Sarah Palin’s Regional Tour

April 17th, 2010 at 9:16 pm | 126 Comments |

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It’s useful to glimpse celebrities doing the regional circuit: Away from the flattering lights of Broadway or Hollywood, you see what kind of performer they are.  Can they handle a stripped down stage and a drunken heckler?

I was thinking this as I watched Sarah Palin “perform” in a “hospitality center,” called Carmen’s Banquet Hall, on Thursday night in the suburbs of Hamilton, Ontario, a steeltown about 45 minutes west of Toronto.

The event was a charity fundraiser for inner-city Hamilton kids. My father and I attended as guests of the Toronto Sun newspaper, a sponsor of the event.  Palin collected a fee somewhere between $100,000 to $200,000 (according to which press report you read) for a speech, book-signing, and VIP photo-session.  Some 900 people paid $200 per plate to hear Palin speak and to bid on Palin-phanalia: signed posters; McCain-Palin election flotsam; personalized Sarah Palin vintages of Ontario wine; and the big prize, the actual upholstered seats from which she and an interviewer  would take questions after the speech. (The seats ultimately sold for C$3400.)

A thick police presence safeguarded Palin against the one lone protestor.  He carried a placard, “Honk for our healthcare.”  No one honked.

We parked and joined a sea of guests dressed to the nines, as if for a wedding.  Palin had issued elaborate advance rules: No jeans.  No cameras or recording devices during the speech. (It was permitted to photograph her as she drifted through the lobby.) No questions from the media during the question and answer portion of the evening.

The lights dimmed. Bagpipes heralded the entry of the head table.  Todd Palin filed in–but not Sarah. Where was she?

Once the others were seated, there was an anticipatory hush as the crowd looks toward the doors.  John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Small Town” suddenly blasted over the sound system.  Then in burst Palin with her signature wave.

I’ve attended dozens of these dinners over the years. I’ve seen Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher speak. I’ve never witnessed anything like this kind of solo rock start entry.

The charity had clearly negotiated maximum value for its money. Palin entered at seven, but was not scheduled to speak until nine. My dad and I sadly assessed the “Alaskan crab bruschetta” pre-set in front of us. I poured us each a glass of Ontario’s finest, and opened up the “Scrabble” app on my iPhone.

Before the program began, the dinner chair had warned the audience that nobody was to approach the dais uninvited.  Again, I’ve never before attended a political dinner at which it was thought necessary to say such a thing out loud. (If anyone ever drunkenly worked up the courage to do so, a Reagan or Thatcher would be unfailingly gracious while a security guard swiftly intervened to escort the guest back to his or her seat.)  And as the evening proceeded, a preselected few were escorted up by charity officials to say hello.  But no one else dared to do so.

It might seem—may I say elitist?—for Palin to flinch from chatting or signing autographs. And it became apparent that this impulse wasn’t, in the end, out of her desire to receive celebrity treatment a la Angelina Jolie or Alex Rodriguez (God forbid a random Joe Six Pack wearing jeans might actually approach her to ask for an autograph!): Clearly, Palin feared any unscripted or unmanaged engagement—and not for what the unscreened person might do or say, more out of her own insecurity about what she might do or say.

Well, she’s been burned a lot, you might argue—and burned more than most politicians in her situation.  Yes and no.  Politics, as the cliché goes, is a rough game—and she has not been put through any more of a personal wringer than, say, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Newt Gingrich or any other political figure who steps up to the plate in the Big Leagues.  She’s just proven less adept at taking it.

So who cares, really—except that her entire image is based on her own projection of a fearless, moose-dressing, rifle-wielding, backwoods kind of gal who can take it; who indeed can take anything and, with fire and a bit of salt, turn it into a tasty stew.  (As she told the tea partiers on the Boston Common last week: “Is this what ‘change’ is all about? I want to tell ‘em: Nah, we’ll keep clinging to our Constitution and our guns and our religion—and you can keep the change.”)

But as I was witnessing at this regional performance—far away from the ruthless Beltway critics, surrounded by friendly, polite Canadians paying to see her for goodness’ sakes—she would not risk even a single random encounter.  One of my tablemates was a reporter who had been awarded an “exclusive” interview with Palin before the dinner—part of the deal of the Sun’s sponsorship of the event.  Palin had given her 30 minutes, then just before the interview cut it back to 15, and then five minutes. Five minutes. Just enough time to have her photo taken and answer one question (which turned out to be the familiar, Are you running in 2012?).  And even that question had to be submitted in advance.

Finally, Palin surmounted the podium.  The crowd gave her a standing ovation and then sat back, waiting to get their $200-per-plate worth.

Dinner speeches by politicians normally adhere to a few simple rules. The politician begins by thanking her hosts and any person in the room who might be insulted if overlooked.  She follows with a couple of tested jokes.  Then she speaks for approximately 20 minutes (this is key for a dinner-time speech, when the audience is tired), making no more than three key points.  It’s not rocket-science.

But Palin couldn’t manage it.  Her 45-minute speech rambled all over the place, from her challenges as a mother facing a teenage pregnancy and a Downs-syndrome baby to Todd’s Iron Dog racing to the tea partiers to Alaska-Canada  ties, wildlife, the Al-Can highway to God helping us take back this nation and stand up for small business, to  common sense solutions, to Plato telling us to be nice to others, to getting’ our economy workin’ again,  to the importance of community, to ice hockey and the Olympics—in short, her familiar carpool-mother-with-Tourettes-syndrome.

It was hard to figure out whether she was working up some Christian motivational routine, or just kvetching about her poor treatment by the media, or trying to demonstrate her political cred by hitting the right “facts” about Canada-U.S. relations.

If you tried to parse it, you couldn’t.  There was not a single memorable line, not a single new political idea, not a single proffered solution beyond the cliché of “needing new solutions.” And when the moderator “opened the floor to questions, guess what?  Even those questions had to be written down by the tables and submitted in advance, to be selectively chosen by the moderator.  Our table mischievously submitted, “Who is your favorite Canadian Prime Minister?” but for some reason it wasn’t asked.

But no matter.  The audience seemed pleased enough.  While a number bolted the moment she finished speaking—not wanting to linger for the Q&A—and another bunch were already gathered in the parking lot, smoking—it seemed that most people had gotten what they’d come for. Again, it was not a political audience. There were no voters or tea partiers here. They wanted to see what they saw on TV–the political equivalent of the tour of Les Miz.  She left them feeling peppy and uplifted, humming the last few bars of the hit tune. To that degree, she did not disappoint.

It was political theater—but not political leadership.

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126 Comments so far ↓

  • JeninCT

    captn wrote:

    “JeninCT Contrast McCain with Palin.”

    There was no need because they were on the same ticket. That’s why Obama chose Biden, because he had what Obama was lacking. Palin and Obama were the ones without foreign policy experience, McCain didn’t need someone with foreign policy experience! Obama did (not that Biden has been helpful).

  • TerryF98

    Hows those “Death Panels” working out for you.

    Plain lies not a challenge more of a putrid pottymouth.

  • anniemargret

    jenin: “McCain didn’t need someone with foreign policy experience!”

    Unbelievable.

    McCain put a lightweight in the political heavyweight arena one heartbeat away from the Presidency. It was the single most irresponsible and defining moment of once-illustrious career. He’s done.

    Jenin: perhaps you and Sarah didn’t know what the Bush Doctrine was. Many, many, many people did at that time, then, when Sarah was asked the question. If an American citizen wants to be the Prez, they have to know something about the world. We don’t have to give it (Bush Doctrine) a rest, I think you do. It was and still is a legitimate question asked of a person seeking the Presidency . We can just add it to her long list of ” I really don’t know and I don’t care ” answers.

    “She works the room”…”she’s fearless” ….”She was hounded out of office…” “She’s energizes the voters”

    Sarah Palin epitomizes the decline of the Republican party. They have virtually and continually lower the bar whenever she appears, speaks or writes. What was once a tough and gritty contest between candidates of worth and substance we now have thousands of people lining up to vote for woman who couldn’t define the difference between Iraq and Iran, not to mention N and S Korea.

    The thought of such a person near a nuclear arsenal is one scary thought. And it erodes the respectability of a once-tough and intelligent national party.

  • Chekote

    anniemargret // Apr 18, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Bravo Annie! I couldn’t agree more. And believe me that Palin is way over-hyped. She captures about 15% of the Republican party. The problem is that her supporters are very loud and give the impression that they have huge numbers. They don’t. I am heavily involved in grassroots politics here in Dallas, TX. This should be Palin Country. It is not. Even people that say they like her also say that she is not ready to be president.

  • anniemargret

    chekote: I’m glad to hear it. I truly, truly am aghast at the support she appears to get from that 15%, or what appears to be a lot more. Or maybe she is just getting way too much airtime . I want to see other female Republicans step up to the plate and strut their stuff- there are many admirable women in your party. Or find that Republican who is getting glossed over by the Palin-hysteria.

    If Republicans got a good candidate to run against Obama in 2012, let’s get him/her out there and let the debate begin. This country is getting mired down in nonsense when the world around us is caving in. We cannot allow China to get ahead of us or the let the loose nukes get looser, and we don’t need another war to get us mired in, unless it is crystal clear we have no other choice. We’ve got to get our kids back into science so that our technology is the one everyone else is looking to get.

    In short, Americans have to pull up their sleeves and get to work! We got to fix this country, from all sides of the aisle. Our nation is at risk; we owe not only to ourselves but to the next generation who will have to live with our decisions, right or wrong.

    I do believe there is common ground between moderately right Republicans and moderately left Democrats. We need to put this new ongoing ‘civil war’ to rest. We cannot afford to implode from within. Rhetoric can be dangerous to our national health, if it is unchecked and filled with hyperbole or distorted.

    Critical debate on the issues…yes!

    I suspect FF and this author understands this, and are hoping to pull the party back from the fringe right. I hope they do. 105 comments on Palin is too much! (and I’ll smack myself for that too)

  • Chekote

    I truly, truly am aghast at the support she appears to get from that 15%, or what appears to be a lot more.

    Look at the presidential polls. She constistently scores around 15% +-4%. Her little routine about “gun clingers” is wearing thin even within the Republicans base. She is clearly not up to the job. McCain nominating her for VP is one of the most irresponsible act in modern political history.

  • Chekote

    Oops… consistently

  • JimAK

    Polls? You mean like this one from two days ago?

    http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2010/04/obama-gop-folks-knotted-up.html

    Our monthly look ahead to the 2012 Presidential race finds Barack Obama more or less tied with all four of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination. He trails Mike Huckabee 47-45 and Mitt Romney 45-44, ties Newt Gingrich at 45-45, and leads Sarah Palin 47-45. This is the weakest performance Obama’s posted in these 13 monthly surveys and a pretty clear indication that passing health care has not done anything to enhance his political standing, at least in the short term.

  • Chekote

    I am talking about the polls for the Republican nomination. Not the general election. She won’t get the nomination. If by some freak of nature she does, the Republicans will suffer a Goldwater style defeat.

  • jdworldly

    enough already TerryF with your broken record nonstop Palin bashing–why are you so obsessed with trashing and sliming this woman??(perhaps it has something to do with jealousy of her good looks and envy about her ability to make big bucks while you remain cursing your pathetic place in the universe.)Time to vent your rage on someone else like your beloved dodo Obama(a.k.a. “the chosen one”) whom you will forever worship and idolize til the cows come home…(there is no longer any doubt in the minds of the vast majority of Americans that “no drama Obama”(now commonly referred to as “know-nothing Obama”) is the worst president in U.S. history.

    Advice to you and your fellow kool aid gulping left wing lunatics suffering from incurable “Palin Derangement Syndrome”: Immediately cease and desist from venting your hateful spew and GET A LIFE!!

  • TerryF98

    jdwhtever,

    If I was bashing Palin nonstop I would be posting every minute of the day and night!!

    . I know you hate Obama and the “other” but hey get real. If you are that invested in a bimbo snowbilly half governor quitter then fine by me, just don’t ask me to go along with the rest of you in the slime at the bottom of the gene pool.

    No one here could tell me one decent accomplishment that this woman has under her belt, even her most rabid supporters were at a loss to name one. That tells me all I need to know.

  • sinz54

    TerryF98: No one here could tell me one decent accomplishment that this woman has under her belt, even her most rabid supporters were at a loss to name one.
    I gave you one,
    but evidently you ignored it.

    Palin is helping to make sure that Obama has to deal with a House of Representatives with a Republican majority.

    That would be quite an achievement if she can make it happen, don’t you think?

  • TerryF98

    Sinz,

    You gave me a hypothetical!

    What’s the point of that. You could say she “might” do anything in the future. I wanted something she has DONE. You did not give me that.

    Also the fact that she can rabble rouse is not an accomplishment in my view, it’s a negative. Do you actually believe that Palin is single handedly the cause of the tea party?

  • sinz54

    anniemargaret: Americans have to pull up their sleeves and get to work! We got to fix this country, from all sides of the aisle.
    I tangle with left-wingers on the Internet, all the time.

    Many of them don’t care what happens to America. Many of them are salivating at the thought that “imperialist, racist, colonialist, stupid, ignorant, backward” America is soon going to be a second-rate, maybe a third-rate power, no longer able to bother those wonderful folks in the Third World who are the true salt of the earth.

    These lefties of the new generation are not like you, worrying about Americans having jobs and education and mundane stuff like that. Oh, no. They’re worried about global warming and background extinctions of species and being good Citizens Of The World. Jobs? Hunger? These affluent lefties have never lacked for food and iPods and Facebook accounts; they have more empathy with Mother Earth than with ordinary human suffering.

    You and I and the rest of the older generation of Americans are passing.

  • CentristNYer

    sinz54 // Apr 19, 2010 at 9:35 am

    “Many of them [liberals] are salivating at the thought that “imperialist, racist, colonialist, stupid, ignorant, backward” America is soon going to be a second-rate, maybe a third-rate power, no longer able to bother those wonderful folks in the Third World who are the true salt of the earth.”

    Really?? Can you tell me what you mean when you say “many of them”? Ten percent? Twenty percent? Fifty percent? I’d be fascinated to know how many liberals you think really believe this and how you arrived at this number.

    For the record, I have many friends who consider themselves liberals. I’ve never heard even one — not ONE — voice anything even remotely like this. So I’d be really curious about how you came to the idea that “MANY” of them want America to become a “third-rate power.”

    I know you generally try to be fair, but I find your calculation extremely bizarre.

  • sparty

    Sinz:

    “I tangle with left-wingers on the Internet, all the time.

    Many of them don’t care what happens to America. Many of them are salivating at the thought that “imperialist, racist, colonialist, stupid, ignorant, backward” America is soon going to be a second-rate, maybe a third-rate power, no longer able to bother those wonderful folks in the Third World who are the true salt of the earth.”

    If spouting complete, total, and utter nonsense is “tangling,” then I suppose you do tangle.

    Did you know that many/most/nearly all leftists envision a world where human beings are exterminated, ground up, and used as fertilizer for Mother Gaia?

  • xcrewdrepubs

    Sinz54:

    While I don’t tangle as much with right-wingers on the Internet or other venues (this lefty works his arse off 10-12 hrs/day and have little time to check my FB acct or listen to my iPod), I will say that what you wrote above can be re-written by someone with a left-of-center political leaning and substitute all the leftist catchphrases by rightwing ones and it will be just as true.

    If we insert “communist, atheist, effete, unpatriotic, baby-killers, elitist” instead of “imperialist, racist, colonialist, stupid, ignorant,backward” (America) then change “lefties” to “righties” in the succeeding paragraph and follow thru with rightist’ advocacies in lieu of the left’s, the argument you originally made remain equally valid albeit now favoring a liberal’s POV.

    So what gives?

  • ktward

    @sinz54 // Apr 19, 2010 at 9:35 am

    The bloggers between our posts have already nicely pointed out the flaws in your ‘Lefties are evil’ argument. Myopic media soundbites notwithstanding, ‘The Left’ is no more completely defined by its minority fringe than ‘The Right’ is by its fringe. I know you know this.

    What I’ve found fascinating–inexplicable, but fascinating–is your unwavering, dripping disdain for anything even remotely close to bearing a ‘Left’ label. Indeed, on this thread you’ve become reflexively defensive of Palin–Palin!–in response to a blogger you presume is somewhere ‘Left’.

    I suspect you’ve got some serious baggage. Whatever. Don’t we all. But know that your baggage occasionally hijacks your usual sober, sensible analysis on issues we all agree are important.

  • ktward

    sinz54 // Apr 19, 2010 at 9:35 am
    These lefties of the new generation are not like you, worrying about Americans having jobs and education and mundane stuff like that. Oh, no. They’re worried about global warming and background extinctions of species and being good Citizens Of The World. Jobs? Hunger?
    Actually, I know some ‘Lefties’ who are concerned about all of that: jobs, education, hunger, AGW, enviro protection, responsible global citizenry.

    And reforming antiquated, inefficient public policies that f**k with our economy, and 21st century civil rights protections, and responsible foreign policy driven by 21st century realities, and supporting scientific breakthroughs in tech & medicine that provide the foundation for societal growth and betterment, and accountable gov’t, and poverty and the crime it breeds. And other stuff.

    I know some Righties that also think about all of that.

    Unquestionably there exists disagreement in terms of prioritization, approach, strategy and execution– what’s doable now. But the place where we all agree that these issues are important, is where the Center lives. It’s where I live.

  • ktward

    Final thread thought.

    The Frums are no dummies. While I believe they are genuine in their well-founded scorn of Palin and her coat of many melodramatic colors, there’s nothing like a Palin column to bring the site hits.

    Well done.

  • anniemargret

    sinz: if you have met these types of limo liberals, then it’s not a wonder that you despise them.

    But I have to wonder why you haven’t met anyone else? Are you prejudging liberals on the basis of ‘lefties in the streets’ back in the 60s, or those that ‘dont’ care’ about America? There may indeed be those types of liberals around, but they are in the minority.

    I personally have many friends, family and acquaintances who are liberal or liberal-oriented. None fall into this category you describe. Heck, I would despise them myself!

    There is certainly nothing wrong with being concerned about global warming, or green energy, because if we don’t, someone else will. But I want my country to be strong, and so do my liberal friends. We are also concerned about deficits and what will be left for our children. We also want a strong military but we are also aware that being militaristic is not the same as being wise in wars. We are concerned about jobs, education, science and yes, we even go to church and believe in God! Imagine that.. Palin has nothing on us liberals, believe me.

    I come from a military family. My husband was a 1st Lt OCS, Vietnam. My cousin was a Navy helicopter pilot off carriers, Vietnam. My father was a Staff Sgt, Bronze Medal winner, and my boyfriend died at the age of 22 yrs, after graduating from West Point a year earlier, in Vietnam. Lots of other uncles and cousins in the military as well.

    You appear to brush liberal with the same stereotype after knowing some of these limo liberals. Don’t do that, Sinz. Not fair. While I have a real distaste for the smug, arch-religionists of the GOP, and the limo conservatives who don’t give a R.A. for the middle class and the poor, or who look down their noses on people who need Medicaid, or right wing Palinistas or Becksters, or Rushies, I have enough understanding of this country and its people to know not all Republicans fit those categories.

    You appear to be a very smart person…. keep showing it. Leave the bias slant on the shelf.

  • anniemargret

    btw….as an adjunct to the above….. I hate the term ‘liberal’ as it has a stereotypical ring to it. I much prefer ‘progressive.’ Because it’s the way most of us feel. To be progressive is to be able to move forward, aware of the benefits of what we have learned from the past, but not wedded to it. I hung up my Birkenstocks more than a few decades ago.

    But I’m still an unabashed tree-hugger – within reason.

  • xcrewdrepubs

    Sinz and all the other right-leaning bloggers on in here…

    as per anniemargret’s comment (Apr 19, 2010 at 9:55 pm).. “But I’m still an unabashed tree-hugger – within reason.”

    You’d all be surprised that I know of and have met quite a number of progressives myself included that you from the Right will so conveniently call “socialists”, “liberals” and whatever masked pejoratives available out there who are just as ..oh well let’s say unabashedly “market-forces loving lumberjacks”. And what’s more, you may actually find this progressive to the right of most of you perhaps in some issues (usually energy, military and defense).

    I’m pretty sure the same applies to people with right of center views.. not all are “Palinites” or “Beckers”. One thing I have noticed however is that, at least in my experience, my progressive friends tend to have greater appreciation for nuanced views and the intrinsic value of diverse opinions and as a result they tend to have higher tolerance for a counter-viewpoints than my conservative friends… since i’m a scientist, I’m trained to question the assumptions of the subsequent induction that (hence) all conservatives are intolerant… a trait which unfortunately is plenty manifest on in here from bloggers with rightists’ (especially Carney, franco2) and leftists’ POVs.

  • xcrewdrepubs

    anniemargret :

    I still have my Birks ;-)

  • SMR

    As a born & raised Alaskan, registered Republican for 20 years, oil & gas industry employee, I can say, quite emphatically, that Palin is the antithesis of Republican values.

    Her post at the AOGCC was nothing but figure-head stuff, payback for some favors she did for Frank The Bank Murkowski & his cronies. She did nothing while there but stick a spoke in the real business when she attempted to appear legit. My husband had plenty of dealings w/her mucking up things. Then she proceeded to lambast Randy Reudrich for things that she had done herself, and continued to do as Governor. She didn’t take on the old boy’s network, she stabbed it in the back and created her own old girl’s network. She was there for what, 6 months? Then she pulled the Reudrich deal to exit on her own terms before being given the boot.

    She was a terrible governor, and her AGIA scheme, not to mention ACES, is pure populist stuff. Now that Alaska is stuck with an unworkable AGIA and its attendant costs, people in AK are getting a bit of a clue. Not Jim, obviously, but many others.

    My husband and I often speculated as to what she would do, as Governor, when the AGIA house of cards came tumbling down. The answer was that she quit ahead of it.

    She is nothing as a politician. She is a talking head. She has no real political credibility.

    If someone tells me that they support her, as a legit Republican, I know that they are a fraud. Her history in Alaska as a politician (mayor of a town of 7000 and 1/2 term Governor? Please!) is pure anti-GOP values, the stuff of Republican nightmares.

  • JimAK

    her AGIA scheme, not to mention ACES, is pure populist stuff …

    So that’s why the Legislature immediately reversed things as soon as they could, right? Oh, they didn’t? And why don’t you tell the class all about Pt. Thompson and what happened there. While you’re at it, explain why Exxon, biggest corporation in the world, signed on with AGIA last July.

    I’ll stand by.