More of Sarah Palin and the Iowa State Fair

So far, the Hot Air Express’ schedule in Ames looks like this: One campaign event down, several more to go, plus the big draws of the debate and straw poll. But, all of a sudden, no event looks to be more exciting than the Iowa State Fair Friday — and not just because a certain spotlight-coveting, fun-loving Alaskan will be there.

According to the fair’s motto, “nothing compares.” Butter sculptures! Big-name entertainment! Fair food! It’s really not that hard to figure out why Sarah Palin would want to be there. Sure, she wants to stoke speculation that she might still run for the presidency (even though my suspicion is that she won’t), but she suggests she also just wants to stick it to a president who admonished the American people to “eat their peas”:

In an email to supporters, Palin said she was “excited to try some of that famous fried butter-on-a-stick, fried cheesecake-on-a-stick, fried twinkies, etc.”

“I’ll enjoy them in honor of those who’d rather make us just ‘eat our peas’!” she said, in a dig at President Obama.

Can you really blame her for wanting to eat a fried Twinkie? (Michelle Obama could and would, of course — before she’d go back to drinking her milkshake — but that’s neither here nor there.)

Of course, Palin won’t be the only prominent politician to appear at the fair. Mitt Romney will speak at the opening ceremonies today and Michele Bachmann will speak Friday, just before the crucial straw poll. But Palin does have the distinction of being the only prominent Republican non-candidate to put in an appearance.

Fair food and speculation-stoking aside, why, really, does Palin plan to attend? From the sound of the ad she released alongside her bus tour relaunch, it might be for the purely patriotic reason of expressing pride in small-town America. It could be for self-aggrandizement, for the pleasure of standing in the spotlight just because she can. It could be for a wholly unexpected reason — an endorsement, for example (although that seems highly unlikely). Maybe Palin decided to appear as a favor to the openly campaigning candidates in Iowa who will be somewhat overshadowed by Rick Perry’s announcement Saturday. After all, her considerable weight guarantees media coverage to the state that was supposed to be the uncontested center of attention this weekend before Perry’s people leaked his plans.

But regardless of why Palin planned this particular trip to Iowa, thinking about her in relation to this appearance makes me realize she is, herself, a little like the Iowa State Fair in that she is entirely in a class of her own. Like it, she boasts excellencies — a large and apparently happy family, signature accomplishments in her home state of Alaska, books, TV appearances, a clearly-and-compellingly-articulated conservative message, beauty, charisma, energy, etc., etc., etc. Like it, she boasts eccentricities — that memorable accent, her reality TV show, the start-and-stop nature of both her governorship and this bus tour, etc., etc., etc. She draws a big crowd, nobody feels indifferently toward her and, sometimes, she palls on even her biggest fans. That, perhaps, is the most important comparison: Just as it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the fair, such that funnel cake tastes sickeningly sweet in your mouth, it is possible to promote, to debate, to discuss Sarah Palin too much (and I know I’m guilty of this, too!), such that she becomes a caricature of herself instead of a real person and even people who like her find the discussion cloying. But she owes it to herself and we owe it to her, too, to remember and acknowledge the reality of Sarah Palin just as often as we remember the myth. Like the rest of us, she’s illuminated by talents, but also marred by flaws. No one compares — and yet everyone does.