The Palin Show Is a Scam—and Everyone Knows It

The Palin Show Is a Scam—and Everyone Knows It

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Sarah Palin has no chance at winning the presidency. And that’s what makes her presidential scam—the idea that she plans to run in 2012 and that she actually has a shot at the White House—both intriguing and amusing. Most of the media and the GOP leadership know she’s scamming them and the rest of the country, but they go along with her for the sheer thrill of the ride, the titillation, and the chuckles.

The latest to pretend to take Palin seriously is the man who foisted her on the nation two years ago, John McCain. With tongue no doubt wrapped way back in his cheek, he told an interviewer Sunday that he thought Palin could beat Barack Obama. McCain didn’t really mean it. But like so many others in on the scam, he knew that uttering such nonsense was sure to snatch a headline—especially during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, a notoriously slow news period when a hungry press will bite at anything.

Palin did her part by tossing out an equally trite cliché, claiming that she has “the fire in my belly” for a presidential run. This stirred a few pundits to trot out tired theories of why Palin could win the GOP nomination, namely: her instant name recognition and the hordes of screaming, panting Tea Party activists behind her who’ll do anything to stop Mitt Romney. Apart from Romney, the GOP field is a motley crew of retreads and hacks, with lousy reputations or no name recognition at all, no money, no traction, and no enthusiasm from GOP voters. The conventional wisdom is that Palin could get the nod by default.

It doesn’t work that way. To have any shot at the presidential nomination, you need a well-oiled, professional organization to court caucuses and count delegates, tap the corporate money spigot and win the imprimatur of party regulars. Palin has none of that, and she has absolutely no intention of doing the work it would take to transform herself from a TV mouthpiece into a serious GOP presidential candidate.

The man, outside of McCain, who did more than anyone else to hype Palin as presidential material, Fox News boss Roger Ailes, said as much when (according to a confidante quoted in New York magazine) he told people he thought Palin was “stupid” and “an idiot.” According to the same “Republican close to Ailes,” “People like Sarah Palin haven’t elevated the conservative movement.” Ailes is in the business of news hucksterism; he knows that Palin could never string together a credible and coherent set of ideas, let alone a program that could boost conservatism (unless that conservatism is spelled P-A-L-I-N).

Yet Palin continues to have shelf life, despite her plummet in the polls, for the same reason that she was pushed on the public in the first place. She is Hollywood Stars, American Idol and the Big Spin all rolled into one. She is crass entertainment; she provides prurient relief from the traditional, staid, scripted way that politicians speak and act. Her inanities have the faint ring of truth and light and, for many of her fans, represent a frontal challenge to the established order. Her pretty face and folksy, home-schooling-mom demeanor have made her a sure thing for a media starved for ratings and ad dollars. When she speaks, it's "lights, camera, action"—still.

For a time, Palin had some actual value for the GOP. She could say what Republican mainstream political leaders couldn’t—and she could say it in a way that generated hoots and hollers from the millions who wanted the GOP to get down-and-dirty and call Obama out. But a too-loose cannon running around, whipping up mob frenzy, posed the danger that some of that frenzy might turn against Republican politicians for not being tough enough against Obama. The GOP walked a fine line with Palin.

Over the past few weeks, Obama’s stock has climbed higher, thanks to his takedown of Osama bin Laden; his statesmanlike series of speeches and meetings with European heads of state and G-8 leaders; his daring attempt to break the Middle East logjam—not to mention his visits to disaster scenes in the Midwest and South. Meanwhile, with Republicans shooting themselves in the foot with threats to dismantle Medicare and Social Security, the party has embarked on an ever more desperate search for someone who could at least make a show of being competitive against Obama next year.

Palin isn’t that person. But as long as she can keep her scam going, plenty of people who ought to know better will act as if she just might be the one— at least until a more entertaining spectacle comes along.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst and an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles, which is streamed on, podcast on and broadcast over Internet TV on

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