A New Generation of Conservative Thought

Stop flirting, Sarah

Palin reveals her opportunistic streak

By Dr. Grace Vuoto
August 17, 2011

Former Gov. Sarah Palin is playing hide and seek with the media. Will she run for office? Will she vie for the presidency in 2012? Rather than stating her intentions, she is deliberately flirting with the media, indicating she may jump in at any time—or perhaps not. This strategy is tarnishing her image: Again, she appears to be more interested in bolstering her celebrity status rather than being a serious political figure and doing what is best for the nation.


Mrs. Palin has failed to give a very good reason as to what is taking so long for her to make up her mind. Recently, when Fox News host Sean Hannity asked her whether she would seek the Republican nomination, she said she is still weighing family considerations. For the rest of us, that takes about one hour: one conversation with our spouse usually resolves whether the family can undertake a new plan. It does not take months to determine what a family is ready for.


The truth is that her family is not her main consideration. If so, the answer is simple: neither male nor female who wants to put family first when the children are still either infants, toddlers or school age, ought to embark on a political career. First Lady Michelle Obama has often stated candidly that she deeply resents her husband’s choice of career due to the toll on her young family. It is easier for both genders to embark on a political career, especially at a national level, when the children are older, at the very least in their teens. For Mrs. Palin, with five children—one a toddler, one still school age—family considerations, if they really do take precedence as she claims, result in a quick decision: no.


Hence, Mrs. Palin is clearly not taking so long because she wants to assess her family’s needs. Nor is she really evaluating whether she will be an asset to the Republican Party and to her nation. When Texas Gov. Rick Perry was weighing his bid, it was evident, due to the steady progress made every week that he was getting ready to declare his candidacy: Mr. Perry was making phone calls, arranging meetings, aligning key donors and supporters and establishing a campaign ground game. It was clear he was working toward a goal of jumping in the race and simply waiting for the most opportune moment to make a public declaration.


By contrast, what has Mrs. Palin done this summer? She has been on two legs of what she calls “One Nation” bus tours. But the nation has nothing to do with this. In May, she went on a six-day tour that began in Washington, D.C and ended in New Hampshire. That trip cast her as a shadow to Mitt Romney when the spotlight was on him as he declared his candidacy. In August, she did a four-day bus tour of—you guessed it—the Midwest, just when media attention centered on the Iowa straw poll. She arrived at the Iowa State Fair the day before the Ames poll results that declared Michele Bachmann the winner. This is a “One Woman” bus tour because the goal is to showcase Mrs. Palin desperately trying to remain relevant throughout the Republican primaries.


In addition to the one-woman bus tour, Mrs. Palin also launched a documentary this summer, “The Undefeated.” It clearly did not get the kind of attention Mrs. Palin hoped: liberal bloggers declared it a box-office failure, while defenders crunched the numbers to claim it had actually done quite well for a political documentary. If the goal of “The Undefeated” was to reveal Mrs. Palin’s political acumen in Alaska, it has failed. Her work there remains overshadowed by her decision to quit in the middle of her term. At the Iowa State Fair, a woman confronted Todd Palin about his wife’s decision to resign. Mr. Palin told the woman to see the movie to understand why Mrs. Palin stepped down, especially due to the litigation she faced. The woman remained unconvinced and said Mrs. Palin chose to cash out rather than to govern. She walked away from the exchange yelling “Sell-out!” The video has gone viral.


Mrs. Palin’s use of the mass media also backfired earlier this year. TLC’s “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” an eight-episode series that ran from November 2010 to January 2011, was cancelled after one season. The ratings fell dramatically after the opening episode. The political repercussions were profound: the television series showed Mrs. Palin to be self-obsessed rather than in love with Alaska. Several conservative opinion leaders slammed her conduct, including The Wall Street Journal columnist Karl Rove; in his view, she failed to demonstrate the required “gravitas” to run for office. The reality show placed Mrs. Palin in limbo—neither a bona fide reality star nor a credible politician. It was the worst of both worlds.


The Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer also said repeatedly on the airwaves that Mrs. Palin should be spending the years following her departure from Alaska politics steeped in mastering national policy. Her forays into entertainment and media theatrics have given her a reputation for incessantly seeking profits and celebrity fanfare, rather than the esteem of a broad swath of the American public.


And it is not just the “establishment conservatives” or the liberals that have soured on Mrs. Palin, as she would like her fans to believe. The polls demonstrate the public at large is disappointed in her since her initial brilliant entry onto the national scene: her unfavorable ratings are now usually above 50 percent; as high as 59 and 60 percent according to AP and Bloomberg polls conducted in the spring.


We have come a long way from the fresh-faced candidate that gave a raucous speech at the Republican National Convention in 2008. The hockey mom from Alaska thrilled the crowd with her uncompromising, folksy style. Then, a star was born. She contrasted candidate Barack Obama with the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain: “In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers, and then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change,” she said. Since 2008 Mrs. Palin has sacrificed her political career to promote her pocketbook; this strategy is yielding ever-diminishing returns. She has chosen the path of style over substance.


Mrs. Palin famously quipped in 2008 that the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick. Mr. Obama subsequently noted that a pig with lipstick "is still a pig.” Since then, Mrs. Palin has constantly pursued celebrity over credible politics in a time of national crisis. Hence, the biggest pig in the room with lipstick on it turned out to be the half-term governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.


-Dr. Grace Vuoto is the Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.