Palin In Nixonland

A perfect fit: the former governor of Alaska and Fox News form a partnership

Who saw this one coming:

Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska has signed on as a contributor to the Fox News Channel.

The network confirmed that Ms. Palin will appear on the network’s programming on a regular basis as part of a multi-year deal. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Ms. Palin will not have her own regular program, one person familiar with the deal said, though she will host an occasional series that will run on the network from time to time.

Though the article says the deal will “give her room for other pursuits,” this decision might make it harder for her to run for President in 2012 — unless, of course, the thinking is that her rapport with Fox News viewers might help her in the primaries.

It’s a perfect signing for Fox, though: they get the person who’s most popular with their core viewership, and someone whose every pronouncement is treated as big news. David Wiegel had a piece on how her Facebook posts are covered: “she is allowed to shape the public debate without actually engaging in it.” Since her semi-regular show will allow her to exist in a sealed-off world just like her Facebook page, it’s a perfect format: she’ll say something, it will be covered endlessly, and the debate will revolve around “did you hear what Sarah Palin said on Fox News?”

She has something else that makes her a perfect fit with Fox: her famous tendency to portray herself as beseiged by “elites,” who hate her for who and what she is. It’s something that has been taken up by her fans, most recently in this article that uses all kinds of dubious Jewish stereotypes to explain “Why Jews Hate Palin.” (In that article you will learn that Jewish women only admire “frumpy” women. Wha’?) This is all very much in the Richard Nixon tradition that Fox has perfected.

The Times had an article on Fox News creator Roger Ailes this weekend, a piece known mostly for its revelation that Rupert Murdoch was considering endorsing Obama (Ailes talked him out of it, and he was probably right from a business standpoint: it would have killed the Fox political brand). But the most important take-away from the piece, and any piece on Ailes, is that his whole worldview has been shaped by days working for Nixon.

Joe McGinniss, who wrote about Mr. Ailes in his 1969 book, “The Selling of the President 1968,” keeps in touch with him. “Success never made that chip on his shoulder go away,” Mr. McGinniss said. “He holds onto what he envisions to be the values of the heartland and is suspicious of people on either coast.”

The odd thing about Nixon is that he is the clear ancestor of the modern conservative movement, even though he wasn’t particularly conservative in the policy sense. His health care plan, which the Democrats foolishly rejected, was way to the left of Obama’s, and indeed Nixon was to the left of every subsequent U.S. President on domestic policy. He didn’t really seem to care much about policy at all. What was important was that chip on his shoulder, his tendency to rail — publicly and privately — against liberal elites. There was some truth in Nixon’s belief that elites looked down on him (no President until Clinton received such scornful coverage from the Beltway insiders, the “village” as they’re called). But he took the belief to extremes, and his followers believed that he had been driven from office for no better reason than spite.

Ailes has taken that idea and turned it into a network. Fox News does support the two post-Nixon pillars of the conservative movement: opposition to taxes and — as Brit Hume just demonstrated — a mixture of Christianity with conservative politics. But a lot of its programming is not about policy at all. It’s about a suspicion of elites and a feeling that the host and his audience are victims of those elites. (Again, Brit Hume is the latest poster boy here: he instantly claimed that the criticism of his Tiger Woods comments was an example of anti-Christian bigotry. The point is that the host/commentator is always the victim.) Sure, it can be silly to watch millionaires in suits portraying themselves as victims of the very elites they schmooze with after the show. But it works. It’s connected, in a way, to the commentators like Chris Matthews and the late Tim Russert, wealthy elites who pretend that they’re still working-class Joes. They’re not, but it suits them to pretend they are.