A survey has revealed that the majority of Americans think Sarah Palin is unqualified to be president. This survey wildly misses the point of Sarah Palin, and the tea party movement she inspires - both are ideological, not political.

You may have noticed that Palin can do whatever she likes. She can evade taxes, lie outright, stand next to animals being slaughtered, display stupendous ignorance and inexperience, and still her followers bay for her.

This mystifies journalists and pundits, so they commission surveys about it. The mistake they (we) make is to try and apply normal standards of debate to the far right-wing. The movement they most resemble is not the Boston Tea Party, which had a clear political and economic agenda. It is the extreme ideological groups they profess to dislike the most — Islamic extremists and the far left.

It may seem like an overblown comparison. After all the Taliban oppressed, tortured and killed millions in a war-torn nation. And Palin is, for all of the vitriol she generates, no Stalin. But here are the similarities:

  • They all arise in times of trouble: economic and social turmoil is, almost by definition, confusing and difficult. People seek clarity. Extremism is a form of clarity.
  • They all value ideological purity over intellect or skill: Mullah Omar, the one-eyed leader of the Taliban when they came to power in the 1990s, had never left Afghanistan and had read almost nothing but the Koran. No one cared. He rode to power on a wave of national discontent that sought single-mindedness after years of confusion.
  • They all share a feeling of oppression: Palin used the word revolution when addressing the tea party conference in Nashville — there is the sense that tea-partyers and Palinites feel they are rising up against a government that doesn't know, or care, what they think. Communism spread, in similar but far more extreme circumstances, on the back of the Russian revolution.

In Afghanistan, in the 1980s and 1990s, governments like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and, to an extent, the US began to back the Taliban for reasons of personal expediency. America in 2010 is a moderate and sophisticated democracy, far removed from that war-torn nation, or from post-revolution Russia. On a much smaller scale, the Republican party has merely made a similar deal with the devil. So we should stop wasting the time of pollsters and analysts about it.