Why Sarah Palin should have just let it go with Martin Bashir

Paul Goldman Former Chairman, Democratic Party of Virginia
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Whoops, there it is: Sarah Palin’s fear of enslavement to the Chinese may actually be true. “Don’t wish for something, you just might get it” is a paraphrase of the often-cited Chinese proverb. The former GOP vice presidential nominee had called on MSNBC to cancel Martin Bashir’s talk show. Bashir was, at the time, serving as the conscience of the network, striking fear into those who defied political correctness.

Not since King George has a Brit been so brash. Leaving aside Piers what’s-his-name, perhaps.

To no one’s surprise, a few weeks ago. Marty found something Ms. Palin said to be idiotic. Like that is new? This is the reason Roger Ailes at Fox News decided not to renew her contract, a polite way to say, to quote a great line from the movie “Moneyball,” that “she lacked confidence” at her position as political commentator. Even the Foxy conservatives had long grown tired of Palin’s woe is me conservative victimization routine.

But Marty, trying to earn his bones, as Tony Soprano might have said, couldn’t resist. Had MSNBC not left him twisting in the wind but instead at least done an Ailes-light thing — suspend him, censure him, make him kiss the right behind in Times Square after waiting an hour for a crowd to gather — Mr. Bashir would be in the same place, with a daily television talk show and no real audience. But they refused. He then apologized, hoping this would stem the political bleeding. But an apology without punishment is just spin, a pound of flesh needs to be taken, so to speak.

Since I and many others had called for him to be fired, his resigning is de facto the same thing. Give Palin credit for having the decency not to dance on his grave, which really isn’t a grave at all. Actually, it is a brilliant play by Mr. Bashir, both sincere and likely cunning. Why?

By resigning Mr. Bashir, perhaps knowingly, has put Ms. Palin into something like the Chinese Water Torture cell fancies of Houdini, who died upside inside one, at least according to the Tony Curtis movie.

To be sure, the State Department and others will fill my email box with complaints about the potential incident created by such politically incorrect references to the Chinese, who probably had nothing to do with inventing the famous trick. This is what passes for clear thinking in Foggy Bottom. At any rate, Houdini’s box apparently works as well as anything the CIA is using today, legal or illegal.

Anyway: By resigning, Bashir has now positioned himself to call for conservative networks to either censure, suspend, or fire Palin and others like her for the offensive things they are bound to say at some point in the future. Guaranteed.

Why? Because there’s money in controversy, and money in saying controversial things. Being a shock jock of political analysis is good business. It might not get you a big audience but it will get you lucrative speaking engagements.

Trust me on this one: To a yuppie who sees themself as the world’s moral conscience, but unwilling to talk a vow of poverty or celibacy, shock jockery is as good as it gets: the right to stand on a pedestal of your own making. Before his resignation, Mr. Bashir was one of many, sneering down from the left side of Mt. Olympus at the rest of us. He got good money, good face-time and much praise in his social circle. Sex, drugs and rock and roll too, I’m sure, if he’d wanted them.

But Marty lacked the actual moral gravitas to be credible, thus his quick fall from grace even on the left, by going overboard with his mockery of Palin, even though she begs to be mocked at times with her comments. He could talk the talk, but had no record of walking the walk.

Now the tables have turned. By resigning, Bashir has actually leapt up the morality scale, over MSNBC on the left and many on the right. An apology without punishment is mocking your victim. But giving up the money and face-time and social standing when not required demonstrates a certain seriousness, a certain character not often seen in the political commentary world.

I’ve got to give the man some credit: While it is easy to be cynical here, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.  He clearly wants to be taken seriously as a thoughtful commentator and thus he resigned in order to have a second chance at that.

By resigning, Mr. Bashir is saying, ‘my personal standards are higher than MSNBC, indeed higher than my critics.’ By resigning, he actually mocks his defenders on the left, but also the Palins on the right who look into the mirror and see what Roger Ailes knows isn’t true.

For all his pretensions as a yuppie moralist, Marty seems to want some old-fashioned recognition as a fearless analyst not afraid to challenge those writing the paychecks.

Have fallen on the sword, he lives to fight another day, indeed probably with Palin at some point. If he times it right, she will say something that puts her and her backers in a tough spot relative to Bashir.

“Go ahead, make my day” declared Dirty Harry. This is what Sarah Palin’s supporters were thinking upon learning Mr. Bashir had resigned. But Palin actually would have been better off if Bashir remained on the air, having weathered her calls for him to be fired. Their respective hyperbole goes hand in hand — they need each other.

Live by the tongue, die by the tongue. Her best play now? Have a personal sit-down with Bashir, and both smile for the camera, and Palin should say she believes that everyone deserves a second chance. At some point, she will find herself with the roles reversed. That’s a given. At which point, she will likely find that she too is left twisting in the wind. They both can help each other right now. It’s the smart play.