21 December 2009
More after the jump.
Before Sarah Palin became John McCain's running mate last year, we spent a morning in her Alaska office while she was still governor. We sat down for a one-hour TV interview, and I was most impressed with her insights, traditional values, grasp of issues, and just what a sincere and genuinely warm person she was.
The morning in her office made it clear why so many Americans across the board respond to and connect deeply with her brand of politics. However, the former governor has become an icon to many and a disaster waiting to happen for others.
Are Americans beyond questioning President Obama's birth? Do Americans believe for a second that Medicare administrators want institutional euthanasia for seniors?
Will the media give her a platform to espouse Reaganesque doctrines or enough rope to hoist her up on her own petard? Will Mrs. Palin appear more radical the more opportunities she has to share her "Alaskan values"?
America loves second acts. Exhibit A: the book tour phenomenon. Every washed-up, has-been former star can jump-start his or her career by writing a book and singing a redemptive tune in book stops across the country. In many respects, the book tour is a microcosm of the democratic political process. The form relies on the ability of the writer to hold the audience's interest by simply recounting his or her own story. The most successful ones are able to resonate with the blue-collar public by suggesting a better alternative to their own lives.
Politicians thrive at this kind of performance art. Not surprisingly, the ghost-written autobiography has become de rigueur for both successful and washed-up political candidates. It provides politicians a chance to press the flesh and talk about why they are so likable. Politicians can do this for days on end.
The American voter is happily complicit. Voters judge their elected leaders much like a fifth-grade popularity contest. The stories of politicians are to Americans what the mythologies of the gods were to the ancient Greeks. Tell a personal, compelling narrative that resonates with the masses, and you've defined yourself. Your vision becomes far more impactful and wields with it a virtual legacy lasting far longer than any speech behind a podium.