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IN POLITICS, cheap shots and invective are occupational hazards. But when have we seen anything to match the frenzy of rage and contempt set off by the nomination of Sarah Palin?
Virtually from the moment John McCain selected her, Palin has been under assault. There has been legitimate criticism, of course. But there has also been a gusher of slander, much of it – like the slur that she isn’t the real mother of her infant son, Trig – despicable.
For someone who has been in the national spotlight for only three weeks, Palin has been the victim of an astonishing array of falsehoods. Voters have been told that she slashed funding in Alaska for special-needs children. That she tried to ban books from Wasilla’s public library. That she was a member of the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party. That she links Saddam Hussein to the attacks of 9/11. That she backed Pat Buchanan for president. That she doesn’t want students taught about contraception. That she called the war in Iraq “a task from God.” All untrue.
Hillary Clinton’s supporters complain that coverage of her campaign was tainted by sexism, such as the Washington Post story that focused on her cleavage, or Mike Barnicle’s description of her on MSNBC as “looking like everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court.”
Obama too has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous comment – the Fox News segment that captioned a picture of his wife “Obama’s Baby Mama,” for example, and the infamous New Yorker cover showing the Obamas as terrorists in the Oval Office.
But the left’s onslaught against Palin has been of a different order of magnitude.
“Ideologically, she is their hardcore pornographic centerfold spread,” columnist Cintra Wilson wrote in Salon. “She’s such a power-mad, backwater beauty-pageant casualty, it’s easy to write her off and make fun of her. But in reality I feel as horrified as a ghetto Jew watching the rise of National Socialism.”
On the website of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, commentator Heather Mallick was even cruder. Palin appeals to “the white trash vote” with her “toned-down version of the porn actress look,” she wrote. “Husband Todd looks like a roughneck. . . What normal father would want Levi ‘I’m a [bleeping] redneck’ Johnson prodding his daughter?”
From radio talk-show host Randi Rhodes came the smutty suggestion that the governor of Alaska has an unhealthy interest in teenage boys: “She’s friends with all the teenage boys,” Rhodes told her audience last week. “You have to say no when your kids say, ‘Can we sleep over at the Palins?’ No! NO!”
The smears and sneers have been without end. One liberal congressman likened Obama to Jesus – and Palin to Pontius Pilate. A Democratic state chairman declared scornfully that Palin’s “primary qualification seems to be that she hasn’t had an abortion.” A University of Chicago professor seethed: “Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.”
The national media, meanwhile, have only further eroded what remained of their reputation for objectivity.
For months they refused to mention the infidelity of John Edwards, yet they leaped with relish onto Bristol Palin’s pregnancy. Ravenous for any negative morsel on the GOP running mate, they deployed legions of reporters to Alaska, who have produced such journalism as the 3,220-word exposé in Sunday’s New York Times that upon winning office, Palin – gasp! – fired opponents and hired people she trusted.
Yet the more she has been attacked, the more her support has solidified. In the latest Fox News poll, Palin’s favorable/unfavorable ratio is a strong 54-27. She is named by 33 percent of respondents as the candidate who “best understands the problems of everyday life in America,” more than those naming Obama (32 percent), McCain (17), or Joe Biden (10). Among independent voters, Palin’s lead over Obama on this measure widens to 13 points. In a recent Rasmussen poll, 51 percent of voters said the press was trying to hurt Palin through its coverage, versus just 5 percent who thought it was trying to help – a 10-1 disparity.
Millions of Americans, not all of them conservative, instinctively identify with Palin. That is why the left’s scorching assault, so ugly and unhinged, is backfiring. The longer it goes on, the more it undermines the Democratic ticket – and the more support it builds for McCain, and his refreshingly normal running mate.
By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist / September 17, 2008