The Palin Effect

Yesterday, I reviewed what I consider to be the second-tier contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. Those in the top tier deserve a more in-depth look. Today, I focus on Sarah Palin.

There can be little doubt that Palin creates the most excitement overall among the Republican base. A recent poll shows that 79% of Republicans have a positive impression of her, a higher approval number than any of her other competitors for the nomination. Her selection as McCain’s running mate in 2008, and her superb speech at the Republican convention, connected her to many Republican voters in an unprecedented way.

Democrats were frantic at first. What could they do to counter this apparent popularity that threatened to overwhelm the uniqueness of their own presidential candidate? Through a combination of their own machinations, the help of a compliant media, and backbiting within the Republican camp, they crafted a narrative that seemed credible to many voters: Palin was a lightweight, an anti-intellectual outsider from the hinterlands who was out of her depth.

Interestingly, there is an increasing sense two years later that the one we elected to the presidency is the one who is actually out of his depth, but perceptions can be difficult to shake.

Once the campaign ended, Palin found herself inundated by frivolous ethics complaints in her home state, a not-so-concealed attempt to undermine her credibility further. As a result, she resigned from the governorship because she could no longer concentrate on her duties—the bogus charges took most of her time.

The pundits declared her political career over. After all, who could mount a genuine presidential run after only 2 1/2 years as a governor?

Palin has fought back effectively. She began with her autobiography, Going Rogue, which was a runaway bestseller. I read it and spent three days reviewing aspects of it. If you are interested in those posts, go to January 1, 2, and 4 of this year in the calendar on the right sidebar.

Then she set up a Facebook account. Now, normally such accounts are just for keeping in touch with friends and not used for substance. She changed that. Her postings have run the gamut of political commentary and stances on issues. Many have noted that they are substance-heavy quite often. This has been her challenge to critics, to show she is not the lightweight they imagined.

On top of that, she accepted an offer to be a Fox News commentator, so she now appears on the top-rated cable news channel on a regular basis. Again, this allows her a platform to say what she thinks and keep both her name and her face before the voters. Fox even set up a special broadcast booth at her Alaska home, so they can draw upon her commentary while she is there.

In the recent elections, she actively endorsed and campaigned for numerous candidates who matched her criteria for wanting to reverse the Obama agenda. She has been a favorite of the Tea Party movement. A large percentage of the candidates she endorsed won their races, thereby enhancing her image within the party even more.

There are a number of establishment Republicans, though, who are wary of her, just as they are of the Tea Party itself. She’s not one of their number, not part of the “Club.” For me, that’s a plus.

She’s also done something else unique: she’s the star of a new show on The Learning Channel called “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” The first episode aired this past Sunday. I watched it, and was impressed with the production qualities and the ease with which Palin handled herself on camera. She came across as someone comfortable with who she is, and not at all apologetic about her background and the culture in which she was raised. The debut airing broke all records for TLC with 5 million viewers. Apparently, there is an intense interest out there to learn more about her.

As I watched, I was concerned about one thing in particular: does she really have a handle on raising her children? I don’t mean to be judgmental in the wrong sense, but I was struck by how daughters Piper and Willow seemed to ignore her instructions. Willow, in particular, seemed to be in full teenage mode, acting like she was perpetually bored and wanting to do anything but be with her family. Now, is this something put into the script for dramatic effect or is it the reality? A slight warning here: what does it profit a woman if she gains the world and loses her own family? I’ll be interested in seeing if this attitude continues in the remaining episodes.

By the way, I know how difficult it is to raise children, so I’m not offering this as a censure, but merely as an observation.

There was a political cartoon that appeared shortly after Palin’s convention speech in 2008. I’ve reached back into the archives to show it to you:

Is it prophetic? We’ll have to wait to find out.