Individually ridiculed as devoid of substance, together Sarah Palin and the Tea Party could be a powerful Republican force
Sarah Palin may not know that Africa is a continent, but if there is knowledge that she is not lacking, it’s a canny ability to spot, and seize, any opportunity that will propel her into the spotlight.
Palin’s delivery of the keynote speech at this weekend’s Tea Party conventionin Tennessee was a reminder that it was not, and is not likely to ever be, substance nor innovative ideas that characterise her mainstream political career. What gets Palin ahead is her way of maximising and exploiting what are, essentially, gaps in the market for her own gain.
One gap that was open, and seemingly filled by Palin on Saturday night, was leadership of the fledgling Tea Party movement. Both the movement and Palin have been branded, and ridiculed by commentators and politicians, as hollow and devoid of any substance; both are seeking to assert themselves as legitimate political forces.
The Tea Party, at least until this past weekend, had no public face with which to reinforce legitimacy; Palin – not highly favoured in mainstream Republican circles – had no party with which to align herself. Both have now found in each other a perfect partner. Off the back of the speech, the perception that the Tea Party movement is the most dynamic part of the Republican party has grown, while Palin has started to construct her very own base and carve out her own political identity.
Palin’s political identity is neither nuanced nor sophisticated, which made for a somewhat predictable speech. The folksy turns of phrase for which she became known during the 2008 campaign are still in effect. “How’s that hopey, changey thing working out for ya?” she asked mockingly during her speech. She continues to engage in deep partisanship, taking cheap shots at President Obama – who she described as being a “lawyer at the lectern” – and regularly invoking Ronald Reagan, who would have been 99 years old on Saturday.
As during the 2008 campaign season, Palin disregarded factual accuracy during her speech, particularly on sensitive matters such as terrorism and national security. She claimed, attempting to paint the president as lenient on national security issues, that Obama does not use the word “war”, preferring instead to use “overseas contingency operation”, despite the fact that the president said, just after the failed Christmas Day bombing: “We are at war. We are at war with al-Qaida.” Comments that Obama should play the “war card” to improve his chances of re-election in 2010, made during her appearance on Fox News on Sunday, also highlight the cynical and opportunistic approach to politics that Palin is employing.
What is perhaps most fascinating is watching Palin position herself in a similar way to how Obama did during his election campaign. She is now claiming the spot as a leader of a bottom-up, people-led grassroots “revolution”, which she believes that America so desperately needs. And people are buying it. What remains to be seen is just how many people.
And therein lies another tool in Palin’s box. To her advantage, Palin has a willing, and fascinated, media who are sucking up her every word. If we were still in the era of print media, Palin may have been a blip on the radar. However, in the age of the 24-hour news cycle and the internet, all Palin has to do is produce some great soundbites. Palin’s suggestion on Fox News that she may run for election in 2012 if it is “the right thing to do for our country and for the Palin family” created yet more fodder for consumption. Whether or not she actually runs doesn’t really matter. The mere fact that she has hinted at it now guarantees her increased attention.
Sarah Palin’s variety of “leadership” is interesting. While she condemns old Washington ways and purports to be for the people, she simultaneously continues to use some of the most insidious types of political manoeuvring that makes voters so resigned and cynical.
I don’t know if Palin is in it for the people or the publicity. But if there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that when opportunity knocks, Sarah Palin goes running. Is this the type of future “leadership” that America wants or needs?