Political satire started in prime time as Sarah Palin preempted SNL with a parody of herself at the Tea Party convention.
“How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for you?” she twinkled during a $100,000 standup (to be donated to “the cause,” destination unclear) for hundreds who paid $349 to hear her pummel Obama with one-liners about everything from bailouts to the Christmas bomber (in the war on terror, “we need a commander in chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern.”)
Her star turn on C-Span and the cable news networks, amplified by bloggers and Tweeters, brought a substantial audience to the movement of malcontent that had been marginalized by what she called “the lamestream media” until Scott Brown’s capture of Ted Kennedy’s seat brought Obama odium into the headlines.
Before Palin took the stage, its kooky roots showed in a rant about the President’s citizenship, but the perky personification of 21st century “Conservatism” tamped down the anger with her trademark cheerfulness in anointing the Tea Party as “the future of politics in America.”
As always, Palin’s upbeat string of non-sequiturs tapped into angers and resentments too deep and ugly to be openly aired directly even in today’s anything-goes culture, a strain of American animus memorialized half a century ago as the “paranoid style in American politics.”
The subject came up in 1964 when historian Richard Hofstadter gave it a name during Barry Goldwater’s run for the presidency against Lyndon Johnson:
“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds…who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority…a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.”
Half a century ago, Goldwater lost decisively when he claimed that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And…moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”
But one of his pitchmen, the actor Ronald Reagan who started out in sports-casting like Sarah Palin, later found a way to convert that zeal into a “Morning in America” campaign all the way to the White House.
Last night, Palin invoked Reagan on his 99th birthday…