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.
From Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum to Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, they've all mimicked Palin by pandering so shamelessly to the lunatic fringe that they are in danger of falling off the edge of the flat Earth that some of their adherents still seem to believe in. They act as if they believe that most Republican voters are as willfully dense as Palin — and maybe they're right. The voters whose support they are seeking are far more interested in fantastic conspiracy theories than they are in facts that contradict their paranoid beliefs.
This week, for example, the Los Angeles Times reported on a new poll of Republican voters in Mississippi and Alabama, which hold primaries on Tuesday. It found that 52 percent of Mississippi Republicans believe that Obama is a Muslim, 36 percent aren't sure and only 12 percent say he is a Christian. In Alabama, 45 percent say he is a Muslim, 41 percent aren't sure and 14 percent say that he's a Christian. That is stupidity worthy of Palin herself.
What this means is that the eventual Republican nominee, whether Romney or Santorum, will have a very difficult time clawing his way back to the center once the primaries are over and the general-election campaign begins. And that, even some conservative commentators suggest, could lead to such a huge loss to Obama in November that the GOP might be forced into some serious soul-searching that could lead to a major overhaul.
As the Washington Post's George Will wrote recently, the looming prospect of a massive rejection by voters suggests that the Republican Party should forget about trying to win the White House and focus on "the goal of retaining control of the House and winning control of the Senate."
Should that occur, the Republicans might re-emerge in four more years as a reinvented political powerhouse, blessed with a cast of attractive candidates and less dependency on hidebound ideology — just as Democrats did in the wake of the walloping they took at the hands of Ronald Reagan. The era of Palinism would finally be over. What a change in the game that would be.
Jack White keeps an eye on right-wing politics for The Root.
is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.