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Posted at 07:01 PM ET, 05/04/2011

Palin, pussyfooting, and the photo — remember when we cared?


Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin at a party after the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner last week. (JONATHAN ERNST - REUTERS)
Sarah Palin’s comment about how President Obama needs to stop pussyfooting and show the Osama bin Laden photo reminds me how irritating it was to have to care about what Sarah Palin thought.

I tried to get worked up about this statement. I really did. I squinted and pounded my fist on the desk and did everything I could think of to kick my fonts of indignation into gear. I worried that maybe I hadn’t had a big enough breakfast to get really indignant, so I ate some Cheez-Its from the vending machine and tried again. I managed to write the word “Really?” in a large, imposing font, and then I couldn’t get anything further.

It was no good. Sarah Palin is like coffee ice cream, in the sense that I gave that up once for Lent, realized I could get by without it, and stopped craving it altogether.

I almost miss those Palin-rich days. Type “Palin” and you’d get an instant surge of lightning from your fingertips into the keyboard. You’d feel that you were doing something easy, yet important. She might run for president, you reminded yourself, and then you’d be on record noting that refudiate was a silly word and not at all like Shakespeare. And it was important. People were Googling her.

But now, who cares? The number of news references to and searches for Palin has been plummeting since January, when the Huffington Post had some feature labeled ‘Sarah Palin revealed.’

She’s just a freelance provocateur looking for work.

“Show photo as warning to others seeking America’s destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama;it’s part of the mission,” she tweeted Wednesday.

My default response to anything Sarah Palin did was once to run and do the exact opposite and worry about justifying it afterward. But this could be unsafe. After spending several days trying to decide what the opposite of clubbing salmon to death might be (hugging Dennis Kucinich?) I had to give it up.

I thought her tweeting about the photo might add clarity. I should have known better. There’s a nuanced debate to be had here — and Palin has deposited an unnuanced baggie that places her outside of it. It’s almost as if she’s not even trying any more.

Showing a gruesome photo will do little to deter people who are already demonstrably willing to die for this hideous cause. And no one would call this “pussyfooting” or “politicking.” This photo question comes down to the more serious problem of what conspiracy theories and movements like birtherism have done to our national capacity for belief.

In cases like this, I’d say that the president’s word is good enough for me. But birtherism has practically ruined that statement for good. (Try to say, “The president’s word is good enough for me,” without it sounding ironic. It’s harder than it used to be!)

But it’s true that the narrative that has emerged about the death so far has been more contradictory and confusing than one might have liked, and the picture might have helped allay some doubts.

Still, these days, keeping a picture under wraps is generally accepted as the best call — at least, if Brett Favre’s awkward PSA is to be believed. This case is admittedly a bit different, but it’s hard to see what the gain might be. I agree with Ari Fleischer when he says that those who doubt will not be satisfied by the picture either, and the rest of us know that Navy SEALs don’t miss.

So Palin’s response seems more blatantly like a cry for attention than usual. Does she sense that the magic has gone out of her relationship with the lamestream media? I know that when her aides were very nearly complaining about the lack of coverage, something had to be wrong. But I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten.

But maybe this answers another time-honored query. If Sarah Palin makes an unconstructive contribution to the debate on a national issue and nobody’s listening, does it makes a sound? Yes.

But does it matter?

By  |  07:01 PM ET, 05/04/2011

 
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