By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
Don’t look now, but Sarah Palin is on the comeback trail.
One of four candidates in an August 16 ranked-choice election for the congressional seat left vacant by the death of Alaska’s long-serving Rep. Don Young, Palin has former President Donald Trump’s hearty endorsement and will surely be welcomed by the GOP’s base nationally. She is still beloved by conservatives as a tell-it-like-it-is culture warrior.
Unfortunately for Palin, many of her constituents in Alaska still resent her for resigning as governor in 2009 amid a blizzard of ethics complaints and requests for official records of her behavior. One of her three current opponents, Republican Nick Begich, has dismissed her as someone who “makes a living essentially as a human Hallmark card doing celebrity videos.”
She’s also been in the news for having lost her protracted defamation suit against The New York Times in February. Palin claimed the paper acted with malice in an editorial that claimed one of her political action committee’s ads incited a mass shooting 10 months later in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and seriously wounded 13, including then-Rep. Gabby Giffords.
Compared to Republican firebrand/loose cannon Marjorie Taylor Greene, Palin seems quaint. But when she burst onto the national scene as John McCain’s surprising choice for VP, Palin’s vacuous, smirking snark made her a celebrity.
After losing the 2008 presidential election as McCain’s running mate against Barack Obama and Joe Biden, Palin turned to TV commentary, writing a book (Going Rogue), and making personalized videos for Cameo. Proving that dignity is no object, she wore a pink and blue bear suit on The Masked Singer while rapping "Baby Got Back.”
You may recollect Obama’s famously dismissive description of conservatives in 2008 as bitter people who “cling to guns or religion.” Palin replied eight years later while endorsing Trump for president, proclaiming that she was fighting for the "Right-winging, bitter-clinging, proud clingers of our guns, our God, our religion and our Constitution.”
It’s no surprise that she’s been a ripe target for those who see her as the GOP’s original Big Mama Whack-a-Doodle. Palin became most famous for being parodied by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live.
One of Palin’s best-known quotes (“I can see Russia from my house”) actually came from one of Fey’s portrayals and not Palin herself. Likewise, the fossil fuel war cry, “Drill, Baby, Drill!” and the put-down “lamestream media” are not Palin’s though she is strongly associated with them. You can find some of her actual, more thoughtful utterances here.
I’m willing to bet that you remember at least one of QAnon fan Greene’s famous malaprop public pronouncements (e.g. “Not only do we have the D.C. jail which is the D.C. gulag, but now we have Nancy Pelosi’s gazpacho police spying on members of Congress, spying on the legislative work that we do, spying on our staff and spying on American citizens.”).
You may also recall the almost-as-inflammatory Rep. Lauren Boebert’s Christmas card with Boebert’s family (including children) holding rifles. But can you cite any significant, thoughtful legislation either of them have proposed or shepherded to fruition?
If Palin wins a House seat, it’s likely that she, Greene and Boebert will become the GOP’s answer to The Squad, the quartet of progressive Democrats (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley) who have been given more power and influence than they would ordinarily have simply by dint of the right-wing media’s fixation on them.
Palin made history as the GOP’s first female nominee for VP, but I still believe that McCain would have defeated Obama with a more sensible running mate. That was then. Palin’s notoriety paved the way for Greene, Boebert, and God-knows-how-many-more-to-come female Republicans who are known mostly for being confrontational and outrageous while remaining viable candidates in a country where even an illegal attempt to overturn an election is overshadowed by voter concern about gas prices.
Such are the baleful times in which we live and Sarah Palin is, if anything, a woman of our times.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.