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Sarah Palin: As Relevant as She Wants to Be

Rumors of "Irrelevance" Greatly Exaggerated

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Sarah Palin: As Relevant as She Wants to Be
Mark Wilson - Getty Images

It seems that not a week (day?) goes by without someone, somewhere writing a column about Sarah Palin’s “irrelevance.” The columns started immediately after Obama was inaugurated in 2009. They continued when she left the Governorship, and then again before the 2010 tea party sweep year where here sway was far more relevant than the sitting president’s. And she was irrelevant once again in 2012, up until she backed a number of long-shot candidates who today sit in the US Senate. Even well over four years removed from the 2008 presidential election, the columns keep coming. Sarah Palin is not irrelevant, they all say. In fact, she is as relevant as she wants to be.

So Irrelevant They Can’t Help Themselves

Want to know what irrelevant is? Ask yourself when the last time you read an “Is Rick Santorum Irrelevant” column. It’s not meant as an aside to Santorum, but he was the last real challenger to Mitt Romney and had a decent conservative following. Also, he has mostly disappeared and is not considered a major influence, and this just happened in 2012. But Palin, on the other hand, is so irrelevant they can’t stop talking about her. If you have to constantly ask the question, you know the answer. After all, if she weren’t relevant no one would waste space writing about her. Over. And over. And over.

In 2011, when the media rolled out pallets of more than 20,000 pages worth of e-mails released from her time as Governor, the weeks-long venture turned up nothing of interest or scandal. If anything, they showed she was a highly ethical and hard-working Governor, and she was pretty much the person she claimed to be. The Palin team even encouraged people to read the emails to show how ridiculous the media witch hunt was. That story, of course, wasn’t so interesting. They were sure there was a scandal to be had. The emails were so favorable to her, that the actual coverage of the emails was more broad than the actual content of the emails. The media were noticeably bummed.

Criticism: Sarah Palin is “Fame Obsessed”

One of the common criticisms of Palin is that she is obsessed with fame and attention. Ironically, they say this as she spends more time out of the limelight than anywhere near it. While she starred on an Alaska-themed show on TLC, her effort there was more about attempting to destroy the over-the-top media caricature of her. She’s released two best-sellers, but for the most part stays out of the way. Even during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, Palin mostly just offered her support to a number of underdog candidates but rarely rushed to steal the campaign limelight from them. Compare this to, say, Chris Christie and Bill Clinton where every event is always about them. If there is attention to be had, they want it. But that is part of what being a politician is about. Palin is no longer a politician. And she seems to have little interest in playing in that world. <3>As Relevant as She Wants to Be Sarah Palin was never a typical politician. She fiercely fought special interests in Alaska, which is something that makes for a short political lifespan. She never trained to be a politician or plotted paths to the presidency like a Barack Obama or Bill Clinton. She was never an obsessive policy wonk or absorbed in every detail of every issue. She was just an average person who happened to have had what it took to become a mayor and eventually the governor of Alaska. But apparently “relevant” in the eyes of the media means being out in front of the camera at all possible times. I’m fairly certain that if Palin wanted to write a weekly column that she would have more than enough people begging for her services. She could probably have a radio show, too, if she wanted. Whenever Palin wants to be relevant, she is. She is unpredictable, but also as much of a force as she wants, when she wants.

What Will She Do Next?

One thing is clear: no-one knows what Sarah Palin will do next. Many were convinced she would run for the presidential nomination in 2012. As she considered a run and embarked on a multi-state bus tour in 2011, the media chased her every move, no doubt writing stories about her pending irrelevance. My personal guess is that she is done with being a politician. It’s almost impossible to be a major political candidate without some backing in the political world, as much as many would like to think a truly grassroots candidate could get a presidential nomination. Politics is loaded with “advisers” who have no loyalties but always search for a bigger payday.

The political system is not built for good people who want to serve out of necessity rather than desire. While people always say they would rather elect average people to office, the system is loaded with career politicians who go from law school one day to holding elective office the next. Politics today is about power, fame, and earning influence for special interests. That’s probably not a world Palin wishes to deal in. Instead, I would expect Palin would do what she has been done. Laying low and raising a family. In 2013 and 2014, she will probably come out to help shake things up and endorse some more upstart candidates. And just like in 2010 and 2012, her influence will be enormous. Until then, we will just wait for the next breathless column wondering if Sarah Palin is still relevant.

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