So the Palin era appears to be over. She's had to give back the clothes, the per diem, and the travel expenses; the Alaska miracle turns out to have been built on inflated oil prices; and Bristol and Levi, teenage mom and dumb-as-dirt Lothario, dragooned into playing the role of an "Our Town" romance, are just a couple of high school kids who screwed up. These “small town” people who were briefly so much better than the “urban elites” have, it would certainly seem, lost both their packaging and their moral superiority.
The Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston break-up plays out in a predictable, nearly sub-verbal, set of explanations. "It kind of just happened," said a source connected to Sarah Palin. "I thought they would stick it out.” And a weary or obligatory: “But I think they can work together to raise Tripp"—the product of this American romance.
Bristol and Levi and their story of teenage sex and family dysfunction defined Sarah Palin, making her as large a star as any failed vice-presidential candidate has ever been, and helped doom the McCain campaign. Palin obviously slipped her daughter’s pregnancy past the McCain people, who, looking foolish and incompetent for being unaware, then had to embrace the whole mess as grand political strategy. This, however, fooled almost nobody and made McCain look ever-older and more out of it—and, conversely, made Palin all the more heroic to the right-wingers who never liked McCain in the first place.
That’s been the point: We see Palin for what she is. There are no hurdles for her to get over. The ordinariness, and randomness, and, even, perfidiousness, of small-town American life is the Palin story—and, as well, the publicity opportunity. The point about the story is that it goes wrong; therefore, going wronger enhances it. And, too, you get to continue to tell the story of it going wrong because that’s more interesting, and press-worthy, than it going right. Bristol and Levi in a little apartment in Wasilla is much less of a story than a break-up and the end of the happily-ever-after dream. Even if, surely, nobody ever had that dream except some desperate Republican political operatives trying to salvage an unsalvageable campaign.
Everything about the Palin story continues to feed the resentments of the people who believe that the rest of us don’t want her to succeed. Real people, non-liberal people, non-successful people—aka small town people—are, in this telling, excluded from having a voice in America.
Actually, the exclusion of their voice is their voice—and a rather loud one, too. The more they seem to be excluded, and believe themselves to be excluded, the louder it gets.
The right wing of the Republican party, reveling in this exclusion, is becoming, by design, a party of the damned—the odd, the reactionary, the resentful, the star-crossed, the resigned to never being loved or elected. The outsiders.
Sarah Palin is unlikely to ever reach the White House, but, living her inauspicious story large, she might yet be expected to go places she never dreamed of going.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org