It's almost Halloween, which means it time for tales of suspense and horror. Luckily our national politics provides us with an inexhaustible supply.
They say Halloween is when the veil between this world and the next one is at its most porous, when it's possible for the ghosts of the past to reappear and have their say again.
Well, here comes the ghost of Sarah Palin's ill-fated 2008 vice presidential run. Who would have thought the legacy of that horror tale would linger around the presidential debate podiums of 2015?
But here she is again, still rattling her chains and firing her assault weapons at the gotcha media, unable to let it go.
The man most haunted by her loud lamentations is the man who first put her on stage of course, Senator John McCain. To correct the flagging interest in his political campaign, it was McCain who uttered the magic words at the foot of a giant iceberg in Alaska, first breathing life into the folksy bespectacled candidate.
Like a lot of desperate men at the end of their tether, McCain thought he could control her, force her to do his bidding. That turned out to be vanity on his part.
Before you could ask Palin, “Which newspapers do you read?” her utter lack of experience and basic incompetence was rubbing off on the very party that had elevated her.
In America what looks good is usually thought good. It's our most dangerous national vice. Palin represents the nadir of this what looks good is good idea, because what she lacked in substance was thought to be compensated for by what she looked like when she was saying it.
This style over substance approach has had long lasting and fateful consequences for the GOP as a national brand. Instead of giving us principled positions, now they give us populist sound bites. Instead of national politics they give us reality TV. Instead of serious political candidates they give us showboats and carnival barkers.
But politics isn't entertainment. It's amazing how long it's taking them to figure that out.
Of course Fox News is filled with blowhard pundits who nightly claim their channel is the most popular in the nation. So what? That does not imply it is also the most important.
What it means is that they entertain people. That is not the same thing as informing people.
So 2008 is when the GOP lost its mind, tossing in all its chips behind a populist campaign that eventually exploded like the bomb it was, leaving them ashen-faced and stunned by their own misfortune. It's the year they ceased to function as a viable national party. They had only themselves to blame.
It's what happens when you put a partisan parrot one heartbeat away from the presidency. It's what happens when you decide that incompetence is a virtue instead of a drawback.
McCain's decision to breathe life into the incompetent Palin explains why the 2015 GOP podium is also filled with lightweights and celebrities instead of substantive experienced operatives.
It explains why Ben Carson and Donald Trump are now standing on our national stage. It explains why they're the frontrunners.
After her disastrous free-fall Palin was invited to prolong her 15 minutes on the one network that put all its faith in style over substance, Fox News. They gave her a show, they gave her a podium, they prolonged the nation’s misery and in doing so they harpooned their own party.
The era of dumbing down had demonstrably arrived. From this followed the birther movement and the Tea Party bonanza, and from this followed Trump and Carson. Now, live on stage, the monsters are devouring their own creators, and the whole world can see it.
Each time Trump loads up he shoots foes and friends alike. With his long experience as a promoter of beauty pageants, he knows how to pull a crowd and keep them gawping.
In earlier years his candidacy would have been considered the cynical branding campaign that it is, but now with the bar set so low by McCain and the GOP, he can emerge as the frontrunner in a cabinet of Halloween horrors.
In his blind pursuit of power McCain, like Dr. Faust, conjured this demon and looked on in horror as it escaped its narrow confines and stalked the land. If party elders now spit when they say his name it's because they understand the scale of the horror he has unleashed on us all.
Whoever wins the GOP nomination in 2016 and then goes on to lose the election, will know that the ghost of Sarah Palin will have been their running mate. Right into the ground.