OFF THE GRID

For Me, Palin Scores

Feb 8, 10 | 7:10 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Andrew Sullivan, the journalist and blogger, who flirted for many years with conservatism and the Republican party, has become the most reliable chronicler of the hyperbolic comings and goings of Sarah Palin.

Sullivan is one of the few journalists who, almost from the beginning, has taken Palin seriously and kept up a warning drumbeat about a political phenomenon that has already turned her into the leader of the American opposition party.

His minute-by-minute catalogue of Palin’s $100,000 speech the other day to the Tea Party conventioneers—of whom, Sullivan rightly points out, she is the de facto head—is a horrifying and comical road map of how meaninglessness can come to stand for something in America.

But capturing it all—the clichés, vapidness, illogic, inversions of reality, Cheneyisms, and her constant whacking at Obama’s legitimacy—he yet misses something.

He misses how really compelling she is. Unaccountably amazing. It could be the meaninglessness itself, and her confidence in it, that is so riveting. But I think it’s something else. It is, that, curiously, she makes sense.

Most politicians have a certain expertise and have done a reasonable amount of preparation before they speak. They thereupon manage to communicate almost zero feeling. Policy is the antithesis—at least many men seem to see it that way—of emotion. Now, you might get, from of a media savvy pol, signals of competence, or anger, or empathy, but seldom is there a palpable, pleasurable feeling on the skin. No rush. No identification. A white guy in a suit is a white guy in a suit. Not emotionally available. Obama (himself quite a cold fish) made and benefited from this case. (Hillary Clinton’s problem was that she always seemed like a white guy in a suit.)

Sarah Palin is a terrible speaker. She garbles syntax, flubs lines, loses her train of thought, and yet it’s easy to find yourself hanging on every word. For one thing she sounds so memorable—the weird pitch catches you. Most other politicians would have been coached on this, would have moved their voice from upper chest to diaphragm.

She’s full of casual provocations, which other politicians would have let themselves be talked out of (“too much,” an advisor would have said). Her sarcasm, taunting and childish, is a crowd pleaser. Her rank sentimentality is lower than where even the most craven man would ever go (that’s the Trig purpose). She’s eschews, even mocks, respectability, perhaps the thing politicians value most highly. And that it’s a woman doing this makes it all the more show stopping. Maybe it requires a woman. (Really, the crib sheet was cute. So junior high school.)

Now partly what this means is that all the things that make her so compelling are the things that will keep her marginal. She’s a moron, after all, albeit a game and tenacious one.

But what Sullivan seems to sense with such great foreboding is that an alternative to all that is deadening and disconnected in American politics might really catch us by surprise. It already has.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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