Sarah Palin's debut as a Fox commentator last night showcased her one truly marketable skill: talking about herself and dissing haters. So how do we even discuss Palin without adding fuel to the fire?
In Palin, says Time's Michael Scherer, Fox "hired a mascot [...], a living breathing symbol of all that the network hopes to be: a place for the forgotten, besieged, suburban and rural American middle, long victimized, often dismissed, beset on all sides by elites and liberals, haters and foes." He adds, "She exists to enrage and rile those paid to pay attention to this stuff, a group who a great bulk of the American people long ago began to dislike for its phony self-importance and its monopoly on their attentions" — that is, the Mainstream Media with its cloven hooves and its tail made of arugula. Palin did discuss Iran and Harry Reid on The O'Reilly Factor last night, but the main focus — as always since the election — was on the supposedly perplexing question, why do people hate you?
Some liberals are still unaccountably interested in this issue, but for conservatives like O'Reilly, it's perfect red meat, allowing them to accuse the "left-wing media" of being hateful and petty but also uncool. After playing clips of various media types dissing Palin, O'Reilly asked her, "You're a politician, you're a mom, you're an American. What's the threat?" Ouch! The left hates moms! And Americans! And this pretty lady sitting right here, just trying to offer, as she says, "common sense conservative solutions." The real kicker, though, isn't that liberals are mean and unpatriotic — it's that they're losers. O'Reilly also played clips from 60 Minutes, crowing "they spent eight minutes on you!" The joke here is that left-wingers actually care about bashing Palin, while Palin is busy doing important things like defending real America.
Except that Palin's not really doing — or even discussing — anything. Scherer's right on in his assessment that what Palin does best is bait the left. When O'Reilly made the mistake of asking her about real issues, she reverted to her usual empty rhetoric. She was especially lame on Iran, advocating sanctions and, when O'Reilly asked if military action should be on the table, demurring, "obviously we need to adhere to those sanctions, those threats." Then she launched off into a substance-free challenge to Obama: "what I would like to see the Obama administration do is convince Americans that they would be willing to do anything, anything that needs to be done to protect America and our allies." Right now Palin is like a shitty rapper — she and her hype men spend most of their time talking about how controversial she is, without ever saying anything real.
So how to respond to this Eminem of Fox News? Many have argued that the best course is to ignore her, and this path has a certain playground appeal. But Palin's clearly not going away — O'Reilly ominously closed the segment with the words, "Any time you want to set the record straight, we're here for you" — and if liberals want to engage her, they need to do so in a way that doesn't just feed the Palin Backatcha Machine. One way is to actually press her on the issues she's still so shaky on. What does she mean by "convincing Americans they would be willing to do anything?" What will "government getting out of the way of the private sector" do for Americans who are sick and unemployed and need health care now? Forcing Palin to spell out what her "common sense solutions" actually are — rather than just repeating a series of empty talking points — may not change the minds of her most loyal supporters. But it might shift the tired conversation about who hates Palin and why into more fruitful territory: whether she actually has anything to say.
Fox's New Face [Fox News]
Palin Fascination [Fox News]
Fox's New Leading Lady [Daily Beast]
As Mascot And Martyr, Sarah Palin Debuts On Fox News [Time Swampland Blog]
Palin: Crazy Like A Fox News Pundit [Salon]