Conservative pundit Sarah Palin made a cute, sporting little cameo on Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary show this weekend – winking at her own disastrous 2008 vice-presidential run, which was memorably skewered at the time by SNL’s Tina Fey. In the bit on Sunday night, Palin piped up during a Q&A with Jerry Seinfeld to ask, “Just curious, Jerry, how much do you think [SNL producer] Lorne Michaels would pay me if I were to run in 2016 with Donald Trump as my running mate?”
“I don’t think there’s a number too big,” Seinfeld replied.
Har har. Cute! See, Fey’s Palin impression was a big hit for the show back in 2008, got marvellous ratings, and will long be remembered as a seminal SNL moment – but not, as one might think, because Sarah Palin was some wacky, harmless goofball destined to be a delightful footnote in the annals of election history. No. Nope.
No. People loved those Tina Fey/Sarah Palin sketches because Sarah Palin is a terrifying, anti-intellectual, anti-choice, gun-toting ideologue who came within a hair’s breadth of one of the most powerful political offices in the world, a dystopian potentiality that could have tangibly affected the lives of literally billions of people. Watching her being flawlessly lampooned – her hypocrisy and pomposity laid bare with a clarity that only comedy can achieve – felt like a gossamer lifeline of hope and sanity to which we could all cling.
In short: Fey’s Palin impression wasn’t important because Palin is trivial and amusing. It was important because Palin is anything but. And we need to remember that.
So please. Everyone. I am begging you. Do not participate in or encourage the aw-shucks redemption of Sarah Palin – or any other unrepentant nightmare person, for that matter. She does not deserve it. She is the same person she was in 2008 (though seemingly even more desperate and eager to pander) and she is still actively trying to make the world worse.
Here is a quick refresher on Sarah Palin’s greatest hits, for those who may have forgotten: she opposes abortion in every circumstance – even rape and incest – unless the mother’s life is in danger, in which case she concedes that an adult woman might qualify as a human being. She supported legislation to require parental consent for underage abortion in Alaska. She wrote in her book, America By Heart , that “the new feminism is telling women they are capable and strong” – her subtext being, of course, that the old feminism fosters weakness in women by empowering them to speak out against injustice (you know, like weak people do).
Palin’s entire career rests on the back of her favourite false dichotomy: “Real Americans” (rural, incurious, “traditional” voters afraid of big government and change of any kind) v fake Americans (an ill-defined amalgam of liberal elites, immigrants, abortion-hungry feminazis, people who read publications, Washington fat cats, Wall Street grifters and Katie Couric). In an interview during the 2008 election season, not only could she not cite any news sources that she reads, she was unable to name any magazine or newspaper at all .
She argued on Fox News that America should “go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant – they’re quite clear – that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the ten commandments. It’s quite simple.” She has repeatedly implied that President Obama is a terrorist and/or “pals around” with terrorists . She compared spending on social programs to slavery (only this time, it’s middle-class white Americans who are the slaves) – and said that climate change is the new eugenics . Last month, she let her child stand on a dog .
I confess, I fell into a similar trap when it came to George W Bush’s burgeoning painting career, particularly when he left his Putin’s misshapen face period and entered his kitty cat with an attitude problem phase. There’s something so appealing about a redemption story; a good sport, a comeback, a kitty painting – maybe it feeds some Pollyanna delusion that these awful, oppressive people (and, by extension, the world) aren’t so bad after all. Unfortunately, chasing that myopic positivity lets bad people off the hook.
Yes, I know the SNL bit was just a joke, and Palin was a surprisingly good sport about it (much like shooting wolves from a helicopter, another favorite Palin pastime). And that’s not to say we can’t laugh at Sarah Palin. We should laugh at her.
She’s both absurd and sinister, and laughter is a powerful weapon. (That’s also not to say that she deserves the kind of violent, gendered harassment levelled at her by so many opponents. She doesn’t).
But Sarah Palin comes down so aggressively on the worst possible side of every issue, it’s hard to believe she isn’t just an extremely savvy, high-profile, for-profit troll. And the difference between Palin and your average rightwing internet troll, is that she manages to get herself on TV, where she can spout these ideas to millions and millions of people. When I watch Palin goofing around on SNL, I see teenage girls being denied abortions (after years of abstinence-only education, of course). I see women convincing themselves that it is somehow “capable and strong” to be a doormat for the status quo. I see gay Americans being denied access to their partners’ death beds. I see regression and grief. I have no interest in laughing with her – only at her.
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