No doubt about it, this has been Sarah Palin’s week. Not Barack Obama’s, with his splashy tour of Asia. Or Harry Reid’s, following the at-long-last release of the Senate healthcare plan. Palin even trumped Oprah Winfrey. Though leave it to Oprah to get in on the action.
No, the hoopla surrounding this week’s release of Ms. Palin’s memoir, “Going Rogue,” has crystallized her as one of the great American celebrities of modern times.
Plucked from obscurity by John McCain, another politician famous for going rogue, the former governor of Alaska and vice presidential nominee has given our People-magazine-saturated culture exactly what it craves: beauty, drama, and enough everyday-ness to give average Joes and Janes something to relate to: a late-in-life baby with special needs, a rogue near-son-in-law, family photo albums that scream small-town America.
And, to keep the political press on its toes, she has left open the door to a possible run for the presidency in 2012. Not that most Americans think she’ll ever make the White House. A recent CNN/Opinion Research poll found that 71 percent of voters see her as “not qualified to be president.” But she does do well in early polls gauging who Republicans want as their nominee.
On the immediate horizon, she has demonstrated her power as a kingmaker – turning an obscure special House election in upper-upstate New York into a national GOP food fight, by endorsing the rogue third-party Conservative candidate.
Either way, people have an opinion of Palin. Even those who don’t love her, love holding her in disdain. Ardent Democrats subscribe to her SarahPAC emails just to get their partisan juices flowing, as she applauds “Patriots who fight for freedom” and talks about putting “America on the right path.” And when it comes to depictions of Palin that strike feminists as demeaning, women of all political stripes rally round her. It wasn’t difficult to see why Palin called the Newsweek cover shot of her in running togs “cheesy.”
Conservatives, too, have mixed feelings about Palin. Many love her populist appeal and articulation of conservative values, but some have dared to wonder aloud what all the fuss is about.
Peter Wehner, a former policy aide in the George W. Bush White House, writes on Commentary magazine’s blog: “For someone who is closely involved in politics, I guess I am a rarity: I don’t find Sarah Palin to be particularly interesting.”
Wehner doesn’t think Palin is the future of the GOP, and nominates folks like Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) of Indiana, and former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) of Florida for that job -- men who are “conservative and principled, who radiate intellectual depth and calmness of purpose.”
“Palinism, as I understand it, is less a coherent philosophy or set of ideas and more an attitude and spirit,” he writes. “In that sense, she is a cultural figure much more than political one.”
But she is a cultural figure who sells books and magazines and air time -- and knows how to speak to “tea-partiers,” an important center of conservative energy.
It’s even conceivable, writes PoliticsDaily.com columnist Walter Shapiro, that she could win the Republican nomination in 2012. Because of the Republicans’ “winner take all” primary system, she doesn’t need a majority of voters to come out on top.
“If Palin can maintain, say, 35-percent support in a multi-candidate presidential field, then she is the odds-on favorite for the GOP nomination,” Shapiro writes.
Watch to see if major states start changing their nomination rules, as a manifestation of a “top-down Stop Palin movement,” he says.
And if that happens, watch to see if Palin’s supporters fight back.
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