During the height of the cold war rabid right wingers and other delusional people would chant “unleash Chiang Kai Shek!” The idea being that the leader of the KMT could somehow leap out of his cage of Taiwan and conquer the mainland armies of Mao Tse Tung. Anyone with even the slightest grasp of reality knew this to be an absurdity. It would be like siccing a toy Chihuahua on a Pit Bull.
Flash forward to the present day and the right wingers have not really let go of the fantasy of Chiang Kai-Shek. Even though the Generalissimo long ago transfigured into potting soil his spirit marches on. These days that spirit has alighted on the form of Sara Palin. The battle cry is now “let Sara be Sara.”
This tribal war chant has been picked up by many of the usual suspects. Bill Kristol was an early proponent of the idea as was the National Review, Mitt Romney has now joined the pep squad. This all began shortly after the good governor went on the T.V. machine and performed a truly spectacular belly flop on both ABC and CBS. Her first performance on ABC , a death-defying performance into an empty pool was witnessed by Charlie Gibson and millions of viewers. She badly mauled a softball question about the Bush Doctrine and then tried to go for a daily double one the same subject. This had the chattering classes in absolute shock and the McCain campaign in full damage control mode.
Then came Katie Couric and Palin's dear in headlights performance on C.B.S. The words "train wreck" do not do that performance justice. There were parts in the interview were she was unable to string a single coherent thought or a coherent sentence. She mish-massed talking points in a totally random fashion. She came across as having the I.Q. of a small rock.
Having started out at the Republican convention with huge approval ratings she plummeted downwards in spectacular fashion. Sara Palin aged like a haddock left out on a hot humid August week. And just like a fish she rotted from the head downward. From her solid start as a high net positive she has so stunk up the McCain campaign that she is now a net negative.
The damage is being done in worst possible places. It began early. At first it was an acceptable trade off, her wild support among the Theocratic Republican base and Rush Limbaugh caused a equal reaction in the Democratic base. McCain did not have enthusiastic support amongst the true believers, Palin got them thrilled and motivated. But then it all began to unravel. The lies, misstatements and general weirdness of Sara Palin started piling up. There was the fiasco with her unwed teenaged daughter and the teen fathers political incorrectness. Then there was her tenure as mayor and the raw feelings she left behind along with a 20 million dollar debt. There was her association with loopy separatists in the land of the frozen north; one who just happened to be her husband. Lately all sorts of fun weirdness with her church has popped up on YouTube and progressive blogs. Independents and undecided voters have watched her be skewered on SNL She is quickly transforming from novelty to freak-show in the public mind.
The basic problem for Republicans is not that McCain has cocooned in a media shield, the problem may just be that the public has already seen enough of Sara Palin as it is. She began her life on the public stage as a Tabloid personality and that is a very perilous position for anyone not prepared for such an introduction. There is a story arc to tabloid personalities, they start out as the fresh new face and America’s sweetheart only to get fed into the meat grinder a short while later. Sara Plain is so far fitting into that arc perfectly. The bad news for McCain is that Sara’s story is on the downward phase of the arc. Couric still has some whoppers of Sara’s in the can and they are going to be played out until the V.P. debate for maximum ratings advantage. The Sara Palin Story is going to be filled in and it is not going to be pretty. Palin us being pegged as cute, sweet lady who just beyond her depth as a candidate for high office.
The only good news for McCain and Palin is that the bar will be set so low for her at the V.P. debate that all she has to do is show up to “win.” She is being drilled by the McCain staff all week in preparation for her show-down with Joe Biden. Unless she really is as dumb as peat-moss she will acquit herself nicely in the debate. Biden better not get cocky, and he better not indulge in his favorite pastime of sticking his foot in his mouth. Palin might get a nice bounce in the polls coming out of that debate if Biden does not take her seriously. Even so it will be a “dead cat bounce” at best.
Palin’s fundamentals have not changed, she is still the incurious, parochial, vicious small town pol she always has been. She is still the product of Ted “Tubes” Stevens political machine and the sordid, deeply corrupt Alaska Republican Party. She is still the woman who’s ambitions far outstrips her abilities. By all means set her loose and let her be herself. The more people see of the “real Sara” the less they will like.