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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Unbelievable Star Power of Sarah Palin

Let me ask some rhetorical questions to set some context. If we were to do a poll, how many people would know Gerald Ford's Vice Presidential nominee in 1976? How many people would know Jimmy Carter's Vice Presidential nominee in 1980? How many people would know Bob Dole's Vice Presidential nominee in 1996? I can go on and on. The Vice President is almost always an afterthought even when they are in office. The Vice Presidential nominee on the losing ticket is even worse. Normally, you can't get anymore irrelevant than that. Usually, the losing Presidential nominee becomes nothing more than a footnote. Yet, it's been about a month and a half since Sarah Palin lost and yet she continues to draw almost as much attention as President Designate Obama. In fact, if it hadn't been for the Blagojevich scandal, she might even draw more attention.

That should say all you need to know about Sarah Palin's star power. For the last two weeks, Palin has been the subject of hyperanalyzed debates. The first is a comparison/contrast, depending on your ideology, to Margaret Thatcher. The other one is a comparison/contrast, once again depending on your ideology, to Caroline Kennedy. In reality, all of these "new debates" are nothing more than rehashing of old debates. Depending on your perspective, Sarah Palin is either the greatest shining star since Ronald Reagan or dopey imbocile that can't figure out basic geography. The difference between Palin and most politicians is that such debates usually have a much lesser life span. In the case of Palin, friend and foe alike simply can't let go of the same debate they've been having since she burst on the scene.

What is truly remarkable about this neverending debate is that she is the losing Vice Presidential nominee. Such trivial debates shouldn't matter for someone in her position. They matter because we have rarely seen a politician with such star power. I knew it right away. From the first minute I learned her biography, I knew that this woman was endlessly fascinating. She stumbled into politics and then had a whirlwind tour that took her from small town mayor, to Governor, to VP nominee in ten years. She was a former beauty queen and she hunts. She even won a state championship on a bum ankle. She was a whistleblower, and by all accounts, outside her slim and pleasant exterior lies a very tough negotiator. Now, at the risk of sounding crude, why can't I find a woman like that.

What is happening now is a rush by all sides to try and define Sarah Palin in their own image. The whole exercise is both absurd and silly. Only hubris of the highest order would make a pundit, columnist, or other talking head think they can define Sarah Palin. The only person that will define Palin is Palin herself. The next two years will be critical for Palin. She will have a very difficult time governing. The economy is disintegrating and oil prices are dropping. The knives from her opponents are out as well. Furthermore, she will be the most covered Governor in our nation even though her state is thousands of miles away from every other. If she is able to govern effectively, she will define herself as an effective executive. No amount of negative comparisons to Thatcher will change that.

The only thing I know for sure is that Palin is here to stay. Her star power is extraordinary. I think it's safe to say that she is seriously considering running for President. If she is her path is clear, if she wants it, and navigates it effectively. You can bet that supporter and foe alike will shower her with unprecedented attention on her way to that path.

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