A few nights ago Kish and I were channel-surfing and ran across Sarah Palin being interviewed — again. In the portion of the interview we saw, she was responding to criticisms she and her family had received and her daughter’s intemperate response. It seemed like a story we had heard many times before.
Palin is a lightning rod, one of those political figures who provokes incredibly strong emotions by both detractors and supporters. Her detractors think she is a know-nothing idiot who, somewhat inconsistently, has devised a master plan that has vaulted her to national prominence and political power. They believe she trades on her femininity and her family, mouths meaningless “America First” platitudes, and appeals to backward, simplistic political viewpoints. Her supporters believe she is a fresh voice who speaks out powerfully about traditional American values and morals and understands that individual liberty is a crucial part of a dynamic, advancing American culture. They see her as someone who can mobilize people to roll back the tide of increasing government regulation and intrusion into every detail of the lives of American citizens.
Whether you admire Palin or despise her, you have to admit that she is a unique figure on the national political scene. In my lifetime, at least, no other vice presidential candidate has remained so visible on the national scene after the election was lost.
Nevertheless, I think Palin needs to be cautious about overexposure. She cannot be dismissed as a mere novelty act; novelty acts don’t last for more than two years. If she wants to pursue the presidency, however, she can’t always be seen on TV responding to attacks or explaining away her family’s behavior. I don’t know whether Palin plans to run, but if she does I think she would be well advised to dial back her constant TV appearances and focus on building a nuts-and-bolts political organization in places like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and beefing up her portfolio and facility with the issues. For Palin, a thoughtful, well-delivered speech on say, an issue of international affairs will count for a lot more than another appearance on Hannity.