Run baby, run

Photograph of Palin as Miss Wasilla by Timroff. From Daily Kos.

Most people think that Saturday Night Live has terminated Sarah Palin’s political ambitions. I wouldn’t be too sure about that. The McCain campaign is probably doomed, but I’d put money on the proposition that Ms Palin sees herself as succeeding where Hillary Clinton failed. After all, she’s probably now the most famous woman in America. This hunch is confirmed by a fascinating New Yorker piece by Jane Mayer on the background to McCain’s ‘choice’ of Palin as running mate, and by this Guardian piece. Mayer writes that

Palin’s sudden rise to prominence … owes more to members of the Washington élite than her rhetoric has suggested. Paulette Simpson, the head of the Alaska Federation of Republican Women, who has known Palin since 2002, said, “From the beginning, she’s been underestimated. She’s very smart. She’s ambitious.” John Bitney, a top policy adviser on Palin’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign, said, “Sarah’s very conscientious about crafting the story of Sarah. She’s all about the hockey mom and Mrs. Palin Goes to Washington—the anti-politician politician.” Bitney is from Wasilla, Palin’s home town, and has known her since junior high school, where they both played in the band. He considers Palin a friend, even though after becoming governor, in December, 2006, she dismissed him. He is now the chief of staff to the speaker of the Alaska House.

Upon being elected governor, Palin began developing relationships with Washington insiders, who later championed the idea of putting her on the 2008 ticket. “There’s some political opportunism on her part,” Bitney said. For years, “she’s had D.C. in mind.” He added, “She’s not interested in being on the junior-varsity team.”

The article has fascinating detail of how Palin wooed a whole clique of right-wing commentators, some of who were as moved by her shapely legs as much as they were impressed by her, er, ideas. Rush Limbaugh’s first reaction was to say that she was a “babe”. And of course there’s nothing quite like a “gun-toting hottie” to turn on your average member of the National Rifle Association.

I’m not impressed by Palin in her current role. She’s way out of her depth at the moment. But on the other hand there is something deeply suspicious about media groupthink. Palin is probably smarter and more cunning than she has been made to appear so far by her Republican handlers. Her fellow-Alaskans know her as someone who is ambitious, organised and determined/ruthless (depending on your point of view). She has had the kind of media exposure and name recognition that money simply cannot buy. And she has four years to build on that base.

So what price Palin as the Republican candidate in 2012?