No one in America, not even President Barack Obama, is as compelling a figure in our nation’s political life as Sarah Palin. She twitters, and they are talking about it on the news that night. She shows up and the adoring crowds throng to see her. The publishing industry is in free fall, with writers taking the greatest hit and working for smaller and smaller advances and salaries, but Palin’s advance was huge and her book tour is the most talked about book tour in history.
What is it about Palin that so mesmerizes the media and the public? Many commentators are talking about how her sexuality straddles the post-modern demands of female empowerment with more conservative, traditional views of motherhood. Yes, she was a governor and you almost never see her without one of her children in tow. Others note that her Alaskan roots allow her to straddle the divide between conservatives and libertarians that runs through the heart of the GOP. In her book, she writes, "I always remind people from outside our state that there's plenty of room for all Alaska's animals -- right next to the mashed potatoes." It takes a special talent to write that, and get away with it.
The core of her support, however, is in the evangelical base of the Republican Party. It is often forgotten that the "Religious Right" is, like most religious groups, largely populated by women. Nuns built the Catholic Church and women built the religious right. Women staff the church programs and the Sunday schools. Women undertake home schooling of children.
Indeed, the roots of the religious right were planted by women. Before Jerry Falwell launched the Moral Majority, Phyllis Schlafly led the opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. Before Michael Farris organized home schoolers into a movement, "Sweet Alice" Moore was fighting the school curriculum in Charleston, West Virginia. Falwell became the indispenable player in the formation and politicization of the religious right and Michael Farris remains a key player in the home schooling movement, a movement that was at the core of Mike Huckabee’s campaign in 2008. But, the path had been cleared by women. Those same women and their children look at Falwell and Ferris as heroes. They look at Palin as one of their own.
There is one other aspect of Palin that makes her so compelling, especially to those on the left. It is the sense of an impending train wreck. The left watches because they are waiting for the next Katie Couric interview, the next highly public faux pas that will reveal Palin’s beliefs to be mere window dressing for political ambition. But, her followers do not watch for that reason. They share her sense of grievance against the media and other elites. Palin combines the anger of the Perotistas with the fervor of the religious right. One thing about Palin’s future is clear: We will all get to watch it because, for our different reasons, we can’t take our eyes off her.
I am not a betting man but I would not bet against Sarah Palin’s ability to dominate the Republican nominating process in 2012.