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Sarah Palin takes revenge on the media


Given Sarah Palin's reputation as a polarizing figure, the degree to which everyone can agree that they'd like to talk about her is really amazing. Conservative outlets want to lionize her. Liberal outlets want to mock her. Mainstream outlets want to cover her. There are fact-checks and reviews and interviews and op-eds. Palin famously had trouble finding the right words for various situations, but her presence appears to cure that condition in virtually everyone else.

Which is rather the problem. There's nothing particularly interesting or important about Palin on her own terms. Neither John Edwards nor Joe Lieberman attracted this much attention in the run-up to their post-VP campaigns, even though both probably had a better chance of being chosen, and winning, than Palin does. She's a famous politician, but not necessarily a very good politician. Indeed, she's uncommonly, even historically, bad. Most vice presidential candidates have little to no effect on the election. Palin is virtually unique in having substantially hurt John McCain. Viewed from afar, the media's behavior is quite baffling: Why rush to cover the least effective vice presidential prospect in recent history?

But if Palin isn't important, she's at least profitable. Liberal sites need traffic just like conservative sites, and the mainstream media needs traffic more than both. And Palin draws traffic. This is actually pretty good revenge for a politician who hates the media. The press had a good time showing Palin to be a superficial creature who relied more on style than on substance, and in getting the media to drop everything and focus on her book tour, she's proving that they're much the same.

Photo credit: AP Photo/George Frey.

By Ezra Klein  |  November 20, 2009; 8:42 AM ET
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Uh oh. You're slowly turning into David Broder, writing a piece about how strange it is that other people are writing about some particular subject.

Posted by: ostap666 | November 20, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

The budding Broderism of this is noted above, and all I'll add here is your brethren specifically in TV media are in the gathering of eyeballs business, first and foremost. And this woman puts um, butts, in the seats because she's pretty unpredictable. We've never seen a national political figure willing to engage with her grandbaby's daddy in a war of words through the media, or someone who will openly bash and even mock her own campaign staff.

And in spite of all that, the base of the right wing of the Republican party is in love with this woman, witness the thousands of people willing to stand in line to get an autograph copy of her book(any chance of that for Gingrich or Romney or even McCain??)

So she's intriguing, the same way I suppose Paris Hilton or any of these young girls here in Hollywood are, in as much as they keep the camera running because you never know what she'll say or do next!

Posted by: zeppelin003 | November 20, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Very eloquent opening, but I don't agree at all that she's not interesting.

1.) VP candidates are more, not less, interesting when they hurt the top of the ticket or are otherwise fail-y. What about Quayle? What about *Eagleton*? Those were VP candidacies worth talking about, but they couldn't hold a candle to our Sarah.

2.) Her banality is interesting in itself because of the way it's folded into so much that is utterly outlandish. Alaska? Really? Shooting wolves from helicopters? A *woman* from Alaska who shoots wolves from helicopters? A hot woman? A hot Republican woman? And becomes a national politician? Why, that's as crazy as a black man getting elected President!

3.) Allow me to emphasize - we don't have many women in politics at top levels. Many fewer hot women. And for prominent hot political women who attended five colleges, come from obscure and depressing small towns in areas so remote that they talk about driving for hours to see Ivana Trump at a big box store because they don't get much culture up there, and are marked by obvious and extreme psychological pathology, there's been no one like her, ever ever. You can't make this stuff up. It's old news, sure, but I'm not surprised people aren't over it yet.

4.) Especially given that this utterly banal, alien-familiar freak is the candidate of a quasi-fascistic political movement in this very nerve-wracking time.

Edwards and Lieberman and Cheney - eminently hate-able and amusing to mock and excoriate, but not in the same league.

As a political thinker, she's a snoozebucket. As a character in the internationally co-authored work of fiction that is American politics, she was the most riveting character since Nixon.

Posted by: JaneG | November 20, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Jane points out something I wish I'd thought of first. For all of our equality efforts the last several decades, politicians still are by and large a herd of grouchy old white men, and that is certainly a big piece of Palin's appeal, and I do agree that her good looks absolutely is among the reasons conservative men cant get enough of her, far more than republican women.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | November 20, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

She's literally the most polarizing major figure in American politics in, well, forever. Was there a majority of Republicans who still loved Nixon after he flamed out?

To Republicans she's a savior.
To Dems she's a freak show.

Posted by: jeirvine | November 20, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

It's really quite simple. Her total unsuitablity for the office to which she aspires is precislely why she's newsworthy.

"Only In America" can someone this mediocre get this far!

Posted by: PhD9 | November 20, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Go Ezra! Also: liberals need to stop rooting for her to win the nomination b/c we think she'd be easy to defeat. Both major-party nominees always have a good shot, and she would be a disaster for the country. We should root for the best nominee from both parties, and then fight like hell for the D.

Posted by: SamPenrose | November 20, 2009 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Sarah Palin is the perfect coalescence of tabloid star and politician. The modern political media's desire to boil politics down to celebrity gossip has found someone who represents the synthesis of those two disparate strains of media. Everyone else loves to watch her for the same reason. She's constant, high quality drama, the perfect vessel of the modern political age, and that's why nobody can look away. So really, she isn't getting revenge on anybody. Before anything else, this is simply what she does.

That said, I fully endorse SamPenrose's diagnosis. I would rather lose frequently to a sane opposing political party than occasionally to an insane one. Political systems are better off without this kind of thing, but this is the world we have, not the one we want.

Posted by: HerooftheBeach | November 20, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

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