The XX Factor

Is Sarah Palin Just Playing Dumb?

What is maddening about the (d)evolution of Sarah Palin is looking back and wondering what might have been. Today in the Atlantic , Joshua Green has a profile of a smart, hard-working, gusty Republican politician from Alaska who few today would recognize as the woman who tweets “Show photo as warning to others seeking America’s destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama;it’s part of the mission.” You’re left with the impression that there must be TWO Sarah Palins, and the evil twin has the “real” Sarah hidden away under lock and key.

Green reminds us that one of Palin’s strengths in the 2008 campaign was her energy expertise, and as you read the piece, you realize it went beyond “Drill, Baby, Drill.” He talks about her takedown of Randy Ruedrich, who served as chairman of the state GOP at the same time he sat on an important oil commission, and couldn’t quite keep his two duties separated. It was a smart tactical move that helped her challenge Frank Murkowski for the governorship.

Which Sarah Palin is real? If the real Palin is the ball-busting chairwoman of an energy commission who got a fellow commissioner-and fellow Republican-fired for corruption; if the real Palin is the stubborn governor who worked with Democrats to pass legislation taxing oil companies that is now responsible for Alaska’s $12 billion surplus, then how did she become the woman who couldn’t handle simple questions from Katie Couric, who has said so many foolish things that people regularly attribute the “I can see Russia from my house,” quote to Palin herself and not Tina Fey ? It’s a lot easier to be smart and play dumb than vice versa. But even if the dumb Palin is some kind of act, it doesn’t explain the why .

One thing that I always appreciated about Palin, even as she flubbed the Couric interview, caused Republicans to hold their collective breath during her entire debate with Joe Biden (Joe Biden!), and wrote a crappy memoir , was that she at least seemed to genuinely GET average Americans. She was one of us, not someone who calculated her middle-school extracurricular activities to get her into Harvard so she could get into Yale or Oxford and then become a senator and then president, not someone who played a populist on TV but lived in a 28,000-square-foot mansion.  During the campaign, I covered a Palin rally in a small town outside of Cincinnati, and she had a remarkably diverse group of women eating out of her hand, from sensible grandmothers to career women to young mothers.

But if she’s as smart and driven as she appeared to be when she was running Alaska, then her current persona must be some kind of role she’s playing. (Why? Who knows? Maybe she enjoys the fame and notoriety and the money that comes with it, and the “dumb routine” makes the White House-and all the hard work that comes with it-an impossibility. Can we agree that having a reality show and referring to the “lamestream media” are not presidential?) What’s most disturbing, though, is that, if she is playing dumb, she’s showing her utter lack of respect, her condescension, for the very people who genuinely believe that she’s been speaking to them and for them.