Young chickens standing on old newspapers

For a maverick politician who’s constantly trying to portray herself as tough and unafraid, Sarah Palin has spent an awful lot of time hiding behind her Facebook and Twitter accounts, keeping herself as unaccountable as possible while simultaneously hoping to somehow take leadership of our country.

Ever since September 2008, when Katie Couric had the nerve to ask “gotcha” questions like what she reads or which Supreme Court decisions she disagrees with, Palin has run from any semblance of give and take, preferring to fire potshots at the president and his party from the safety of cyberspace.

The closest she’s come to any confrontation was the June 15 exchange above with fellow Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly, and you can feel the fear throttle her throat when he unexpectedly poo-poos her premise. She really wants to flee.

Face it: Sarah Palin is no barracuda, and she’s no grizzly. She’s a chicken.

Equally gutless are her foes “the mainstream media,” who have meekly capitulated to her every demand, publicizing her tweets and Facebook postings with a generosity that used to be reserved for stunts from the Beanie Babies or Krispy Kreme PR departments.

An example of a firmer policy might be, “You want to broadcast your message, unfiltered, on our channel? Buy an ad.”

There’s something else which bothers me even more.

In the Facebook notes to which Sarah Palin’s name is attached, there are references and hyperlinks to current political commentary. There are soaring poetic metaphors on a par with some work of Peggy Noonan, and folksy colloquialisms that brand Palin as a doggone regular gal. Also, there are strong opinions on nuclear non-proliferation and humanitarian flotillas to Gaza.

What I’m wondering is: Who writes it all?

You recall the Katie Couric interviews, don’t you? The then-governor was transfixed — rendered almost speechless — by very simple questions. Call me a skeptic, but I would like Sarah Palin to appear on ABC News’ This Week with Christiane Amanpour just to see if she could find Gaza on a map.

Reading through Sarah Palin’s Facebook notes, I am struck by the same feeling I get when a casino tries to convince the public that a chicken can beat them at Tic Tac Toe. I seriously doubt that she’s doing it herself. It seems as though there must be some hidden hand behind it all, making the illusion work and conning the gullible with basic showmanship.

As with most illusions, the amazing chicken only stays amazing inside its carefully constructed showcase. Lose the stagecraft and all you’ve got is everyday poultry that no one will pay money to see.

Nevertheless, we do get a revealing peek behind the curtain now and then. Palin has a propensity for “going rogue” despite the best efforts of her handlers. Last weekend, she went all Norm Crosby on Twitter and asked “peaceful Muslims” to “refudiate” the mosque planned near Ground Zero.

I feel moments like this reveal the real Sarah Palin — the one that Tina Fey and I both love. If mere, strident right-wing fundamentalism alone were so magical, more people would be asking themselves whatever happened to Ralph Reed.

There’s a certain kind of ineptitude that audiences find irresistible. From Harold Lloyd to Lucille Ball, Don Knotts to George W. Bush, the world adores a klutz in way over his or her head who still has enough pluck to keep winkin’ and grinnin’.

However, now that we’ve recently seen what can happen to our nation with a lovable bumbler in charge, it turns out to be nowhere near as amusing as a chicken playing Tic Tac Toe.

The consequences of our policy toward Iran and nuclear weapons, the consequences of drilling here and drilling now, the consequences of restricting religious freedom, and the consequences of all the other issues that Sarah Palin apparently has opinions about are much more important than losing a few bucks to some rigged casino game.

As much as you’d love to test that chicken on its own, so should you demand a billion times more that someone who is putting candidates into place in races all across the country must explain and support her positions in a public forum.

Until Sarah Palin steps out of her plastic box for an actual, unprogrammed interview with Christiane Amanpour — or Brian Lamb, Terry Gross, Rachel Maddow, or Chuck Todd — any thinking person has got to be suspicious about the machinery behind her, and the motives of whomever is operating it.

It may be politically incorrect, but in the America I grew up in — the real America — we had a time-honored way of of calling someone’s bluff.

We called them chicken.

Then, if that wasn’t enough, we would shout, “Bawk! Bawk! Bawk!” And we would flap our arms around with our thumbs tucked under our armpits.

That’s what I’m doing now. If you’d like to join me, please “Like” or share or retweet this post — whatever you can do.

Update, 8/4/2010

For more on the public relations illusion created around Sarah Palin on Facebook, see John Dickerson’s fascinating August 3rd Slate piece:

Not Sarah Palin’s friends: The Facebook posts Palin doesn’t want you to see.