The Relent(less/ing) Renegade: How Sarah Palin’s Unprecedented Career Move will Shape her Political Future
I read an article about Sarah Palin in Time Magazine a few days ago, referring to her as a renegade. I began to ponder what that actually meant, and what impact this style of philosophy could have on her future dealings. Although many see her as simply a beautiful bumbling idiot, Palin’s career is not a fluke by any means. Her persistence and tenacity made many other politicians capitulate, and her ability to resonate with constituents expanded her appeal. Throughout the 2008 election, Palin was painted as a renegade along with the original renegade, John “Maverick” McCain. Both tried to cement an image of being outcasts of the Washington Establishment, fighting for the average citizen and being able to truly bring change to Washington. Although the media publicized this title in a mostly pejorative manor, Palin continues to wear it with pride and glee. The ex-sports anchor rose to the gubernatorial office not by good looks or wit alone, but through making candid connections with constituents. Castigated by much of the press and unshielded by women advocate groups, Palin’s meteoric rise onto the national landscape has advanced the women’s movement towards breaking the “political glass ceiling.”
Oddly though, few women’s groups came to her defense as the media tore her credibility and family apart. It becomes less surprising, however, when it is acknowledged that, if one takes a broad swath of all the women’s groups in the United States, the vast majority are heavily liberal, since the women’s movement was borne out of this side of the political spectrum. On issues such as abortion, Palin lost much of her standing with women as being an outspoken pro-life candidate. This drew the ire of many women, particularly those educated who were embarrassed that Palin was being pushed to represent them.
Palin’s success should undermine any notion that the American Dream is dead, as Paul Krugman once said in a New York Times article. One of the principals that the United States is founded on is that anyone, regardless of socio-economic status, race or gender can achieve anything; the capacity for success is equally accessible for all (so in theory). This resides at the core of who Sarah Palin is; an aggressive politician who climbed her way to the top by getting results and feeling the pressure of her constituents, some of whom had been her closest friends. Her magnetic personality and inhuman drive helped elevate her status and rise as a formidable politician. Governing over the sparsely-populated state of Alaska, Palin was in a unique circumstance to deliver because of its close communal feel. In comparison to the Washington establishment, Palin did not eschew the concerns of her citizens. In order to wind down spending, she discarded many of her gubernatorial perks such as private chefs and hotel reimbursement when possible. This unique disposition and uncommon concern for fellow citizens was fostered in humble settings. Contemporaneously, this expanded the chasm between her and the establishment that existed in Washington, D.C. This added to the fervor and surprise surrounding Palin’s Vice Presidential nomination.
During her childhood, Palin was nurtured by two parents who worked as teachers. She honed in her leadership skills through sports, having ran track and played basketball all during high school. Later, she earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Idaho after attending several colleges. Beginning her career as a sports anchor on a local station, Palin’s commitment to the welfare of her community soon spilled over into the political theatre. This notion catapulted her from Wasilla City Council in 1992 to the governorship in 2006.
During her pre-national fame years as governor, Palin carved out a profile that struck a chord within the heart strings of Middle (Midwest) America. She fought the corrupt and defective Republican establishment in Alaska. In addition, Palin consolidated her state’s energy supply. She was able to pass legislation to increase taxes on oil companies while drawing out resources in an environmentally-friendly manner. As a result of the windfall profits enjoyed by oil companies, the state was awash in tax revenue, part of which was apportioned to citizens as a way to deflate the cost of energy. She drastically reigned in spending and cut taxes for her constituents, bolstered by the aforementioned oil tax revenues. These popular measures catapulted Palin into the hearts of many of her constituents, but it would not be until McCain would nominate her on August 24, 2008 that she would be introduced to the larger global community.
Existing under the lens of the national media incorporates a higher level of scrutiny and hyperbole. Palin’s flaws, expounded by the media as indicative of intellectual gaps, and was transposed above her political platform. This also exposed much of the contempt some media outlets held for people of her background, education level and speaking habits. From a sociological aspect, the race regressed into a fight between the conservative, Middle America against the liberal East and West Coasts of the country. Some believed her selection as McCain’s Vice Presidential Running Mate stemmed from countering Obama’s election as being the only monumental element of the campaign. If McCain was elected, Palin would have been the first female Vice President.
Still, there were several indefensible flaws that left Palin open to unrealities criticism. Her inability to clearly articulate a position and highlight the aspects of her governorship that prepared her for the office of Vice President. News that one of her teenage daughters became pregnant, and accusations that she violated ethics codes spread, weakening the McCain-Palin ticket. Arguably her worse blemish was the great paucity of foreign diplomatic experience she held, given the tenuous relations the United States held with much of the Middle East. Up against Obama’s seamless campaign that exploited technology and capitalized on the infectious theme “Yes We Can”, the McCain-Palin ticket began to sputter during the last few weeks before Election Day. A rousing victory for the Obama camp and the tapped youth demographics that helped elect him, Palin went back to being the Governor of Alaska, though the media would not relent.
Since Palin has jettisoned her gubernatorial office, there has been immense speculation as to what she will do next. Speaking engagements, writing a book or even holding down a television show have been rumored. Still, part of Palin’s appeal has been that she never allowed herself to be pigeon-holed as a particular type of person or caricature, despite the myriad attempts of the media. Although a highly controversial figure to be sure, Palin has branded herself countless times as a veritable renegade. However, her recent resignation has thrown into question her chances of contention in the 2012 Presidential Election. People continue to connect and admire her because of her humble background. She is not the typical politician by any stretch; she did neither attended nor graduated from a prestigious school. Palin never attended graduate school, as many politicians earn their political clout through attending business or law school and using it as an opportunity to distinguish themselves. She is emblematic of the American Dream, in which anyone from anywhere can surmount the odds and achieve success. She comes across more as a neighbor rather than an elitist politician, stuffy professor or manipulative business executive. Her politicking rests on infusing emotion, community and passion, devoid of political jargon and platitudes recycled in every election cycle. Her message, some believe, was bungled by the over-protective McCain campaign and muffled by the Obama camp.
Do renegades quit? Not if they want to have a chance at the 2012 elections. Palin’s image has certain taken a hit recently, as many have suggested she should have continued to withstand the brutal media assaults. Nonetheless, this Presidential Election cycle demonstrated an antagonistic, malicious media which sought to defame her in nearly every conceivable permutation, even evincing a noticeable political bias. To an extent, Palin should have anticipated a high level of examination into her background. Yet, this kind of media campaign against her is reminiscent of a LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) answer to many questions that I continue to see: “The author is flawed because he assumes what he already seeks to establish.” From this author’s perspective, it’s clear that the media already had a pre-determined bias and agenda to oust her from national politics. Even after the election, it has been remarkable how often the media have descended on Alaska.
What is the true measure of a politician? So often we invest our dreams for the future in a run-of-the-mill Ivy League-graduate politician with a charming smile and winning stride. Can honesty and morality ever trump those sterling credentials? Palin’s run at Vice President is the first true foray into answering the question in quiet sometime. With Wall Street extorting people for money and the Washington Establishment being only reliable for not getting things done, it may be time to change our tenor and alter the credentials in order to place emphasis on other aspects we’d like to see in our future leaders. Maybe, for the future, honesty and candor should rest at the top of the list. No, Sarah Palin is not the most intelligent, articulate representative of the aggregate United States. Still, her honesty and candor are characteristics that, incredibly, are more difficult to find than Ivy-League educations in our current political landscape.
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