Sarah Palin wants all the benefits of public life and none of the responsibilities. Unfortunately, she has access to a wide array of media to help her achieve that goal.
To an extent unique in American politics, Palin is a monologist. Her tweets, her Facebook statements (including her infamous warning about Obama's "death panel"), her opinion essays and her recent speech to an investor group in Hong Kong all have one thing is common—none affords an opportunity to ask Palin a single question.
Palin's book promises to be a similarly one-way street. When it is published, she will no doubt promote it. But the chance that she will subject herself to questions by anyone outside the League of Extraordinary Sycophants is likely zero. No real journalist will be permitted within a thousand feet of her.
Palin, of course, has a famously tough time responding to questions, which is why she answered so few of them during the 2008 campaign. That is also why she has opted to communicate using Twitter and Facebook, technological accomplices that allow her to inject herself into the public sphere without having to defend anything she says.
It has been two months since Palin used Facebook to pour kerosene on the health reform fire, charging that President Obama would deny necessary medical care to "the sick, the elderly and the disabled" and that he would employ a "death panel" to dispatch the weak. In the same statement, she endorsed a claim by Rep. Michele Bachmann that White House health policy adviser Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel "says medical care should be reserved for the nondisabled." Palin, in other words, went full throttle on the Nazi stuff.
In its analysis of Palin's statement, Politifact, the nonpartisan fact-checking site run by the St. Petersburg Times, called the Ezekiel claim "false." Countless others, including Politifact have called the "death panel" canard a lie (Politifact gave Palin a "pants on fire" rating.) Yet Palin has not defended either falsehood. And apparently no one expects her to. Across the land, from east to west and left to right, it seems understood that Sarah Palin is less accountable for her words than the average two-year-old.
Some indulge her even further. The Wall Street Journal's John Fund recently wrote that in the 2008 campaign, "Ms. Palin was booked on grueling interviews with hostile reporters."
To avoid such brutality, Palin doesn't subject herself to "grueling" questions ("what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this?") from "hostile" reporters (Katie Couric, who Mike Huckabee characterized as "extraordinarily gentle, even helpful" to Palin).
Instead, Palin simply relies on Twitter and Facebook, on speeches with no Q&A sessions and on op-ed pieces and her book. The fact that Palin uses ghost writers is not the point; just about every politician does. But unlike Palin, other politicians also expose themselves to questions. And sometimes they are even held accountable for what they say.
Republican strategist Mike Murphy contends that Palin is no threat for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012 and former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt said she'd be "catastrophic" for the party if she somehow gets it. They should know. But regardless of her political fortunes, if Palin is allowed to continue participating in public life completely free of accountability, there is a risk that she will set a template for others. A more adept, and more dangerous, politician may exploit the same strategy in the future. And then we'll really be in trouble.