Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Teed Off in Boston

Went to a tea party this morning on Boston Common, and there was Sarah Palin, big as life, surrounded by several thousand of her idolators. Sarah was her perky, folksy self. At one point she urged us to "clutch [our] Constitution, our guns, and our religion," a memorable phrase she may utter with some frequency. This crowd--mostly middle-class-looking, middle-aged, all white-- sure liked hearing her say it.

Most of Sarah's speech, though, was keyed much lower, an almost wonkish explication of the absurd proposal to lower taxes and balance the budget at the same time. She plodded through this lesson in fantasy economics as though she had come here to Boston to show how credible, how schooled she has become since those heady big-hair days at the 2008 Republican Convention.

Still, she and her "Tea Party Express" are a rather small, even sad affair this sunny spring day on Boston Common. Fresh off her widely-quoted comparison of nuclear arms policy to a schoolyard scuffle, she seemed bent on speaking in the truisms and simplicities that betray the mediocrity of her thinking. In that way she is a lot like the early Ronald Reagan, with less able speech writers and much less competence at the microphone. A small figure on the platform, her vision seems particularly slight and myopic when she recites the nativist, American-first segment of her stump speech.

Reagan didn't stay small and provincial, though, and there is no way to be sure that Palin will either. How angry could all these well-fed white people get, anyway? What sorts of inroads will they make between now and November?

Palin bears comparison with Marine LePen, who is preparing to succeed her father (maybe) as head of France's National Front. Small-minded, racist at the core but really just identified with social groups that happen to be white, a feisty guard dog for the bypassed, the bewildered, and the besieged--Sarah, like Marine, might take a serious bite out of the American body politic in the next elections, though in my estimation (to change metaphors) she won't get the whole apple.