Richard Nixon has been reborn -- in heels, with a pregnant unmarried daughter.
Despite the media's near-erotic obsession with Sarah Palin, conspicuously absent from the commentariat has been any chatter about the many parallels between her, and the original culture warrior Richard M. Nixon.
Yes, there are differences. So let me start with those to silence the objections in advance:
Nixon was a national figure when Eisenhower chose him, after the young anti-Communist crusader national prominence with the Alger Hiss case.
Nixon was really, really smart. He won scholarships to Harvard and Yale, but couldn't afford to go. He ended up at Duke Law School, where he was third in his class.
Nonetheless, the two of them have a creepy amount in common -- and not just because Nixon was a vice-presidential candidate on the ticket with one war hero, and Palin is filling the same attack dog role for another.
Nixon almost single-handedly created the political landscape that Palin romps in; a painfully polarized America defined by O'Reilly vs. Olbermann, your bumper sticker vs. mine, Nascar vs. NPR, arugula vs. Applebee's. It's an argument sizzlingly realized by Rick Perlstein in his recent book Nixonland.
Like Nixon, Palin draws stark lines: her paeans to the good people grown in small towns, to the pro-America part of America, is just a reiteration of Nixon's famous "silent majority."
And for both of them, the enemy of this Rockwellian American goodness is the chattering East coast elite. (Nixon's loathing goes deep; unable to attend the Ivy League, he always felt like the little boy with his face pressed against the sweet shop window the rest of his life.)
In his tapes, Nixon railed against the urban elite, with a special corner of rage reserved in his wounded heart for Jews and blacks. (The Palin tapes haven't been released yet.)
Indeed, Palin's attacks on the liberal media and those opposed to the war are eerily reminiscent of both Nixon's, and his own Vice President's. Spiro Agnew famously called them "an effete corps of impudent snobs" and "ideological eunuchs." (Well, actually it was William Safire who called them that; Agnew just delivered it.)
Like Nixon, Palin gleefully taps into fear, and is an expert demonizer. His anger boiled to the surface; hers does too, but is modulated by her everyday mom-ness. Both attract less-educated white males who share their hostility at the privileged elite.
They also have a parallel history. Nixon's first election was against Congressman Jerry Voorhis, whom he accused of being soft on communism. He next ran against Helen Gahagan Douglas for the Senate, and continued his red rantings, accusing her of being "pink right down to her underwear."
Palin's accusation that Senator Obama "pals around with terrorists" is the post-9/11 version of the Cold War charge of coddling Commies. Ayers is her Alger Hiss.
And Governor Palin also has her own equivalent of the Voorhis/Dougas smears. As Salon reported:
"Even though Palin knew that Stein is a Protestant Christian, from a Pennsylvania Dutch background, her campaign began circulating the word that she would be "Wasilla's first Christian mayor. Some of Stein's supporters interpreted this as an attempt to portray Stein as Jewish in the heavily evangelical community."
Salon goes on to provide another dirty tricks example:
"The Palin campaign also started another vicious whisper campaign, spreading the word that Stein and his wife -- who had chosen to keep her own last name when they were married -- were not legally wed. Again, Palin knew the truth, Stein said, but chose to muddy the waters. 'We actually had to produce our marriage certificate," recalled Stein, whose wife died of breast cancer in 2005 without ever reconciling with Palin."
Reports out of Alaska -- including the investigation into abuses of power regarding the firing of her brother-in-law Trooper Mike Wooten -- more than suggest a Nixonian cast to her personality: grudge-holding, a casual disregard for limits to power, seeing oneself as a victim of political persecution.
Lastly, there is the matter of a wardrobe controversy. In 1952, Nixon was dangerously close to getting tossed off the vice-presidential ticket for financial shenanigans. He saved his campaign by getting on TV and giving his famous Checkers speech, in which he celebrated his humble virtues and his wife Pat's "respectable Republican cloth coat." Governor Palin has today's equivalent: the issue of her far-from-humble $150,000 designer garb.
If Sarah Palin loses, though, I doubt if there'll be a "You Won't Have Palin to Kick Around Anymore" speech. Like Nixon, she is likely to have many political lives. And besides, the prospect of a Palin Enemies List is just too appealing. To her, and to us.