Like a dog with a fresh bone, Democratic opinionators will not let go of Sarah Palin -- and yet they complain about a bone in their mouths. The obsession with Palin has hit new heights of absurdity with the pundits and bloggers' gleeful parsing of the former governor's comments from last weekend on the midnight ride of Paul Revere. Palin herself, as is her wont, only added fuel to the fire by complaining later that she'd been asked some kind of trick "gotcha" question when her interviewer had only asked what Palin had been doing and seeing lately. She can almost be excused for her feeling, though, since she does have a knack for turning the most innocent questions into "gotchas" with her answers. Her problem is her idiomatic way of speaking. Part of her alleged folksiness is that she actually speaks like many people do, with a constant mix of metaphors and a steady blurring of the literal with the figurative. Like many people, she appears to conflate speech with action and vice versa. Action becomes speech when it "sends a message," and speech can become action if it "fires a warning shot." Metaphor itself translates one form of action into another. Figuratively, for a simplistic mind like Palin's, Revere's ride was a warning to the British, even a warning shot -- though it is something of a stretch to equate it with ringing bells.
If Palin's history lesson sounds funny, some of the comments afterward are downright hysterical -- in any sense of the word. One of the latest is Eugene Robinson's column, a wonderful exhibition of ideological literal-mindedness. For example, Robinson huffs at Palin's interpretation of Revere's ride as a warning to the British against trying to "take American arms." He interprets her commentary as if Palin had claimed that Revere had literally set out to inform the British about American intentions to resist their troop advance. Then he condemns her for putting "some kind of Second Amendment statement" in Revere's mouth, on the premise that, because there was no Constitution and no Second Amendment in 1775, Revere could not be taking a stand against the confiscation of weapons. But it just so happens that the British were coming for the specific purpose of seizing military stores. And if Robinson thinks that no one believed in an individual right to bear arms, for self-defense or otherwise, before the Bill of Rights was ratified, then who, exactly, is shaky in the history department?
"Yes, I'm belaboring the obvious," Robinson protests, adding later that l'affaire Revere is "a small, unimportant matter." Why, then, is it the subject of an entire column when there are bigger fish to fry -- declared Republican presidential candidates like Romney, Santorum, Pawlenty, etc? Because, Robinson writes, "the incident says so much about Palin's arrogant disregard for objective fact" when "Palin demands to be seen as a big, important person in the nation's political life." But if that's what Palin demands, it's writers like Robinson who are only too happy to please her. He claims that "She is ridiculous and dangerous in equal measure," -- not the most quantifiably factual assertion itself. I agree on the ridiculous part, but the danger, I suspect, is largely in the minds of purportedly panicky pundits like Robinson. They claim to tremble at the thought that she has "enough political support to effectively hold the Republican Party hostage," claiming that Mitt Romney should have complained about her distracting the media from his campaign announcement, but hasn't because he fears her and her alleged supporters. I probably shouldn't question whether Robinson sincerely fears Palin, but you can't deny that he wants us to fear her. When he writes columns like this, however amusedly contemptuous he tries to sound, his business -- like Palin's, actually, -- is fearmongering, and that's a disservice to democracy. If American elections were about choosing the best among several options for the country's future instead of accepting a lesser evil to prevent a worse, there'd never be a Sarah Palin in American politics, and the Democrats wouldn't have to invent one.