Outside editorial: Palin's siren song

Posted: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sarah Palin's valedictory address as governor of Alaska will (we hope) be little noted nor long remembered. But its denunciation of Hollywood and Washington insiders reflects a perennial obsession by some conservatives that mainstream politicians are too eager to indulge. As Republicans regroup after the disaster of 2008, they would be wise to resist this shrill siren song.

Palin's speech Sunday was an improvement over the stream-of-consciousness performance earlier this month in which she announced that she would be stepping down. Those remarks, which sounded as if they were ghostwritten by love-struck Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, included the Zen-like assertion that she didn't want to take "a quitter's way out." Her official farewell was better focused - and that's the problem.

Threaded through Palin's encomiums to Alaska and apologias for her self-aborted administration was a thesis familiar to students of this country's culture wars. Unlike those patriotic Alaskans, inhabitants of the Lower 48 number among them a fifth column that in Palin's words is "hell-bent maybe on tearing down our nation." These doomsayers peddle pessimism about the future of the nation and belittle "the great proud volunteers who sacrifice everything for country."

Even if Palin recedes as a national figure, other Republicans will be advised to capitalize on the politics of cultural resentment she practiced in her folksy style. That occurred in 2007 when presidential hopeful and erstwhile moderate Mitt Romney told the conservative Values Voters Summit that same-sex marriage would exacerbate teenage pregnancy, drug use and crime by undermining the traditional family. Palin's poll numbers may be dropping, but ratings are up for Fox TV's Bill O'Reilly, a self-described culture warrior who inveighs against a "secular-progressive movement that wants to change America dramatically (and) mold it in the image of Western Europe."

Palin may or may not be finished as a political force, but Palinism lives on. Will that be a problem for a Republican Party seeking to move beyond its conservative base? You betcha.

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