisy. And Sarah Palin is full of it.

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