The first time Sarah Palin came to Philadelphia as a national figure, back in 2008, she went to a Flyers game and got booed. Loudly, magnificently booed. In retrospect, it’s difficult to believe anybody expected a different reaction: Philly sports fans had a national reputation to uphold—booing is what we do!—and in any case, this city in 2008 was always going to be Barack Obama’s town. Palin, then John McCain’s vice-presidential candidate, never had much of a chance for a warm welcome, did she?
Well, Palin is coming back to town. And this time she’s sticking to safer confines.
Specifically, she’ll be at a fundraiser at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, a $150-a-head dinner that follows a special mass by Archbishop Chaput to celebrate the life of Terri Schiavo, the poor, unfortunate Florida woman who became the center of a family battle—and ultimately, a national debate—over whether she should be allowed to die after collapsing into a vegetative state.
Which makes sense. If you’ve listened to Palin lately, the notable thing about her is that she has absolutely nothing new to say about the issues facing the nation. Did you see her speech to a conservative political conference last month? It was the world’s angriest Jay Leno monologue, full of tired one-liners against the president that were tired the last time she used them.
So of course she’s latched onto Terri Schiavo. Next up, we can probably expect her to weigh in against the Panama Canal Treaty.
What’s interesting is that Palin would so closely re-embrace the Schiavo issue—one that really was a turning point for the modern GOP. You’ll recall what happened back in 2005: Even though courts ruled again and again that Schiavo’s husband was acting within her wishes to cease life support after she became vegetative, Republicans at the state and national levels kept jumping into the case with new laws—written specifically for the Schiavo case—meant to preserve her life. President George W. Bush even interrupted his vacation and flew back to Washington to sign one of those bills.
It was a transparent pander to the party’s pro-life base. And when combined with the disasters that were Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War, the GOP’s aura of competence as the “daddy” party was shattered, replaced by a reputation for rage and fecklessness. It still hasn’t entirely recovered.
The good news for the rest of us: If this is the cause Sarah Palin is associating herself with these days, it means she’s not a serious candidate for president any more. Her fan base, it appears, has been reduced to that small rump of the Republican base so iron-deficient that it can only survive with a steady diet of bloody red meat.
That’s not enough to win elections. Unfortunately, though, it’s apparently enough to keep Palin on the road in perpetuity, a sideshow distratcion outside the rooms where the grown-ups are talking, forever. Maybe she’ll at least have time to take in a hockey game.