Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ready or not, here she comes

Todd Purdum chronicles the political history of Sarah Palin in a thorough, if not heavily-tilted, Vanity Fair piece you can read here.

Beyond the anecdotes, the most compelling bits are the social/psychological phenomenon that is Sarah Palin, and the ideological schizophrenia that sometimes lives in her.

Of the first, it's often called sexist by those who love her, but ironically, gets to the core of why many actually love her so passionately.

Another aspect of the Palin phenomenon bears examination, even if the mere act of raising it invites intimations of sexism: she is by far the best-looking woman ever to rise to such heights in national politics, the first indisputably fertile female to dare to dance with the big dogs.

This pheromonal reality has been a blessing and a curse. It has captivated people who would never have given someone with Palin’s record a second glance if Palin had looked like Susan Boyle. And it has made others reluctant to give her a second chance because she looks like a beauty queen.

Would Janet Napolitano have inspired so many?

This isn't to say attractiveness doesn't play a role in politics. It clearly does -- Ronald Reagan was a former actor, and Barack Obama's got a killer smile.

But Reagan also had a clear ideological frame of mind, and that leads to Purdum's second legitimate criticism, and one that many conservatives fear -- Sarah Palin is populism without a point.

Yes, it's great she's a normal person who buys diapers at Walmart, but when her fans use anecdotes like that to elevate her (as Glenn Beck did in last year's campaign), it cheapens her message and ultimately her political self.

That's what's so puzzling about the battles Palin's been picking -- comedians, photoshopped pictures, invites to big dinners. None of them do anything to correct what her detractors feel is her biggest weakness -- substance.

She needs to sit down for an interview with a hostile force to show she can stand or maybe even fall. It's far better to fall now than in a 2011 sit-down, but her incessant demand to only engage those who support her is bad politics.

As for the populism without a point, there's this golden-newbie that's likely to turn into a classic.

To be sure, Palin is “conservative,” whatever that means, but she can be all over the lot in the articulation of her platform.

In a June interview with Sean Hannity, she sounded like a New Dealer when she proudly proclaimed that “a share of our oil-resource revenue goes back to the people who own the resources—imagine that.” In the next breath, sounding like a “starve the beast” conservative, she said she hoped the price of oil, the principal variable of state revenue, would not rise too much. “The fewer dollars that the state of Alaska government has, the fewer dollars we spend, and that’s good for our families and the private sector.”

And that substance is often tied to creative sentence construction like this:

"There are so many good Americans who are just desiring of their government to kind of get out of the way and allow them to grow and progress, and allow our businesses to grow and progress. So, great appreciation for those who share that value.”

No one communicates perfectly, but none of Reagan's liberal detractors ever accused him of tying his tongue.

Yes, Purdum's article has an unequivocally negative tone, and it works to diminish some of his key points.

One story from an aide particularly doesn't pass the smell test.

Sarah Palin was allegedly too preoccupied with Alaskan polls during the Veep campaign, to the point where aides questioned her commitment to the ticket.

But that doesn't square at all with the rest of the piece's portrait -- that of an ambitious, get ahead at any cost Barracuda. Isn't there a knock on her that she's too nationally ambitious? How does that tie into the allegation she was unnaturally-preoccupied with the temperature of local politics?

And it would still be a manning-up thing if the McCain advisers went on record. They'd never want to work for her again, anyway, and there's a market out there for talking tough on Palin.

Ultimately, the question for Palin is whether she'll answer the legitimate concerns and treat them as an opportunity to grow, or continue to dig in further with the choir.

It's not too late for her to get started.

[Hat tip: Political Wire]

UPDATE: Bill Kristol has a relevant response to the piece.