Sarah Palin: The epitome of the celebrity politician
Aug 31, 2011

Sarah Palin: The epitome of the celebrity politician


It is that time again when my fingers twitch and compel me - struggling with my sense of decency - to write another blog post about Sarah Palin. I have tried to stop, honestly, but like any good addict I cannot. I think what is so compelling to me about her story is how deeply compelling she is to so many others while appearing to me as a vacuous ruse. I think there is some value to understanding her appeal and looking at the genuine factors behind that, as well as looking at the way our society is such that it paves the way for Sarah Palin to become what she is today. Regardless, she is an undoutably a representative phenomenon in our society and such phenomena need to be explained - something the establishment has wholly failed to do.

The revolving door by which ex politicians transform themselves into larger than life figures in the entertainment media has been eclipsed by Sarah Palin in a way few others have managed to achieve. Since 2008, she has starred in her own reality TV show, released two books about herself, is a regular and salaried commentator for Fox news, and has done innumerable speaking events to fundraise for SarahPAC, sell her books or build her brand. In 2010 she allegedly made 12 million dollars doing this.

She is now the epitome of the celebrity politician. There is essentially nothing she does that cannot be seen as entirely consistent with the viewpoint of self-promotion for the sake of financial gain as a media entertainer. Everything from rallies to endorsements to the thinly veiled suggestion of entering the GOP nomination race works towards building her brand, staying relevant, and keeping the dollars flowing.

Much of her lasting appeal, however, centers around the illusion that she is still a politician. Maintaing a following, maintaining a brand as a politician, and retaining the endless free advertising in support of that brand that she gets from pundits, are all entirely dependent on people still believing she is a relevant politician. She is not. I don't just mean this is the sense that she doesn't currently have a political post after abandoning her Alaska governorship half way through, I mean this in that her entire role in society has switched away from being a politician into being a mass-market entertainer. She once was a legitimate politician (although one can question her competencies in that role) but no longer.

Further, I think it is fair to recognize that she has little hope of an actual political career left for the future. I think it is clear to everyone - almost certainly Palin among them - that she had no shot at being the President in 2012 - even if it were not for Michele Bachmann who managed to entirely eclipse her in the fringe populist Tea Party sports mom category. Were it not for Bachmann, she might have been able to garner a lot more attention running in the primaries which would have helped all aspects of her brand and, when she inevitably lost, would surely be lucrative financially in the entertainment media. But she doesn't have much of a shot at smaller posts either. She polls abysmally in Alaska and it is next to impossible to imagine her getting her governership back or a senate seat. Politicians for regional posts are constrained to their own region largely. Even if she could get elected for a small position such as Alaska state senate, the motivation just isn't going to be there to transform her lucrative, national brand into a minor state political role.

When viewed as a celebrity who makes money through the media on the back of her brand, explaining her actions just fits together and makes sense in a way thinking of her as a politician never did. I thing the reason that so much of the establishment pundits seem to misunderstand Palin is because they are still thinking of her essentially as a politician. Somehow they got it right when Donald Trump flirted with politics and a GOP nominee run; everyone agreed it was largely a stunt to build his brand in the entertainment media. But it is missed with Palin.

It is hard for us ever to know what Sarah Palin truly thinks on many things. Oh it is fun to ridicule her - as the left so often does - about silly or inaccurate things she says, but I have never gotten the impression much of this is the real her. Or maybe it is, but we wouldn't know. Does she truly think in the terms I am suggesting, or is she sufficiently delusional to think she has a shot at being president? I very much suspect the former.

The narrative that she doesn't have the intelligence or capacities to be anything beyond the trite youtube clips so often repeated is, in my view, pretty false. The way she has managed to spin her populist demagoguery into a multi-million dollar political entertainment empire, the way she has been able to create a brand that entices such polarizing fervor in society requires a high degree of competence in that particular set of skills. I suspect this acumen that has propelled her to where she is today is such that she is very, very aware of her role. And one can never forget how powerful that financial incentive is; powerful enough surely to get people to abandon their governorships halfway through.

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