Our National Palin Obsession

November 23rd, 2010 at 9:54 am David Frum | 158 Comments |

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A journalist yesterday asked me a thought-provoking question:

Why does Sarah Palin command so much media attention? By most measures, she currently stands about equal in the Republican field alongside Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and only a little ahead of Newt Gingrich. Yet the cable shows do not erupt when Mitt Romney makes a speech. Newt Gingrich is on Twitter almost every day, but his messages don’t make news. So why Palin? Five guesses.

1) She polarizes.

Modern media culture favors contrast and conflict. Sarah Palin serves both up by the bucketful. Most presidential candidates present themselves as gracious and good-natured. Even fierce Hillary Clinton worked hard always to be seen smiling and nodding. Palin is a ferocious hater, and she doesn’t care who knows it. It’s like the meanest girl on the cheerleading squad running for student council president. Who wouldn’t be mesmerized by that?

2) She surprises.

Media people have certain beliefs and expectations about how politics works. Palin regularly confounds those expectations. From the Katie Couric interview through her resignation as governor of Alaska to the reality show: actions that the pundit class expected would ruin her career in fact seem to have somehow enhanced it. They call it “news” for a reason, and Palin is new.

3) She reveals herself.

We live in a confessional culture these days. Most politicians shy away from confession. They want to talk about economics or foreign policy or abortion or some other impersonal concern. Not Palin! Her topic is herself: her grievances, her complaints, her family. People find compulsive self-revelation riveting in Hollywood stars – why wouldn’t they find it equally fascinating in a politician?

4) She talks unlike a politician.

Most politicians speak in ways intended to guard against mistake. This imperative leads many to a style of speech that sounds artificial, remote, even stilted to many listeners. Palin doesn’t do that. She just lets it rip. Yet unlike say Carl Paladino, she has just that sufficient degree of restraint to avoid the thing that would be incontrovertibly lethal.

5) The thrill of impending disaster.

Imagine you’re at the circus. On the ground is a poodle performing a stunt. Above the clown’s head, dangling from a thin wire, is a piano. The piano is teetering, tottering, looking as if at any moment it might slip, crash to earth, and crush the dog. Impossible not to watch, right? And that’s the Palin show, only this time with the party of Lincoln as the little dog, and Sarah Palin as the piano.

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158 Comments so far ↓

  • quell

    That is what the demographic timer, HCR and Salam-Douthat stratification ON COGNITIVE ABILITY predict.
    Sheesh, do the math.
    The IQ gap and the culture gap are the equivalent of the extinction event at the K-T boundary for conservative dinosaurs. Your entire party is old white and xtian. You cannot inculcate new conservative intellectuals, because you are disenfranchised from academe and culture.
    That is why top students are fleeing the TP/GOP.
    You are dead already but the tiny little second brains in your dinosaur hips didnt get the message yet.

  • quell

    You should all notice the full court press of negative stories about Palin, here, HotAir, Dailybeast, all the hardcore TP/GOP webblogs.
    Its a dogpile.
    Your soulless rapacious overlords just exploited the heck out of the Palincrack until after the midterms. Now they will try assiduosly to kneecap her and wean the base off her tits.
    It is because she cannot win the general. They all know that.
    Liberals get delicious buttered popcorn, conservatives get failcake washed down with bitter tears..
    I truly think she is gunna kill the GOP, McCain cynically picked her up to exploit her as a populist icon with boobs and as an attackdog. He and the conservative elites didnt give a shit if that ruined her political career forevah. She was a sacrifice to McCains ego and his doomed campaign. They threw her away, wasted her, in 2008. When she wouldn’t stay dead they used her carefully right up to the midterms for race baiting, IQ baiting and class baiting….and now you wanna discard her AGAIN.
    Well she isnt goin’ quietly. She is gunna take you with her. CiP, she attacks ALL the Bushes as bluebloods when Barb dishes some mild crits.
    Scorched earth.
    Offer her the VP slot or prepare for internecine warfare and the advent of the Palin Party.
    It is exactly what you deserve.

    Revenge is a kind of wild justice.

  • nhthinker

    Here is a good article on the diversity of categories of American politics:


    This was done in 2004 when there was much more focus on the Iraq war.

    I think 6 years later, Republicans, and especially the Enterprisers have much less conviction about the war in Afghanistan and about continuing to have the US spend more on military than the rest of the world combined: They recognize that as the world economy grows, and US advantages decline, that the long term economic efficiency of the American economy may be threatened- I think Enterpriser will be more likely to vocalize that our allies should be defending themselves instead of the US economy being saddled with the whole bill.

    Iraq was a tough win and anyone with any realistic view of Afghanistan sees it a likely to continue to cost much more than Iraq did with much much less chance of success even if the commitment is measured in decades. In many ways, Afghanistan is the new Vietnam with Obama mimicking Kennedy and Johnson:tentatively proping up a government we don’t have faith in. It’s the staunchly pro-Israel in a embrace with the infantile Democrats that view this as the morally “good” war that are making this argument bringing Afghanistan into the 21th century as critical to US interests.

    Because the Democrats have taken over the Fed policy with emphasis on full employment without regard to economy efficiency nor trade imbalance,and the recent memory of so-called banking “capitalists” begging for bailouts- the Enterprisers in 2012 will be more fractured as to their support of Fed policy, Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. They may start paying heed of Eisenhower’s omens, just 60 years out of sync.

  • Gramps

    Over at Hot Aire…the faithful and always, foolish went on, and on and on…something like this…

    I will not watch Fallon–just loathe him.
    As for Christie, his “it’s an amazing world” is as much a non sequitur as Babs Bush’s “She beautiful. She should stay in Alaska.”
    Neither statement has any real meaning or merit and only shows blind bias and animus to Governor Palin’s many qualifications and fine qualities as a superb candidate for higher office.
    It’s pathetic to see this thread go to 8 pages, largely over the tired, worn out “quitter” meme. [emphasis mine]
    And in my semi-long life, I’ve never seen a political candidate or figure attacked or dismissed because of the alleged quality of their supporters until Sarah.
    Jenfidel on November 24, 2010 at 6:10 PM

    Holy moley, talk about “twisted and tight under garments”…[8 pages and still counting...!]
    Zounds more like an Alaskan, election.

  • quell

    Iraq was a tough win

    AMG you retard. we didnt win.
    Conservatism: selection for stupid.

  • nhthinker


    “{another impudent “retard” rejoiner}”
    Sigh… type in nasty response… bite my lip….think good thoughts…delete biting response…

    Happy Thanksgiving. Hope you share some good thoughts today with someone you love.

  • nhthinker

    “From what I have read and from the young people I know and have known over the past several years, it seems to me that the youth demographic is much more likely to be much more liberal on certain social issues. … They (and up until last year I lived in a very youthful neighborhood and had several youthful friends who thought this way) think I am hopelessly naive.”

    Thanks for your thoughts on youth. My point is its not a good idea to over generalize them too much. Different youth, as with older voters, have various ways to process life.

  • politicalfan

    Frum could have said…
    1. She says stuff that would send the average Christian to church.
    2. She is part mean HS school girl and pretty librarian (without the books).
    3. She does not have the luck of the Irish.
    4. She screech’s really loud.
    5. People love her and they don’t know why!