The latest trend in the media world is “trending.” That is, monitoring what people are buzzing about and directing coverage accordingly.
Just as the unspoken sometimes reveals more than the spoken, what’s not trending suggests more than what’s trending. In all the many thousands of words written in the immediate aftermath of the Republican debate in Iowa, two words were scarce: Sarah Palin.
But she wasn’t even in Iowa during the debate, you say. Correct. Her “bus tour,” idling since its last attempt to seize national attention, wasn’t due to arrive in Iowa until Friday. Then again, Texas Gov. Rick Perry wasn’t in Iowa either and his name was everywhere. Some political observers even dubbed him winner of the debate in absentia.
This isn’t to say Palin doesn’t still have a loyal following. According to a recent survey by RealClearPolitics, which averages the results of several national polls, Palin ranked third behind Perry in second place and Mitt Romney in first. Palin barely edged out Michele Bachmann in fourth place by just two-tenths of a point. It is to say, however, that she was not then on the minds of many Americans.
Despite her persistence as a hypothetical presidential contender in polls, could it be that Sarah Palin’s moment is up? Has she (finally) exploited “McCain’s Folly” to the extent possible?
Palin may still have a “fire in my belly,” as she recently told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren, but does America still have an appetite for Palin’s brand of politicking? Her months-long tease about whether she’ll run for president may be a savvy move if you’re selling books and cutting TV deals, but it’s not much in the way of leadership.
Eventually, when a tease goes on too long, fascination morphs into boredom. Or anger. The authenticity that Palin displayed in her early days as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska has lost is luster from overexposure. Authenticity becomes inauthentic once it is commodified and packaged as a marketing strategy.
There has never been any debate about Palin’s considerable star power. Full of personality and chutzpah, she gets credit for putting relative unknowns on the political map and for raising mountains of cash with a wink and the sort of fiery rhetoric that gets blood rushing to the amygdala. (That’s the section of the brain that relates to pleasure and pain for those of you who leapt to the wrong body part, if the right conclusion.)
But star power isn’t enough, as we’re witnessing in real time. President Barack Obama beat the stars when he rose from community organizer and state senator to become U.S. senator before running for president. The tides haven’t risen as hoped, but the walls do seem to be tumbling down. With dismal news from London’s riots to wildly fluctuating global markets, this is no time for unserious, self-infatuated (maybe, winky) candidates.
While serious candidates were prepping for the hard work of a presidential debate, Palin was announcing her intention to pop over to Iowa in her “One Nation Tour.” In an email to her fans, she wrote: “The heartland is perfect territory for more of the One Nation Tour as we put forth efforts to revitalize the fundamental restoration of America by highlighting our nation’s heart, history and founding principles.” (Homeland Security reportedly has sought help from idle bloggers fluent in Palinspeak to translate the meaning of this sentence.)
Good luck with that. Palin’s governing theory reads like a copy editor’s game where you stitch together random phrases to create something like sense. Her sashay into Iowa, meanwhile — showing up basically to show up — is testament to her inability to resist the spotlight. Or perhaps it is the flame.
Time will tell, but what recent history already confirms is that Palin isn’t a serious person. If she had been serious about running for president, she would have completed her term as governor. Or, having left office, she would have spent her time hitting the books and filling in knowledge gaps so painfully exposed during the 2008 election.
Instead, she hit the road in a series of moneymaking, self-promoting stunts and has succeeded in achieving the true American dream: fame and fortune. Good for her. But all those people who have written checks and invested good faith in their chosen one will be justified in feeling played like any other heartbroken victim of a terrible flirt.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.