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Going Rogue, Going Off the Deep End

News & Features | December 9, 2009

Alyce Currier - Sarah Palin

If there is one phrase echoing through the minds of the Democratic Party, it’s the voice of one of those creepy murder kids from a slasher movie whispering, “She’s baaack.” After the 2008 presidential election, a lot of us had hoped former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) was gone for good. We’d had enough of her pit bull jokes, her gun-slinging compatriots, and her constant criticism of the liberal elite.

“Depending on what side of the political spectrum you’re on, she does and says a lot of things to make people’s jaws drop. It’s like watching a car wreck,” says Professor Deborah Schildkraut of Tufts’ Department of Political Science, who specializes in American politics.  We cannot stop watching, she says, “even though it may be gruesome or repulsive.”

However, now that midterm elections are on the horizon and there seems to be a slump in marketable politicians, Sarah Palin has recaptured the hearts of the political pundits, and it almost seems as if she’d never left.

Sarah Palin has been, if anything, a full-blown media force. She’s relatable. She’s charismatic. She has the perfect dysfunctional family. She’s attractive (to a point). What could be wrong? What most of news media seems to forget is that she hasn’t really done anything. Ever.

According to Professor Schildkraut, “For conservatives, [Palin] is a response to how prominent democrats are right now. She is the opposite extreme, and that’s incredibly appealing.”

In the political world, she has become a quasi-celebrity. We love her crazy baby names (Track, Trig, Bristol, Sheeran, and Willow). We love her down-home hockey mom grins and the way she can absolutely rock that Chanel pantsuit and a hunting rifle at the same time. It makes sense then that Sarah Palin would find a need, nay, a public mandate to write a tell-all book where she tells “all” of her lack of a political career.

Palin served six years as the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska and then another three as governor, resigning from her post in the middle of the term. Why then, did she receive a five million dollar advance to write Going Rogue: An American Life? The answer, friends, is not so that the American public can learn all about the intricacies of Alaskan oil refinery procedures or just why all those pot holes in Wasilla took so long to be filled in. The 2008 election gave birth to the new kind of politician also known as the superstar.

As Professor Schildkraut reminds us, this phenomenon is nothing new. “[Palin] is definitely a product of things like television, but that’s been around for fifty years. There is a need to look good in order to campaign well, to capture the imagination of voters.”

This brand of politician is also connected to the increasingly important and potentially distorting role primaries can play in elections, in which, according to Schildkraut, “There is a need for someone to connect with voters.”

Fox News has been sugar coating Palin’s book campaign from the moment it caught wind of the release. The news team streamed pictures of midwestern housewives camped-out, holding signs of their political heroine’s face. They goofily grinned as they clutched three or four copies to their hearts, shouting, “We love you, Sarah!” into the camera. Upon its release, the team cackled at the fact that Going Rogue outsold Hilary Clinton’s memoir by 100,000 copies in the first week.

With all of this new attention, her face plastered on every syndicated news talk show, and hype surrounding the Palin name a full year after her brief star in the Washington sky was thought to be extinguished, you would think Palin would use her newfound celebrity to further her political motives and push her conservative platform. Think again. The next logical step in the Palin camp? Enter the cross-nation mall tour. “I thank God for your honesty and plain common sense,” one woman writes on Palin’s Facebook page. “Sarah Palin for President, you have my vote,” writes another. It can’t be ignored: Sarah Palin’s book has gained her national, commercial appeal.

And along the same vein as a pop musician who launches a solo career, Palin spends a good portion of her book criticizing the very same conservative machine that made her a national commodity. Palin was often criticized for being the major factor that lost the election for McCain, but, as any hockey mom out there would do, this political pitbull is fighting back. The book digs at chief McCain strategists for being unorganized, disconnected from the American public, and completely controlling of both her policy positions and her personal life. Though this inane strategy might seem like she’s biting the hands that fed her, Palin’s offensive tactic seems to be working. She’s not going rogue, she’s going for broke.

Mainstream America doesn’t seem to remember that this is “down-home-all-American” mom is the same mom who ran the city of Wasilla into a major deficit, spent a reported $500,000 of campaign money on new clothes and quit her post as the Alaskan governor mid-term. Palin-lovers and Tea-Party supporters see only a champion of all those ‘Joe the Plumber’ types as well as someone who was betrayed by the elitist media.

As for a Palin 2012 ticket? “I think she’s going to try, I doubt she will be successful,” says Professor Schildkraut. “The republican party right now is really divided. We don’t know which side will dominate. I think it’s possible the extreme side could win the nominee but not the election.”

So what is she doing back on the scene? Who knows. Hopefully, Palin has retreated so far into the realm of celeb-status that becoming a viable entity in the 2012 election will seem crazy even to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, who have been her most vocal supporters from the start. Whatever happens, Sarah Palin will be remembered for accomplishing the impossible. She’s won the hearts of the public and the political prowess of the pundits with a few lipstick jokes, an adorable pregnant daughter, and the willingness to roguishly pose in hot pants on the cover of Newsweek.