Christopher Lamb is a bit disappointed that Sarah Palin decided not to throw her hat into the 2012 Republican presidential nominee ring. While it could have been monumentally precarious for our country, it at least could have moved copies of the College of Charleston professor’s 2011 book, The Sound and Fury of Sarah Palin, a 179-page work tearing down the “politician” who was the butt of so many of 2008’s best jokes. Fortunately, he’s willing to take the financial hit.
Still, Lamb was surprised by the famous hockey mom’s decision. The amped-up GOP political environment is just crazy enough these days that Palin would have made a perfect potential candidate. But that might be exactly why she didn’t run (besides, you know, her financial commitments to cable television). With other contenders promising moon bases and creating 9-9-9 plans, she wouldn’t have been able to distinguish herself from the rest of the nutcases.
With a book like The Sound and Fury under his belt, you’d think that Lamb taught political science courses, but he’s actually a part of the communications department at the college. One of his special topics classes is called the Editorial Cartoon in America. That particular form of journalism plays a large role in The Sound and Fury; the chapters of the book — copies of which Lamb will be signing at Blue Bicycle Books (420 King St.) on Sat. Aug. 25 from 1-3 p.m. — are embellished with illustrations mocking the woman who came so close to being vice president.
When Lamb grew up in Dayton, Ohio, the city had two newspapers and two of the best editorial cartoonists in the country. “As a kid, you’re attracted to the cartoon, but an editorial cartoon is kind of like a comic strip that’s gone to college,” he says. “It’s a lot smarter. It’s a lot more complex. It can be more biting. You’re not going to read Charlie Brown and say wow or spit out your coffee, but a good editorial cartoon — it just hits you in the gut.” So Lamb grew up to write his master’s thesis and PhD about editorial cartooning, the latter of which turned into the book Drawn to Extremes: The Use and Abuse of Editorial Cartoons.
Nowadays, he gets most of his cartoons online. In some ways, technology has made the process richer. Lamb can go to the website of one of those childhood dailies and see what they have, or there’s Daryl Cagle’s blog on nbcnews.com, which puts up dozens a day. At the same time, there’s too much going on, Lamb thinks, and today’s generation just doesn’t appreciate this art form quite like his did. But at least there’s Jon Stewart; Lamb thinks you’re no worse off getting your news from the comedian than from CNN. “And you’re certainly further along than if you get your news from Fox.”
Before you write Lamb off as some typical whack-job liberal elitist, keep in mind that he was Republican until well into his 20s, and he still has a lot of friends who consider themselves moderate Republicans — or at least they did, until they became independents because of Sarah Palin. As Lamb says, quoting famed conservative intellectual William F. Buckley, the former Alaskan governor helped separate “the Right from the kooks.”
“Palin’s great contribution to politics is she did that,” he explains. “Once Palin came on to the scene, all the Rights scattered from her and all the kooks stepped in line, and so she was able to somehow almost split the atom. She was able to split these two different kinds of conservatives, and the more thinking conservatives were just running for the hills and aghast, and the Far Right saw her as a messiah.” And he thinks she saw herself as one too.
Nevertheless, Lamb doesn’t believe most people will ever take Palin seriously, because she doesn’t take herself seriously, and she doesn’t take politics seriously. A Fox News gig or reality show seem more like natural callings for her instead of higher office, places where Palin can say utterly nonsensical things and people will still cheer her. Though her endorsement of South Carolina governor Nikki Haley when Haley was still a GOP candidate discernibly affected the 2010 gubernatorial race, so clearly Palin has many followers even within our own state. “I’m not sure that Nikki Haley would be in the governor’s office if it weren’t for Sarah Palin,” Lamb says. “So I guess maybe [Palin] does get the last laugh.”
After releasing two books back to back (Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball came out this year), Lamb’s going through “post-publication depression.” He’s still keeping an eye on the current election cycle. It certainly hasn’t been as much fun for the author as 2008’s, mostly because there’s an incumbent in the mix, which meant less overall competition. “It’s for the same reason why you go to a hockey match and you wait for the fights: You follow politics with the idea of every now and then having someone like Palin coming on to the ice and then falling over in the middle of it, and usually falling into a fire,” he says. One day, he’d like to write a book just on the role of humor in presidential politics, because that’s all he thinks is there. When Lamb looks at a campaign trail, where other people see leaders, he sees the Three Stooges.
But he’s at least a little bit more hopeful about this year’s Republican vice presidential candidate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. At least there was some vetting done on this guy, which certainly didn’t happen with Palin. Lamb thinks that’s an encouraging sign.
Lamb will sign The Sound and Fury of Sarah Palin at Blue Bicycle Books (420 King St.) on Sat. Aug. 25 from 1-3 p.m. Visit bluebicyclebooks.com.