I have spent a lot of time since Sarah Palin’s sudden emergence like a supernova on the national political scene trying to figure her out. Apparently, even serious wonks who follow neocon dynasty building had barely heard of the first term governor of Alaska before she was plucked from the backwater that is Alaska politics to be John McCain’s running mate. However, she’s a type anyone who has been involved in small town journalism or local politics recognizes: the next tier up from the overeager stage mother or booster club president, she’s the preference-tilting head of the chamber of commerce, or the local newspaper publisher who squeezes advertisers for contributions to mount a run for city council. Small, shrewd, crooked.
What she’s not is an average hockey mom; she is far too ambitious and ruthless for that. She is also surprisingly savvy and calculating. (I’m still digesting Jane Mayer’s piece in the New Yorker on the strategy, including out-of-state professional lobbying, behind Palin’s courting of DC kingmakers in order to advance her debut on the national stage. I leave Mayer’s points aside, but highly recommend the read: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/10/27/081027fa_fact_mayer )
If Hillary is Tracy Flick, who does that make Sarah Palin?
Let’s begin with this: Sarah Palin is a means-to-an-end kind of person, and you have to kind of admire her ambition. I think she approached politics as she approached athletics as a kid, and beauty competition later: an opportunity for achievement. She learned that if she set a goal and pursued it with discipline, she could win a prize! I don’t think she thought about whether being Vice President (or even, shudder, President) was a prize she actually wanted, a job she was actually qualified for if given the opportunity.
It’s hard to avoid the notable charisma andd physical attractiveness that has largely fueled her candidacy- she’s pretty, though not beautiful like, say, Tina Fey- and I want to avoid the topic in fear of the sexist bias that analysis might entail. At this point though, it’s a fair question to raise, given that many of her male admirers openly wear buttons advertising that they are “Proud to be Voting for The Hot Chick!” Palin is so far out of her depth, but not knowing what she does not know, she exudes a preposterous, unfathomable, unearned and even exuberant self-confidence. Is that a consequence of being reasonably good looking, and having people respond positively on first meeting you your whole life? (Me, I’m scabby and troll like, so I wouldn’t know.)
I think I got my first inkling of unease with Palin when she did her first interview as VP candidate, and was asked if she felt capable of taking over as president if necessary. Any normal person with her limited experience would express some humility in that situation, maybe defer with a statement to the effect that “I will work with the president and his cabinet to be well briefed and prepared for that eventuality.” But no, when Palin was asked she expressed no hesitation about her readiness, and the form was telling. She said something to the effect that you have to just kind of get in there and do it. WTF? The explanation for this stance is that she grew up an athlete and the daughter of a coach. In athletics, “getting your game face on” and ‘faking it ‘til you make it” are viable strategies for success, because ‘winning is all in your head”. As the last eight years of the Mayberry Machiavellis in the Bush II administration have shown us, that strategy works less well in a political administration: arrogance and trench warfare skills are no substitute for actually knowing what you’re doing.