Bristol Can't Dance--But Sarah Can Lead for Both of Them

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 11/29/2010, 12:38 p.m.

Bristol Palin can't dance. And anyone with a pair of eyes and two feet that can move can see that, and that certainly includes the Dancing with the Stars judges. But everybody by now knows that Bristol's final-four crash is not and never has been about dancing. It's also not about the naked, crude, tweeter, blogger, Operation Bristol, Tea Party-driven, flood-the-phone-lines campaign to micromanage Bristol to victory. A Bristol final-four placement is about politics, dollars, intimidation and fear. Bristol's ringmaster, Sarah Palin, embodies all four.

The first tip that Mother Palin could be useful to sway ratings and audience curiosity came on the Oprah show. During the presidential campaign, Oprah flatly refused a Palin guest appearance on her show. A year later, that changed.

Though Oprah was still the reigning queen of daytime TV talk, her ratings had plunged. The estimated 7 million who view her show was about half of the number that watched it a decade ago. She was in the midst of negotiating to move her show to cable TV, which she'll do next year.

Palin had a much-buzzed-about book, Going Rogue, and a media that lapped up every inanity out of her mouth, and turned it into instant news. A Palin appearance on Oprah suddenly made ratings and dollar sense.

This was reason enough to grab at her for the show, but Oprah needed to pay back door homage to Palin for another reason. Though it sticks in the craw of millions of Palin loathers to admit it, she has a following, a big and impassioned one. She has greater national political name recognition than any other Republican.

She energizes and rallies conservatives, and polls say far more Americans self-identify themselves as conservatives than liberals, let alone progressives. Palin's motherly, family-values, fundamentalist pitch fascinates even those who personally disdain her. This includes much of the Palin obsessed media.

Her political ineptness and naivete smacks of a bumbling political innocence that far from being a liability endears her to throngs. This has made her a hot ticket item on the media and lecture circuit.

For a time, GOP regulars and political pundits laughed her off as a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2012. She's still a favored running joke of late night comics. But this has just endeared her to many as a scorned mother non-politician, and that served to keep her public stock and appeal high, even though her negative ratings continue to freefall.

The modest string of winning candidates that she endorsed during the midterms, the Tea Party-driven GOP House takeover, and the constant media and public tease that she not only will run for the presidency but the delusion that she can actually win it has done the job.

It's made her not just a media darling, and a Tea Party crowd pleaser, but made her an intimidating presence. A Palin tweet, dig, knock, or a cross eyed look at anyone in the media or political arena that crosses her is guaranteed to set off a mild tremor of panic and concern among the alleged Palin offender.

Her race card play silly dredge up of the totally debunked quip that Michelle Obama allegedly made during the campaign that questioned her patriotism is a case in point. The leak of that passage from her new book America by Heart in which she attacks Michelle for the erroneous quote got headline play and riled up thousands. This is all calculated to reinforce Palin's star power and mystique. And it's worked.

Bristol's club footed twirls on Dancing is the textbook example of this. The critics that slough off or mock the Tea Party orchestrated campaign to keep Bristol in the hunt for Dancing's top prize as more Tea Party goofiness badly misses the point. It's precisely the Palin mix of fascination, sensationalism, intimidation, and political calculation that have come together to make Bristol Palin suddenly a very real possibility to win the big prize.

But whether she actually wins or not is irrelevant. She's already won by getting where she's gotten.

Her win is warning that the Sarah Palin dance routine has traumatized the GOP mainstream, revved up a Tea party-influenced GOP House that's ready, willing and etching for a fight with Democrats, Obama, and any wavering Republicans, and a media that can't get enough of Palin. This is a painful dance that we'll be seeing a lot more of long after Bristol's a faint memory on Dancing. Yes, Bristol can't dance, but her mother can,and that's our loss.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson