She’s back! Of course, she was never away, but this scarcely matters. Right now, it’s wall-to-wall Sarah Palin, almost crowding out all other news. The memoir of a woman unknown only two years ago is hotter than those of both Clintons.
Only one defeated vice presidential candidate has had such an afterlife — FDR became president, and that was after 12 years and polio. And in the year after his defeat in the 1920 election, even he was obscure.
Decades from now, teams of psychiatrists will try to explain and account for the explosions of angst from our best and our brightest when Palin appeared on the scene. Lest you forget, Matt Continetti’s new book, “The Persecution of Sarah Palin,” refreshes your memory with a list of such sober critiques of her governing record as that she was a slut, a moron, an ignoramus, a “cancer,” a perfume saleswoman, one of the “swilly” people and a woman who faked her own pregnancy — under conditions that were biologically impossible, and for reasons that never made sense.
After November, they followed her back to Alaska and besieged her with lawsuits designed to distract her from governing. It worked.
They drove her from office, but into still-greater influence: Citizen Sarah typed a few words on Facebook about “death panels” and delivered a critical hit to Obamacare; typed more and helped topple a liberal hack in a special election in upstate New York.
Her negatives are high, but her effect is enormous. Clearly, her power is not tied to office. But what is it tied to and how?
“Is Sarah Palin the next Ted Kennedy?” Jeffrey Lord wrote in the American Spectator on Sept. 1. He didn’t mean she was old, fat, liberal, rich or the brother of a murdered American president.
Rather, she’s one of a small class of unique public figures who may not become president, but nonetheless seem to exist in a permanent spotlight and do more than some presidents do to make history. As evidence, he cites her “death panel” salvo last summer to Kennedy’s 1987 tirade about “back-alley abortions” that helped to defeat Robert Bork.
Both were exaggerated, were labeled unfair, enraged those in opposition and got the job done. Lord calls this factor “head of the table,” the ability to seize the national stage and wrest public attention to a cause of one’s choosing, in a few explosive and well-chosen words.
It’s the ability to make oneself matter, beyond the power of office or even without one. Winston Churchill had this, and so did a handful of presidents — both Roosevelts, Reagan and Kennedy. But so did others, perhaps too explosive for national office: Bobby Kennedy, Jack Kemp and numerous others. Sen. John McCain has a little himself.
Others like them today are Newt and Hillary — who need only one name, like Cher and Madonna — and all four are in some ways alike. Like TV anchors and film stars, they look like posters and not drawings, arousing intense loyalties and visceral loathing by people less enraged by their ideas than by their persona, and who seem driven to distraction by the fact that they exist.
They raise piles of cash, for their friends and their enemies. They are not free of scandals, which fail to destroy them. They don’t always win, and they lose many big ones, but they always bounce back and never are wholly extinguished. And, as Ted Kennedy showed us, they always fight on to the death.
It’s obvious now that Palin is one of these people, and the ones she can thank are her foes. She wasn’t a lightning rod until the left made her into one. Rather, she’s a maverick much in the McCain model, a reformer who took on her own party and often worked to cross party lines.
But they made her SARAH, not Sarah-the-governor. And they, at least from their viewpoint, created a monster. If they left her alone, she may have gone back to Alaska, one of a number of center-right governors. Instead, they made her a star.
At 44, Palin may have 30 more years in the spotlight. She’s here. She will be here, forever. She. Is. Never. Going. Away.
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”