Thursday, January 13, 2011

Inside the Palin Bubble.

Could the contrast have been more stark?

President Obama was, to borrow John Podhoretz's phrase, "pitch perfect" in his speech at the Memorial "service" in Tucson, Arizona. He focused on those whose lives were cut short, those whose lives were shattered, what we might learn from this searing atrocity and why it's important that we do so. The President rose to the moment with dignity and grace.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, chose to respond to the atrocity by proclaiming that she was the victim of a "blood libel," attacked by evil meanies on the television set, when there was no evidence that her actions had anything to do with the actions of the loon who committed the atrocity. Factually true enough, I would say. But who cares? And why bother even mentioning it? It couldn't be less important. It couldn't be more self-absorbed.

All presidents and all presidential candidates (announced and unannounced) live in what Richard Ben Cramer called "the bubble." It's an hermetically sealed environment which allows very few "outsiders" in and goes to great lengths to keep the number of "insiders" to a minimum. This is why such great emphasis is placed on the people around the President (who they are, what they think, what their skill sets are, etc) by the political community as a whole (including political journalists and opinion makers). The insiders "protect" the president from the hundreds and thousands of bothersome people who are clamoring to give him their ideas. The insiders control what the president reads, what he sees, who he sees. They make sure that very few people get inside the bubble for very good reason(s) and for reasons that are sometimes not so pure.

It is what it is. Once you're the president, you go with what you've got: your emotional intelligence, your political intelligence, your ability to think outside the box that the bubble people construct around you. When something terrible happens, the bubble is momentarily shattered and voters get a true glimpse of what the president is all about. Last night's glimpse of President Obama was reassuring.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, made a fool of herself. She didn't rise to the moment, she missed it completely. She used it as an occasion for self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement. She dominated the news cycle until the president spoke. She was, I suspect to her everlasting regret, "part of the story."

One suspects that the principal reason for Mrs. Palin's disastrous performance is that the people who seal her bubble are inexperienced and insular; ignorant of what national politics requires and rather too proud of that ignorance. They gave her very bad advice. That she took it reflects badly on her. It says what George Will and many others have been saying privately and publicly since she was tapped by Senator John McCain to be his running mate: she doesn't have what it takes.

This is not to say that Mrs. Palin is no longer a force in GOP politics or a player in the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination campaign. She has a strong base. In many ways, she remains the candidate of the Republican base, a formidable starting point for anyone who seeks to be the GOP standard-bearer.

But what was made clear in the last 48 hours is that Mrs. Palin will not be elected President of the United States in 2012. Out of nowhere, an atrocity focused attention on two people. The incumbent passed the test. The pretender failed, miserably.