This week's messy, public breakup between conservatives and Sarah Palin was executed with brutal swiftness. After years of alternately worshiping and defending her from all comers while gleefully echoing her falsehoods about the Obama administration (death panels!), lots of conservatives -- and especially conservative pundits -- decided, "Enough!" and collectively tossed her overboard.
Palin's speech last weekend at a conservative confab in Iowa, odd and vacuous even by her standards, served as the trigger for the media mutiny. Morning Joe's Joe Scarborough tagged it "a tragedy," The Daily Beast's Matt Lewis apologized for his previous Palin support, and the Washington Examiner rounded up reactions from the GOP faithful: "Long and disjointed." "A weird speech." "Terrible. Didn't make any sense."
After six years conservatives have essentially conceded what Palin's critics on the left have said all along: that she's not a serious person and serves no serious political purpose. Palin, who symbolized an uber-aggressive anti-intellectual conservative push that coincided with Obama's election, seemed more interested in self-promotion -- via reality shows and habitual flirting with running for office that never materialized -- than in building a lasting political legacy.
Note that Palin's accelerated descent this week represents a larger trend within the conservative media. It represents the decline of the tea-party wing of the right-wing press and how a once-flourishing enterprise of outside upstarts, with their eyes on disrupting the GOP hierarchy, have in recent years faded in terms of importance and prestige within that sphere.
For instance, five years ago players like Palin, tea-party guru Glenn Beck, and tea-party "godfather" Rick Santelli from CNBC were on the cusp of powering a grassroots movement to retake the Republican Party and the country. Beck drew huge cable audiences on Fox News while weaving dark tales of Obama deception, Santelli helped inspire patriot rallies across the country, and Fox favorite Palin surfed political celebritydom and eyed a possible White House run. They represented a new and different brand of media agitators who didn't take the traditional paths to the masses.
But today they stand deflated. In fact, as the next campaign season looms, all three appear to be vanishing in the media's rear-view mirror.
Their decline in some way mirrors the popular decline of the tea party itself. While it has successfully altered the conversation within the Republican Party (see 2013's government shutdown), tea-party candidates now often struggle to break through, and a recent attempt to tap into mass angst via a Washington, D.C., rally ended in an embarrassing failure.
Fox News, of course, played a powerful role in creating the anti-Obama tea-party movement in 2009 with its endless hyping of rallies and causes. But Fox News long ago seemed to shed its insurgent, tea-tarty affiliation and return to its traditional role of serving as the media equivalent of the Republican National Committee.
Palin parted ways with Fox in January 2013. She returned as a contributor later that year, but her profile has remained dimmed at the channel.
Like Palin, Beck also flamed out at Fox. And his demise began on a specific date: July 28, 2009, when the host called Obama a "racist" with "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." The comment, as well as the host's complete lack of remorse, sparked one of the largest and most successful advertising boycott campaigns in television history. By 2011 Beck was off Fox News.
Between 2009 and 2011, though, Beck generated some huge ratings and became the tea-party point person in America. The peak came in August 2010, with Beck's Restoring Honor rally in Washington, D.C. From The New York Times:
An enormous and impassioned crowd rallied at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this weekend, summoned by Glenn Beck, a conservative broadcaster who called for a religious rebirth in America at the site where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech exactly 47 years earlier.Among the featured speakers that day was Sarah Palin.
Since leaving Fox, Beck has lined his pockets as few media personalities have. But in terms of being a driving force in American, or even Republican, politics, his right-wing power-broker status has clearly waned. (Last year Beck announced that Sen. Mitch McConnell's tea-party challenger was "called by God" to run. The challenger eventually lost by 25 points.)
As for CNBC's Rick Santelli? Back in February 2009, responding to Obama's plan to rescue bad mortgages, Santelli delivered a caustic, taunting harangue ("President Obama, are you listening?") about the unfairness of Americans having to bailout "loser" homeowners. Santelli suggested Obama's plan would lead the country toward communism.
Since then, Santelli has blamed Obama for employment numbers and generally warned about the economic abyss the president was supposedly guiding the country towards. Obviously, the flood of positive economic indicators in recent weeks and months has undercut most of Santelli's attacks.
As for the Obama administration's plan to help rescue mortgages, the one that prompted Santelli's clarion call for a tea-party revolution? (A) The bailout program was always wildly popular with Americans, and (B) by 2014 the bailout program had earned a profit for the government.
Like Beck with his "racist" undoing, Santelli also suffered a flashpoint. His came last July, when Santelli's CNBC colleague Steve Liesman had had enough of the chronic misinformation:
It's impossible for you to have been more wrong, Rick. Your call for inflation, the destruction of the dollar, the failure of the U.S. economy to rebound. Rick, it's impossible for you to have been more wrong. Every single bit of advice you gave would have lost people money, Rick.... There is no piece of advice that you've given that's worked, Rick. Not a single one.... The higher interest rates never came. The inability of the U.S. to sell bonds never happened. The dollar never crashed, Rick. There isn't a single one that's worked for you.The clip went viral and helped lay bare the nonsensical economic mutterings of the tea-party "godfather."
For Palin the slights from former supporters this week likely sting. If it's any consolation, she isn't the only tea-party media star whose marquee has dimmed.
Follow Eric Boehlert on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EricBoehlert
Breadbaghazigate and the other GOP 'rising star' State of the Union flameouts
Because the Founding Fathers weren’t sure if this whole Experiment in Liberty thing was going to pan out — I give us a C+ so far, next time show work, America — they required the President to “from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union,” thereby giving Congress the option of ‘going in another direction,’ like they always say when an NFL coach gets fired. Since we always more or less do what the framers of the Constitution say — with exception of ‘well-regulating’ fully automatic high-powered death-dealng muskets — the President each year gives a State of the Union speech which is an exercise in theater and gamesmanship and little else.
The president doesn’t have to go to Congress and actually speak; he could just as easily send them an email or post something on his Facebook page which they could either like, share, or even unfriend him after posting a picture of the White House lawn turned into a watermelon patch… if that person happens to be Steve Scalise.
The whole speaking before Congress ritual is awful and awkward and full of stops and starts marred by wild partisan applause and, like a kindergarten graduation ceremony, it is totally unnecessary. Seriously, it’s not a major accomplishment to graduate from frigging kindergarten…unless you’re a Palin. Let’s stop having those. Kindergarten graduation ceremonies and more Palins. All in favor…?
What is even worse than the president’s speech is the obligatory response from the opposing party generally delivered to dead air without even a laugh or applause track to liven it up and let Fox News viewers when something pithy has been uttered.
During the Obama administration– or as it is known on Fox: “The Illegal Occupation of America by the Socialist Black Panther Muslim Homosexual Married To A Wookie, also too #Ebola #Benghazi #AmericanSniper #TCOT “– the SOTU responses have run the gamut from forgettable to “Let’s just pretend this never happened.”
Much is made of the lucky guy or gal who is tabbed to give the address, although I’m beginning to think it has devolved into something along the lines of a frat hazing or possibly thrust upon the person who loses a drinking game. You have a choice: either give the response or we get to draw dicks on your face and then you have to go to the mall and hang out in front of the Victoria’s Secret store on Friday night. Your choice.
Let’s run down the memorable and not so memorable GOP SOTU responses and the people — “rising stars,” all of them –who have made them during these dark years that have led us to this horrible state of lower unemployment numbers, a rebounding economy, expanded healthcare, and $2 gas.
2009 presented us with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a “rising star” in the GOP, who proceeded to give a widely mocked “aw shucks, won’t you be my neighbor” performance; speaking as if he was addressing a group of suspicious three-year-olds who couldn’t figure out if he was white or black or what the hell. Immediately compared to 30 Rock’s amiable goof Kenneth the page, Jindal saw his political stock plummet. Since that time Jindal, who is widely regarded as being smart, has retreated into bitterness and bile and stupidity and seems to be auditioning for a future gig as a Fox News idiot. If only he had blonde hair to toss…
In 2010 we were treated to blow-dried meat puppet Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virgina, another GOP “rising star” with presidential or vice-presidential aspirations. So, how’d that go? Nobody remembers and it really doesn’t matter now because he’s going to prison and so is his wife.
2011 was the year of GOP “golden boy,” blue-eyed granny-snuffing Rep. Paul Ryan. He ran as Romney’s running mate in 2012, and couldn’t even deliver his own hometown to the ticket, losing it by 25 points. Wah wah waaaaah - sad trombone. Ryan is now the only Republican, living or dead, not running for President in 2016.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels landed the 2012 gig. Who? Mitch Daniels… D..a..n..i..e..l..s. Mitch. C’mon, man! Mitch Daniels…. him. That guy. Okay, anyway, his response didn’t launch Mitchmentum and the only thing he is president of these days is Purdue University. He is also the whitest white man in America and makes Mitt Romney look like Lil Wayne. Also, too: Mitch was a former “rising star.”
2013 really saw the GOP hit their stride when “
2014 was the Republican Year of the Woman, and “rising star” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers was selected from the GOP’s slim binder of women. Not wishing to make it look like McMorris was an awful mother who had abandoned her children to a Mexican maid while she went to work in an office, the GOP staged her in a living room that that can best be described as “grandma chic.” She was pleasant enough in a “your mom is kind of cool, I guess” kind of way. But as she complimented America for trying so hard, you got the feeling viewers were waiting for her to break out the bowl of sliced oranges for everyone to nibble on while receiving their ‘Democracy Participantion’ ribbons. Okay, everyone in the van now and let’s go to Hardees for ice cream shakes!
Speaking of which…
Pig-castrating, Hardee’s biscuit-maker Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa — your new Michelle Bachmann with the crazy laugh in place of the crazy eyes — gave it her best shot last night. Ernst — who is yet another ‘rising star‘ –was an inspired choice because, as Charlie Pierce notes, she stays on script and doesn’t go rogue and let her Agenda 21 “the UN is gonna grab our guns and golfcourses” off the leash in public. Get the loony laugh under control, and maybe we can call good enough, ‘great enough.’ But then whoever wrote her speech had to stray into “I was a poor white girl who had to ride the school bus wearing bread bags on my feet” territory and everyone was hunh, what? Redolent of tying onions on our belts “which was the style at the time,” bread bags has become Ernst’s version of Rubio’s watergate.
It’s really a no-win and bridge to nowhere situation for anyone who gets picked to deliver the SOTU response because everyone is now hate-watching it like they do those terrible NBC live musicals, looking for something to mock and then the slightest derp moment gets magnified all out of proportion and can become a defining moment in a politician’s career.
You Betcha I Was Wrong About Sarah Palin
The Daily Beast
Has conservative genuflection at the altar of Sarah Palin finally come to a halt?
In case you missed it, her speech in Iowa this week was not well received on the right. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York called it a “long, rambling, and at times barely coherent speech” and National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke said she slipped into self-parody. And there’s more. The Examiner’s Eddie Scarry, for example, contacted several conservative bloggers who were once Palin fans, but have since moved on.
But here’s my question… what changed?
Yes, in 2008, Sarah Palin delivered one of the finest convention speeches I’ve ever heard (trust me, I was there), but she hasn’t exactly been channeling Winston Churchill ever since. Remember her big speech at CPAC a couple of years ago? You know, the one where she took a swig out of a Big Gulp and said of her husband Todd: “He’s got the rifle, I got the rack.” Not exactly a great moment in political rhetoric.
So why is anyone surprised when, this weekend, she said: “‘The Man,’ can only ride ya when your back is bent?”
Demosthenes, she is not, but there’s nothing new about Palin’s penchant for populism or lowbrow rhetoric. What does feel new is that she has finally gotten around to roundly losing conservative opinion leaders. (OK, this has been a long time coming. In 2011, Conor Friedersdorf noted that the hard right was skewering Palin, and that Kathleen Parker had been vindicated. And as recently as this past April, I wondered whether it was finally safe for conservatives to criticize her publicly. But it does feel like we have finally reached a tipping point where criticizing Palin isn’t only acceptable for conservative opinion leaders, it’s now almost expected.)
Before we go any further, I should confess that I might be one of the most unusual Palin critics you’ll ever encounter. Before most Americans had ever heard of her, I was among the few suggesting she’d make a fine veep pick. My intern at the time even started the Draft Sarah Palin movement. A few years later, I edited a book of Palin quotes, titled The Quotable Rogue.
I defended her when some on the left said she was to blame for Gabby Giffords’ shooting, and recently defended her daughter Bristol when the press laughed at her for being a victim of what certainly sounded like a physical assault. (For what it’s worth, I’ve also criticized Palin when I thought she was wrong.) This is all to say that I’m not reflexively anti-Palin; I don’t suffer from Palin Derangement Syndrome.
In fairness, Palin was once a reform-minded governor who enjoyed an 88 percent approval rating. But something happened on the way to Des Moines. I suspect the most vicious attacks (especially the “Trig Truther” stuff) radicalized her and embittered her, but I also suspect she also took the easy way out. Instead of going back to Alaska after the 2008 defeat, boning up on the issues, continuing her work as governor, and forging a national political comeback, she cashed in with reality-TV shows and paid speaking gigs.
This isn’t an original or new observation, In fact, back in July 2009, I wrote: “The tragedy of Sarah Palin’s recent press conference announcing her resignation as governor of Alaska flows from the sense that so much potential has been wasted.”
The trouble with taking the easy way out is that it doesn’t last forever. The people who truly last in this business don’t rely on shortcuts or good looks or gimmicks; they survive on work ethic, wit, and intellect. (That’s why, no matter how grandiose he gets, Newt Gingrich will always have a gig. Newt will always be interesting, because he will always have something to say—something to contribute.)
Ironically, Palin has also been harmed by virtue of having created a generation of competitors and replacements. Some of the candidates she endorsed—take Sen. Ted Cruz, for example—are smarter, more relevant versions of her. Why book Palin when you can get Cruz or Paul or Michele Bachmann or… Ben Carson? What is her competitive advantage or unique selling proposition?
My own career as an author may serve as a microcosm. As I noted earlier, my last book was a collection of Palin quotes. My new book (out early in 2016) is called Too Dumb to Fail, and will focus on how conservatism was once a proud intellectual philosophy, but has been dumbed down over the years.
Palin has contributed to this phenomenon by playing the victim card, engaging in identity politics, co-opting some of the cruder pop-culture references, and conflating redneck lowbrow culture with philosophical conservatism.
And this makes me wonder if I might have contributed to this by boosting her—and by publicly chastising her conservative critics.
My harshest criticism was directed at conservative writers whom (I felt) prematurely attacked her during the months of September and October in the 2008 presidential campaign—and possibly even contributed to her radicalization. (In my mind, Palin changed after the 2008 loss, a shift that correlates closely with the election of Obama and the rise of the Tea Party.)
But you could argue that the conservatives who went after Palin back in ’08 have now been vindicated—regardless of their motivation. And my counterfactual argument (that Palin might have turned out better had everyone had cut her some slack in 2008) feels increasingly tenuous.
Is it possible that Kathleen Parker saw something I didn’t when she attacked Palin? I saw it as strangling the conservative baby in the crib; Parker probably saw it as snuffing out a monster.
Such is the plight of a writer; I got some stuff right, and my position was justifiable at the time, but in hindsight I regret contributing to the premature deification of Sarah Palin.
I still say she was an incredibly talented political force, but she squandered her opportunity for greatness, and instead became a fad. And it’s worth considering that maybe her early critics saw some fundamental character flaw—some harbinger of things to come—that escaped me.
It’s probably time to concede that the early critics of Sarah Palin had a point, and that they shouldn’t have been tarred and feathered and (in some cases) nearly purged from the conservative movement. I’m not excusing the vilest attacks, of course, but for a long time, there was close to zero tolerance of anything remotely critical of Palin (or, at least, even mild criticism would evoke stern rebukes), and that was wrong. And, as evidenced by the spate of articles coming from conservative venues this week, it’s also over.
by Michael Kruse
CLEARWATER, Fla.—Sitting recently on his brick back patio here, Michael Schiavo called Jeb Bush a vindictive, untrustworthy coward.
For years, the self-described “average Joe” felt harassed, targeted and tormented by the most important person in the state.
“It was a living hell,” he said, “and I blame him.”
Michael Schiavo was the husband of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead woman from the Tampa Bay area who ended up at the center of one of the most contentious, drawn-out conflicts in the history of America’s culture wars. The fight over her death lasted almost a decade. It started as a private legal back-and-forth between her husband and her parents. Before it ended, it moved from circuit courts to district courts to state courts to federal courts, to the U.S. Supreme Court, from the state legislature in Tallahassee to Congress in Washington. The president got involved. So did the pope.
But it never would have become what it became if not for the dogged intervention of the governor of Florida at the time, the second son of the 41st president, the younger brother of the 43rd, the man who sits near the top of the extended early list of likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates. On sustained, concentrated display, seen in thousands of pages of court records and hundreds of emails he sent, was Jeb the converted Catholic, Jeb the pro-life conservative, Jeb the hands-on workaholic, Jeb the all-hours emailer—confident, competitive, powerful, obstinate Jeb. Longtime watchers of John Ellis Bush say what he did throughout the Terri Schiavo case demonstrates how he would operate in the Oval Office. They say it’s the Jebbest thing Jeb’s ever done.
The case showed he “will pursue whatever he thinks is right, virtually forever,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “It’s a theme of Jeb’s governorship: He really pushed executive power to the limits.”
“If you want to understand Jeb Bush, he’s guided by principle over convenience,” said Dennis Baxley, a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives during Bush’s governorship and still. “He may be wrong about something, but he knows what he believes.”
And what he believed in this case, and what he did, said Miami's Dan Gelber, a Democratic member of the state House during Bush’s governorship, “probably was more defining than I suspect Jeb would like.”
For Michael Schiavo, though, the importance of the episode—Bush’s involvement from 2003 to 2005, and what it might mean now for his almost certain candidacy—is even more viscerally obvious.
“He should be ashamed,” he said. “And I think people really need to know what type of person he is. To bring as much pain as he did, to me and my family, that should be an issue.”
***November 10, 1984, is when they got married; February 25, 1990, is when she collapsed, early in the morning, in their apartment in St. Petersburg, for reasons that never were determined with specificity but had something to do with a potassium imbalance probably caused by aggressive dieting. Michael Schiavo woke up when he heard her fall. She was facedown, feet in the bathroom, head in the hall. He called 911. Police noted in their report “no signs of trauma to her head or face.” The ambulance raced to the closest hospital, but her heart had stopped, robbing her brain of oxygen, and the damage was catastrophic. A court named her husband her guardian that June. Her parents didn’t object. All of this was before Bush was elected. And after years of rehabilitation, of waiting for any sign of improvement and seeing none, Michael Schiavo decided to remove the feeding tube that kept his wife alive, saying she had told him and others she never would’ve wanted to be this way.
To this, Terri Schiavo’s parents objected. Bob and Mary Schindler, Catholics, argued that their daughter, also Catholic, would want to live, even so debilitated.