Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Palin's Docudrama

Scott Conroy, a reporter at Real Clear Politics, broke the news that Palin is producing a film explaining her abrupt departure as governor of Alaska. The former-half term governor fled her responsibility to her state amid a flood of complaints of multiple and flagrant ethics violations, including using state resources for family travel. Similar complaints would be aired after the 2008 presidential campaign, when she abused staffers' credit cards and donations to purchase clothes and accessories for herself and her family.

Joshua Green at the Atlantic thinks that the film will be a disaster. I would tend to agree with him, but for different reasons. He sees a missed opportunity of showcasing pragmatic non-ideological leadership during Palin's half term, although I'm not sure that bridging differences between Alaska Republicans and Alaska Democrats is quite as impressive as the President's accomplishments of bridging differences between North Dakota Democrats and Vermont Democrats. Palin's audience is the Republican base, which is mostly interested in finding a candidate who is least like a democrat. Showcasing bipartisanship is not a winning strategy in the 2012 Republican primaries.

The more immediate problem is that this reminds the conservatives who don't feel comfortable with Palin exactly why. It brings up the flight from leadership; the willingness to put herself and her family above state or party. The ethics violations won't be covered in detail in the film, but they will have to be mentioned in any review of the film. This appears to be an enormous unforced error for a campaign that lost its momentum when it was overshadowed by Donald Trump last month.

Any account of Palin's history of public service has to detail her ethical lapses (or lapses in judgment, as she might beg them off). The way in which the docudrama approaches the episode is bizarre and off-putting to anybody not already planning to rally around the Palins:
Bannon dramatizes the theme of Palin's persecution at the hands of her enemies in the media and both political parties, a notion the former governor has long embraced. Images of lions killing a zebra and a dead medieval soldier with an arrow sticking in his back dramatize the ethics complaints filed by obscure Alaskan citizens, which Palin has cited as the primary reason for her sudden resignation in July of 2009.
The footage evokes the themes of victimization that is the hallmark of Palin's online social media outreach, but would be difficult to cultivate a non-jarring narrative that would include such an over-the-top analogy, especially if the "lions" are "obscure citizens." Sarah Palin was brought down by the "obscure," not the powerful villain with a questionable motive and the resources to pursue a personal vendetta. Republican activists looking for a leader will not be attracted by this vaunted weakness.

Meanwhile, the image clashes against Palin's cultivated outdoorsy Moose-shooting Hockey mom persona. How will the image of Palin being attacked by lions match up with the image of Palin shooting wolves from a helicopter? It's hard to see Palin as both tough and touchy. Palin's initial attractiveness as a Vice Presidential candidate was her casually tossed insults at Democrats. Now that the school-yard bully is airing her vulnerability and insecurity, the veneer is gone. I expect that the portrait of Palin that will emerge after the release of the documentary will be pitiful.

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