What? Another Sarah Palin piece. A lot of people say they're tired of hearing about her. They think the media pay too much attention to Sarah Palin. Forget that. I think we need to pay more attention to her.
I am not just saying this because she sells newspapers or draws eyeballs to television screens, although that tantalizing bottom-line incentive does not chill my curiosity.
I think we need to know more about why so many people are so crazy about her, whether the craziness happens to be for her or against her.
We have just witnessed the opening days of Palinfest, her national tour to hawk her book, "Going Rogue," mostly through talk shows and the small-town folks she rhapsodized as Sen. John McCain's running mate.
Watching 1,500 people happily line up for hours for a chance to get her autographed book in Grand Rapids, Mich., I wondered: Do conservatives hold government in such low regard that they actually think Sarah Palin could run it?
Quite a few do, judging by the polls. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll found only 17 percent of Republicans said they "definitely would" vote for her, but another 58 percent said they "would consider it." That's more than enough of a base for the self-described maverick from Wasilla to wage a battle reminiscent of a conservative Arizona senator who Republicans nominated to be president in 1964, the year Palin was born: Barry Goldwater.
Like Goldwater, who went down to a crushing defeat in the general election against President Lyndon B. Johnson, Palin excites her party's base too much to be ignored, no matter how much her own party's leaders wish they could - even as she wages war with the moderate voters her party needs to win elections.
But the polls don't tell you everything about the public's feelings. The polls don't tell you how much of her support is a genuine belief that she is presidential material vs. how much is wishful thinking. Many of her followers are content to have the cathartic pleasure of hearing someone with her star power give voice to their frustrations with government as it has been run by both parties.
They delight in hearing her stick it to their nemesis, President Barack Obama. Palin doesn't have to actually run for president to be a player, as long as she can play den mother to the orphaned political movement popularly known as the "tea party" protests.
It is an orphaned movement because it is largely made up of conservatives who are angry at what they see as an abandonment by both Democratic and Republican elites of conservative principles like tax cuts and small government.
To her flock, Palin is not Goldwater as much as she is Howard Beale, the professional "angry man" TV anchor in the 1976 movie "Network," who urged his viewers to go their windows and scream out, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" No wonder she was recently asked by a NewsMax reporter if she would run for president on a ticket with Glenn Beck, the Fox News star who has brought Beale to real life.
Like Beck, Palin appears to be having the time of her life, despite her complaints of persecution by liberals. Nothing helps polish up a conservatives career like perceived persecution from liberals, just as liberal talk show hosts are enhanced by conservative attacks. In an age in which politics and show business often merge, it's only appropriate that a former Miss Wasilla and former sportscaster like Palin can build political stature off well-spoken platitudes.
Matthew Continetti's new book, "The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star," attributes liberal dislike for Palin to "antiprovincialism." If so, I would venture that their "antiprovincialism" comes largely in response to Palin's anti-metropolitanism.
But I think Continetti comes closer to the mark when he characterizes her political rise as one of a fighter against the establishment in both parties. At a time when Republican leadership is in disarray - the Party of Nope against Democrats in charge of the White House and Congress - a populist movement of orphaned conservatives has risen, and Palin has captured their hearts. Both parties need to pay attention to the complaints of Palin's supporters, even as they understandably question the political viability of this angry group's media-driven leader.
E-mail Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to him c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207.
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