If Sarah Palin were to smoke a joint while piloting a flying saucer to Cuba, evidence suggests that more than one third of America would approve.
That's not because Palin is especially popular. She isn't. Last month, 71 percent of Americans surveyed for a CBS News poll said they did not want to see Palin run for president and 41 percent said that they had a negative opinion of her. Only 26 percent viewed her positively.
Given all of Palin's ink and tube time, that is pretty sketchy. But the fact of the matter is that more Americans favor legalizing marijuana (41 percent) than favor Palin.
More Americans have a favorable view of Cuba (38 percent) than of Palin.
And more Americans believe in UFOs (34 percent) than think Palin should sit in the Oval Office.
Professional politicians and news executives consider legalizing pot and normalizing relations with Cuba to be marginal issues. (Nobody has ever accused the political class — or the corporate monopolies that control mainstream media — of being forward-looking. As for negotiating with beings from outer space, we'll leave that to the tea partiers to sort out.) Yet these marginal issues enjoy an average favorability of 38 percent, making them 12 points more popular than Palin.
Does that mean Palin should fire up a bone, hop into her spaceship, and hightail it to Havana? One can only dream. Sarah in the sky toking away would at least be newsworthy. Talk about woman bites dog.
But when Palin told Fox News several days ago that she would consider a run for the White House, television news took her seriously indeed. When Palin shimmies, assignment editors shake. And why not? Like hurricanes, blizzards, and other natural disasters, Palin makes for good TV.
For all the Republicans' bellyaching about the media's liberal bias, television has served them exceedingly well.
That's because television is an essentially passive medium. The short clips demanded by commercial TV rob events of context. It is less about what subjects say than what viewers see. No context means little understanding. It is not called the idiot box for nothing.
The tube favors Palin with extreme prejudice. The intelligence deficit most television promotes is tailor-made for Palin's peculiar gifts. She may not be in Jay Leno's class as a scripted performer, but she convincingly plays her role as a trailer-park mom from the tundra. ("How's that hopey, changey stuff working out for ya?")
There is no doubt Palin is adept at delivering a zinger. But she tanks in extended interviews, which demand evidence of thought. Even with a friendly questioner like Fox News' Chris Wallace, she can't cut the blubber. This, however, makes little difference. Palin gives good sound bites.
Here's the scary question: is Palin educatable? The neoconservatives who brought us the war in Iraq and the economic meltdown are banking on it.
In June 2007, during a promotional cruise for the right-wing Weekly Standard, the neocon establishment identified Palin as a spear carrier. Editor William Kristol, the new godfather of the Ivy League division of the conservative mafia, helped convince Republican presidential candidate John McCain to make Palin his running mate.
Since the defeat of Cranky and Clueless, the neocons have been trying to salvage their investment, tutoring Palin with a steady stream of issue papers and briefings.