Young, Gifted and Slack

What Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber have in common with Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan.

Do your job.”

—Lt. Cedric Daniels, The Wire

Gov. Sarah Palin isn’t using the title “Reverend” yet, but that could be her next move. She’s well on her way to becoming a conservative Rev. Al Sharpton in whiteface. At least she’s not known as “Sarah the Fisherman.” (Unless she forgets to take down the “Gone Fishin’” sticky note on her office door in Juneau …)

Joe the Plumber isn’t looking to join the Nation of Islam any time soon. But since he’s already dumped his slave name, “Joe X” doesn’t really seem like that much of a reach.

And Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele might be surprised to learn that some of his closest associates think he’s Washington, D.C.’s real “Magic Negro.”

However, none of them is using their high-profile, public platform to actually do the hard work of consensus-building and shaping public policy. Instead, they’ve all opted for the steadily withering and oversubscribed role of unelected, unaccountable representatives.

New Jack Pity

A new generation of African-American elected officials, including D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Newark Mayor Corey Booker, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Alabama Congressman Artur Davis and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick are taking their cues from the Barack Obama school. They’ve accepted the hand-off of leadership from the civil rights generation by asking their constituencies to trust them to use the reins of government as a primary means for advancing the interests of their communities.

Meanwhile, Palin wants permission from her constituency to become more famous and less accountable. Just as mainstream black civic leadership is becoming fully invested in working within, rather than confronting, the political system, Palin is going in the other direction—trading the rigors of day-to-day governing for a 24/7/365 license to ill on behalf of presumably fed–up, “family-values” promoting conservatives.

But as the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, Palin’s self-conception as catch-all representative of these “real” Americans is a fantasy conjured up by conservative elites that only works “if you think that most of working-class America is as f***ing inept as Sarah Palin.”

In fact, Palin is a classic example of the “Peter Principle”—she’s actually benefitted over and over again from the slack she’s been cut, mostly because of her personal appeal.