Sarah Palin and the Reality TV Politics of ’12

“I just love being out here and being free.” I haven’t watched Sarah Palin’s Alaska show (nor do I imagine I ever will) but I have seen this line in her promo.  Yes, I love being out in the mountains and “being free,” too. But the phrase has this completely Palinesque quality to it when she says it; it’s not just about a love of nature, it’s an American statement. And in her world, she can define who is free and who is American–the real freedom and the real American. It’s the way that word freedom gets tossed around these days. Say it enough and it will do the work for us, rather than really getting at what we mean by freedom. Sarah Palin: politics by catch-phrase. It’s like the whole “let’s take back America.” Take it back from whom? Oh, that’s right, all of those people who live in cities (how “un-free” can you be in her world) or on the coasts or who believe that intellectual skills are actually a reasonable expectation of our leaders aren’t really Americans, are they? It’s a disturbing rhetoric that would suggest that a  majority of Americans are not actually “real” Americans.  Who gets to define American? And who gets to define being free?

But this isn’t really what I called you here today to talk about. What I find really amazing is that the producers of the Sarah Palin show can actually say it’s not political. This is the woman who is vying to be the very voice not only of conservative values but of America, the leading figure in an ongoing culture war. This is also the woman who could well be positioning herself to be the Republican candidate in 2012. (In many ways, I’d like to see her actually run; I think that it would force her to say something other than the hollow cliches she’s been spitting out for two years, and I really think that if she were forced to actually say something then even conservatives would see she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. But I also think she’s well aware of this and won’t run–it’s much more comfortable in the world she lives in now where she can make more money than she would as president, can shape the tone of the cultural debates, yet never have to really say anything of substance). But even if she doesn’t run, the show has incredible political weight–it’s not only a free commercial for her, it actually pays her to keep her in the spotlight. I mean, if she had actually declared as a candidate, I think there would be a question of political contributions and who is paying for the show. Now, I know that’s not the case since she hasn’t declared, but that’s not my real point. I mean, I don’t begrudge the producers or the station for doing this–yes, I know it’s the essence of free speech. But can we please call it what it is? To keep Palin in the spotlight, in a place where she can banter about “freedom” without having to actually discuss the issues isn’t political in this ever-divisive political climate? If you believe that, then I’ve got a bridge to nowhere I’d love to sell you.

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