The Secret Life of Sarah Palin


Tyler Cowen has a fantasy about Sarah Palin:

Andrew Sullivan is calling Sarah Palin "Rovian." Maybe, but her first order of business has been to fool the Republican establishment, not the American people. (Read this silly AEI guy.) Her few genuine words on foreign policy indicate her positions are hardly the modern Republican norm. She is "unusual" on pot smoking and benefits for gays and juror nullification. The Republicans are underestimating her role as a Hegelian agent of world-historical change, just as the Democrats did at first.

Which narrative do you find more plausible?:

"Lovely Sarah, she's saying and doing everything we want her to. What a quick learner. How pliable she is. Remember Descartes [sic] on tabula rasa?"

"Once John and I are elected, they'll need me more than I need them."

The people who are right now the happiest may end up the most concerned. For better or worse, they're about to lose control of their movement.

Needless to say, Cowen's evidence for this theory is thin. But I understand where he's coming from. There's just enough curious wrinkles in Palin's resume—her apparent support for jury nullification, her friendly relations with the Alaskan Independence Party, her roots in the Mat-Su Valley—to let a libertarian dream that the unvetted vice president will have a secret agenda, if that's the sort of dream you're predisposed to have. And why wouldn't you be so predisposed? There's a longstanding cultural myth that an honest, authentic person will come to power accidentally and enact sweeping, benign reforms. This might not happen very frequently in real life, but it happens in the movies all the time.

I'm all for film-fueled reveries. But I hope this sort of thinking doesn't lead anyone to actually vote for John McCain's ticket. Even if we set aside the question of whether Palin really has a hidden agenda, such a strategy would be troublingly passive; when a movement is reduced to hoping for a deus ex machina, there's a fundamental sense in which it has given up. We're in bad shape if our plan to expand American liberties owes more to the plot of Dave than to any hard-nosed political calculations.