The postmodernists have taught us that the message in the subtext is sometimes the opposite of the message in the text. The subtext of the hysterical attacks on Sarah Palin these last four years is simple: Sarah Palin’s enemies think she is a political superstar, simply head and shoulders above everyone else on the scene. The proper conservative response to an attack, like the HBO fiction, should always include exposing — and celebrating — this subtext.
The over-the-top attacks began the day she was selected as John McCain’s running mate and have continued relentlessly ever since. They have even included her family, making the Palins the most media-worthy clan in American politics since the days of John Kennedy.
Anything and everything Sarah Palin does is automatically newsworthy. This applies not only to her supporters and enemies, but to neutral observers as well. When Sarah Palin makes a typo in a text message, it becomes formally recognized as a neologism.
Palin’s enemies are so nasty because they are driven by fear. They know full well that if they cannot destroy her, she will overwhelm them. But acting out of fear is often self-defeating, actually working to bring about the feared outcome. Thus it is Palin’s enemies (and a complicit media) who keep her in the limelight of mainstream America. Knowing this, she can use the mean-spirited attacks of her enemies to further her conservative enterprises.
For example, suppose that around the 4th of July, Palin starts running an hour-long fortnightly TV news magazine (sponsored by SarahPac) to set the record straight on issues distorted by the lamestream media. Any other GOP politician would simply be ignored by the general public and end up preaching to the choir. Fortunately, Palin’s enemies could be counted on to greet the announcement of the first program with loud and long messages urging people not to watch; retailed dutifully by the political gossip industry it would guarantee a huge audience (as well as raise a lot of money). Thus the first response of conservatives to nasty attacks on Palin should be to thank them for once again recognizing her superstar status.
Now we have a context for a few observations on the HBO movie (which I have not seen).
First of all the movie is based on the book Game Change, by veteran political reporters John Heilemann (New York magazine) and Mark Halperin (Time). They said their goal was to provide an intimate portrait of 2008 “candidates and spouses who stood a reasonable chance of occupying the White House.” The result, according to New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani is “a spicy smorgasbord of observations, revelations and allegations — some that are based on impressive legwork and access, some that simply crystallize rumors and whispers from the campaign trail, and some that it’s hard to verify independently as more than spin or speculation on the part of unnamed sources.” In other words the book is a blend of fact and fiction, an alternate history.
Not only is the book retailed gossip, but gossip by a particular kind of source, political operatives. Now, a political operative — staffer or consultant — earns his pay by being hypercritical of his candidate. He has to see every flaw in performance that may be correctable and every weakness in his candidate that could potentially be exploited by the other side. When these guys gossip (especially on deep background) they will naturally tend to accentuate the negative. Another relevant factor is that if you’re a campaign operative and your guy loses, you can talk to a reporter either blaming your own mistakes and deficiencies or those of the candidate. (Do you need three guesses?) Thus the people in the book who did not become president are trashed: Hilary Clinton, John McCain, John Edwards and Sarah Palin. Even Obama could be “conceited and windy.” And there is an index subhead under ‘Biden, Joe’ labeled ‘long-winded monologues and gaffes of.’
HBO’s focus on the Palin element of this book destroys the context but emphasizes the subtext: Sarah Palin is the only future presidential prospect truly feared by the beltway establishment. The message of this movie to war-weary Tea-Party conservatives is simple: “Do not despair, for if you persevere, you shall have overwhelming victory.”