Consider it an admission against interests. Michelle Cottle gets ahead of the curve, at least on the Left, in acknowledging what has been painfully obvious for months as Sarah Palin raises money and endorses candidates around the country: she’s darned good at what she does. And one of the things she does is cut the media out of the loop, making them mainly irrelevant to her activism and base-building:
It’s an unconventional media strategy, to be sure, and not without its drawbacks— namely, bitter party operatives. (“This means that you can’t plan anything!” says the strategist.) Yet it’s hard to deny that Palin’s p.r. approach has not only succeeded but succeeded brilliantly. How? The most obvious element at work here is that Palin operates not as a politician but as a celebrity. “Most politicians can’t get on the cover of People,” sighs another GOP campaign veteran. “She’s on the cover almost every week.” The rules are different for celebrities: Palin’s megawattage enables her to command attention for every word and gesture, even as she largely stiff-arms The New York Times and “Meet the Press.” Similarly, candidates desperate for her endorsement are unlikely to (publicly) whine about whatever attention she dribbles their way, no matter how arbitrary or last-minute.
Of course, unlike other categories of the rich and famous, political celebs (especially populist firebrands) cannot risk being seen as remote or out of touch. But here’s where Palin’s embrace of new media saves the day. Her perky, quirky tweets and chatty Facebook items make her fans feel as though they have a direct line to her—despite the oft-voiced assumption that Palin (like so many pols) does not write most (if any) of her own Facebook posts. Such is the beauty of social networking: It allows a public figure to avoid direct interaction with the public while promoting the illusion of personal connection and involvement.
This model makes perfect sense for Palin if she plans to continue as a media personality. It’s unlikely she’d change her m.o., however, even if she decided to run for office again one day. It suits her core strengths—passion, pithiness, and a mind-boggling magnetism—and, let’s face it, it’s so much easier than the conventional model. Already, even as Palin eagerly collects scalps in the midterm races (a key step toward running for future office), she is skipping much of the messier, schmoozier work of building relationships with other campaigns (traditionally also a key step), opting instead to bless many from the safe, antiseptic distance of Facebook.
I’m not sure I buy an either/or paradigm in strategies. Palin does plenty of in-person, on-the-ground work, mainly on behalf of activism rather than candidates. She doesn’t need to do the retail politicking as she’s not running for office, nor serving in one that requires her to bolster job approvals. That doesn’t mean she can’t later do all of the retail politicking along with her current media strategy — in fact, it would be difficult to run for office without doing so. They’re not mutually exclusive.
As for whether Palin writes her own material, well, that’s mainly immaterial for a candidate, and only slightly more relevant to an activist. Barack Obama has speechwriters, and the tweets coming from his campaign didn’t spring forth from his Blackberry, either. As for Facebook being “antiseptic,” that seems like a strange description for a medium mainly noted for its personal connections. It’s not more “antiseptic” to post on Facebook than it is to write a white paper for a campaign website; it seems a lot less antiseptic, which is why Facebook is such a popular platform and campaign websites are mainly donation drivers.
Still, this is more or less quibbling around the edges. Cottle takes a refreshingly honest approach to Palin’s success, crediting it to Palin rather than luck, or worse, racism and paranoia, which is usually where her ideological opponents look for answers. Her conclusion makes this very clear:
At some point, even Palin haters may have to face the possibility that the p.r. genius is Sarah herself.
Make that a high probability. Even Chris Matthews acknowledged that implicitly when he said that the media would try to destroy her. If Palin wasn’t successful, they wouldn’t need to make it a project.