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Palin is potential ‘sleeper’ candidate

Managing the message you present and controlling your image is crucial for a person in politics.
 
 George E. Hardin

Managing the message you present and controlling your image is crucial for a person in politics. Sarah Palin is a sterling example of someone who is raising that strategy to unparalleled heights. She restricts her statements largely to social media and self-produced video clips. She has learned what Marshall McLuhan said—“the medium is the message”—and has mounted an approach that could wreak havoc on both the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama.

Obama, by contrast, gracious as he is, seems to spend more time trying to cooperate with his opponents and win their support than promoting his own accomplishments. That technique would be fruitful if only his detractors would meet him halfway.

One of the most astute critiques of the Palin phenomenon was made by Melissa Harris-Perry recently in the nation. She contends that Palin’s potential impact is being overlooked and she is riding a popularity wave that could push her closer toward the Republican Party presidential nomination in 2012.

A Princeton professor and former University of Chicago faculty member, Harris-Perry lived in Hyde Park when Obama was campaigning for president. She assigned Palin’s book, “Going Rogue: An American Life,” to her Princeton class. The students, the professor said, are “mostly young women self-identified as liberal and feminist and actively engaged in local and national politics.” She said although the students “found her (Palin’s) authorial voice irritatingly self-assured and disagreed with her policy conclusions, they also found her surprisingly compelling.” And as Harris-Perry carried the book on planes and trains, she said it resulted in both “clucking disapproval” and “enthusiastic bonding” with strangers. She concedes her experiences are not a scientific study, “but after reading and watching Palin and the reactions to her these past few weeks I’m convinced that underestimating Sarah Palin is a mistake of epic proportions.”

Palin positions herself so “every attack is just evidence of the virtue of her chosen path.” Her approach “proves magnetic even for those who disagree with her.” She is “a candidate who attracts us even when she repulses us.”

In using social media to communicate and generally refusing to be interviewed by journalists, Palin is like the leader of a Third World country who controls how he is seen by the masses. She denounces her opponents as “others,” different from her fan base—less patriotic, more fiscally irresponsible, less inclined to work and more likely to seek a government handout. Therefore those “others” are less important and not entitled to equal participation in the democratic process—a role reserved for people committed to the ideas of the Tea Party. She and her constituents present themselves as victims of a malicious government. In Palin’s view, reporters become the enemy when they take on their traditional role as representatives of the public interest.

When John McCain pushed Palin upon the electorate he sabotaged his own campaign and added to the atmosphere in which style—personal and physical—was valued over substance.

The recent Tucson shootings united the nation in mourning but also exposed the width of the national divide. When Palin spoke about the tragedy it was in terms of “us” and “them,” accenting ideological separation.

Palin fails to give the impression that she could tackle the serious business of running the country, especially if she found it so difficult governing a state with a population of about 700,000 that she found it necessary to resign. She points to everything that is “wrong” and identifies herself as the one who can save us, all without speaking with substance on major issues.

Many blue-collar conservatives along with Palin are being deluded into taking positions against their own best interests and in favor of the rich and powerful. Palin criticizes “socialism” while the Alaska Permanent Fund, derived from oil and gas revenue, provides annual checks for Alaska’s citizens.

Palin remains undeclared as a 2012 candidate. While she is being ridiculed and called an airhead, she is sharp enough to realize that a laid-back, nonchalant attitude can effectively mask what is going on in the background. Obama and the Democratic Party would do well to more closely monitor what could be a gathering storm.

(George E. Hardin worked as a photographer, reporter and editor, and in public relations during a long career before he retired. His column appears every other week.)

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