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Sarah Palin's Brain

Anyone looking for further evidence that Bill Kristol is auditioning for the role of Sarah Palin's political enabler--beyond his deadening drumbeat of "Sarah is awesome!" columns in the Times--can find plenty of it in Jane Mayer's New Yorker piece on the Alaska governor's unlikely veep rise:

The most ardent promoter, however, was Kristol, and his enthusiasm became the talk of Alaska’s political circles. According to [GOP activist Paulette] Simpson, Senator Stevens told her that “Kristol was really pushing Palin” in Washington before McCain picked her. Indeed, as early as June 29th, two months before McCain chose her, Kristol predicted on “Fox News Sunday” that “McCain’s going to put Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, on the ticket.” He described her as “fantastic,” saying that she could go one-on-one against Obama in basketball, and possibly siphon off Hillary Clinton’s supporters. He pointed out that she was a “mother of five” and a reformer. “Go for the gold here with Sarah Palin,” he said. The moderator, Chris Wallace, finally had to ask Kristol, “Can we please get off Sarah Palin?”

The next day, however, Kristol was still talking about Palin on Fox. “She could be both an effective Vice-Presidential candidate and an effective President,” he said. “She’s young, energetic.” On a subsequent “Fox News Sunday,” Kristol again pushed Palin when asked whom McCain should pick: “Sarah Palin, whom I’ve only met once but I was awfully impressed by—a genuine reformer, defeated the establishment up there. It would be pretty wild to pick a young female Alaska governor, and I think, you know, McCain might as well go for it.” On July 22nd, again on Fox, Kristol referred to Palin as “my heartthrob.” He declared, “I don’t know if I can make it through the next three months without her on the ticket.”

It worth recalling that before Kristol achieved media ubiquity as Weekly Standard editor, Fox News commentator, and Pinch Sulzberger's Worst Mistake, he was best known for having been Dan Quayle's chief of staff during the first Bush presidency or, as this magazine dubbed him at the time, "Dan Quayle's Brain." Now, there's little reason to imagine that Kristol would want to give up any of his lucrative media gigs. But if you believe the people Scott Horton has been talking to, he sees Palin as a blank slate, a charismatic but unformed political figure who could be an effective messenger for the tenets of neoconservatism, just as soon as she's been taught them. 

This is, after all, the dream of any would-be political guru: Find the shallow but appealing vessel into which your can pour your hard-won political wisdom, then claim credit for your creation. Kristol had decidedly limited luck doing this with Quayle; Karl Rove, by contrast, was essentially hailed as the political mind of our time for performing a similar role with the late-blooming George W. Bush. (Bush's Brain is the title of both a Rove biography and a documentary.)

By contrast, strategists who work for self-evidently gifted politicans never get anywhere near the credit. James Carville and Dick Morris (among others) certainly got career boosts from their associations with Bill Clinton, but no one ever imagined they invented him. Likewise, the Davids--Axelrod and Plouffe--may have run a nearly flawless campaign for Barack Obama, but no one imagines his "brain" is anyone's but his own. Sarah Palin, by contrast--well, Kristol won't be the only GOP handler eager to play Henry Higgins to her Eliza Doolittle:


--Christopher Orr