Sarah Palin Changed the Game for the GOP

RightWatch: She makes Republicans pander to the extreme end of the base, which only hurts the party.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

One of the great enduring mysteries of American politics is why we pay so much attention to anyone as lazy and ignorant as Sarah Palin.

This, after all, is a woman who talks like a character straight out of Amos 'n Andy. She makes up words such as "refudiate" that the Kingfish would have been proud of and does not appear to know the difference between "subscribe" and "ascribe."  

She is so unfamiliar with the basic facts of American history that she once claimed that the purpose of Paul Revere's ride wasn't to warn the colonists that the Redcoats were coming but to alert the British "that they weren't gonna be takin' away our arms."

And now, in the most recent example of gobbledygook from the sage of Wasilla, she has accused President Barack Obama of trying to take America back to the pre-Civil War era, "when we were in different classes based on income, based on color of skin."

Say what? Obama wants to return to the days of slavery? Or did she mean something else? Who knows? Who cares?

I'm asking myself these questions because I just spent two hours watching Game Change, the HBO movie about the former governor of Alaska's disastrous run for the vice presidency that debuted last weekend. It makes Palin out to be a strong-willed and possibly unstable nincompoop whose selection cost her running mate, Sen. John McCain, the election -- and despite Palin's wails about its inaccuracy, the portrait is totally convincing.

As Game Change makes clear, Palin is so unqualified for higher office that putting her on the ticket was a threat to our national security. If, by some misadventure, McCain had won, Palin would have been just one very old man's heartbeat away from occupying the Oval Office. Just thinking about it gives me the willies.

But as Game Change also points out, this potential calamity was not poor Palin's fault. She did not, after all, place herself on the ticket. Instead, the choice was rooted in the same demented right-wing politics that are responsible for the vacuity, irresponsibility and sheer meanness of this year's Republican-nomination fight. Selecting Palin was just one more step on the road toward the dumbing down of what was once a great political party.

What has happened to the GOP over the last four years gives a whole new meaning to the word "reactionary." Its devolution, like everything else in America, is in large part explained by race.

In 2008, right-wing white Republicans were completely unhinged by the prospect of losing to a liberal African American. Since then the prospect of that liberal African American's re-election has pushed the party's center of gravity even farther to the right -- and its would-be champions have become more Palinesque. And that's even scarier than she is.