New York Magazine has a long profile of Sarah Palin up right now. Its focus is more publicity, personality and celebrity, than politics. The profile reduces my probability that Palin will make a serious run (as opposed to a pro forma one) for the highest office in 2012.* It also leaves me impressed by how quickly and efficiently she’s leveraged her celebrity and gone from moderately upper middle class** in income (and in serious debt due to legal bills after the 2008 campaign) to wealthy. Some Republicans are apparently worried about her becoming the “face of the party,” something that crops up now and then in the media, but it doesn’t seem like they really have to worry that much unless the party has no real substance and is rooted only in style and the need to get elected. As for Sarah Palin, whatever you think of her politics or personality, she’s offering a concrete product distributed through the private sector. The article mentions that her book was a major reason that Random House generated a profit last year! Whatever criticisms one might lodge, she’s not getting rich by being a rent-seeker, as so many of our public and private sector elites have become. In fact the article points to a whole industry of liberal critique which has emerged around her, so she’s not even capturing all the wealth that she’s responsible for (spillover effects).
I have always been relatively unimpressed by the arguments of those on the Left and Right who view her as a potentially transformative figure in American politics. I have too great of a faith in the power of elites to squelch populism on the whole (this doesn’t mean that populists don’t sometimes succeed, it just means that you have to generally bet against populism all things equal). As an empirical matter it does seem like that she’s becoming the conservative equivalent to Al Gore, someone beloved within their own partisan faction, and able to maintain their celebrity and have some influence, but ultimately constrained in their reach because of their polarizing personality.
* Serious as in will she expend all her capital, fiscal and personal, during her run, or will she have to balance her desire for the highest office with having to maintain her career in case she doesn’t succeed. In other words, I don’t think she’ll go “all in” because she will want to continue and maintain her future income generation possibilities, which have a large upside.
** Though socially and culturally I think one can make the argument that the Palins span the working & middle class, their incomes were well above the national average by the time she came to prominence.