Palin Inc.

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.

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40 Responses to Palin Inc.

  1. Ted says:

    You write that the Palins are really upper-middle class because “their incomes were well above the national average by the time she came to prominence.”

    That’s hardly fair: by that standard no working/middle-class person is governor, because every state pays their governor an above-average wage. Have any of the sitting governors performed manual labor as a main job in their adulthood?

  2. David Hume says:

    That’s hardly fair: by that standard no working/middle-class person is governor, because every state pays their governor an above-average wage.

    yes. i think it is fair, so i think that by definition almost no one at a high level in politics (e.g., statewide office) is working or middle class in terms of their present income and status, even if their origins are such. only 1 US senator out of 100 has not graduated from college.

  3. David Hume says:

    btw, i didn’t want to negate the working class origins, and to some extent values/behaviors (pentecostalism, teen pregnancy, etc.) of the palins. some people from working class backgrounds transcend them and acquire bourgeois norms. harry reid and scott brown both come from these backgrounds, and their families and lives are now solidly bourgeois in a way that i’m not sure the palins are.

    i was thinking in terms of $, and noting that the palins lived in modest comfort for years before becoming genuinely f**k you rich.

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  5. Susan says:

    The comparison with Gore is brilliant. He and she seem to be on parallel career tracks.

    I can’t see her as a serious candidate in 2012. What she does best is preach to the converted. Her poll numbers with independents and disaffected Democrats are pretty abysmal, aren’t they?

    The article notes that the ghastly Levi Johnston is working on a memoir and a reality show of his own. I wonder if he’ll find any takers?

  6. David Hume says:

    The article notes that the ghastly Levi Johnston is working on a memoir and a reality show of his own. I wonder if he’ll find any takers?

    bet on it. there are really lame reality shows out there. palin sells, even at a remove.

  7. David Hume says:

    i stole the gore:palin analogy btw

  8. Susan says:

    Well, pilfered or not, it’s a good analogy. Palin reminds me of a cross between Aimee Semple McPherson and Princess Di. I discovered today, after a brief Google search, that a lot of people have compared Palin to McPherson. I haven’t searched for comparisons of her with the late Princess of Wales.

    I make the comparison to Diana not just on the basis on the cultlike fervor of Palin’s acolytes, but on some personal characteristics the two women appear to share. Two incidents from Diana’s life stand out: the first is her reported refusal to read any book on English history and the monarchy because, as she said, “I didn’t get married to do bloody homework.” The second occurred when her husband was trying to get her to improve her mind by reading a five-page briefing paper before a state visit to–if memory serves–Portugal, and she responded that she didn’t have to do anything, because everyone loved her just the way she was.

    I have the feeling Palin feels the same way: “I don’t have to study up on foreign policy, or economics, or whatever, because everyone loves me the way I am.”

  9. David Hume says:

    from what i have heard (e.g., A & E biography nearly 15 years ago) diana was kind of stupid. certainly a less conscientious and talented student than sarah palin. she was lucky she was born upper class as she had a lot of guardrails pushing her despite her sub-par sentience.

  10. Susan says:

    Oh, no question Diana was far from the brightest diamond in the tiara. And I don’t think Palin is stupid. I was speaking of attitude and outlook, not intelligence. Since Palin’s base loves her just the way she is, she may not feel the need to supplement her knowledge bank.

  11. David Hume says:

    susan, i see what you’re saying and agree in general. just wanted to emphasize how dull diana was.

  12. Susan says:

    I know it’s unfashionable to be sympathetic to Prince Charles, but I always felt a bit sorry for him. He appears to like intelligent women, and his first wife turned out to be an airhead. Ah, well…so much for the marital disasters of the House of Windsor.

    Back to Palin. I have had the feeling for a while that given the success she’s had as a tv commentator, speaker, author (of record) of a book–with another book upcoming–and prospective documentary host, she’d be a fool to give all that up for a run at the presidency. And a probably doomed run at that. I haven’t seen any recent polls, but her negatives with independents and disaffected Democrats are pretty high, aren’t they?

  13. Susan says:

    I just noticed that Tim Heffernan has a piece in the politics blog at on why Palin WON’T run in 2012. Interestingly, he refers to her as “a princess.” 🙂

  14. Lil Papi says:

    Ummm, Al Gore won the popular vote in the 2000 election. If you are attempting to prove that Palin will not be the 2012 nominee by comparing the two, then Al Gore is a poor choice. She is more Huey Long or Pat Robertson (maybe a combination of the two and a shade larger in wattage than the two combined) in my opinion.

  15. David Hume says:

    I know it’s unfashionable to be sympathetic to Prince Charles, but I always felt a bit sorry for him.

    charles wasn’t a good student himself, though probably not as dumb as diana for sure. but from what i have heard/read he probably is more of a bleeding heart than diana ever was, with genuine concerns from the underprivileged (inner city housing was a hobby horse of his). but unlike diana charles didn’t have any ability to break out of his upbringing in terms of aristocratic reserve, and, he’s ugly.

    presentation matters.

  16. Kevin says:

    The Gore comparison is ridiculous. Gore was elected President, with over 50 million votes. Palin is a laughingstock, with a small group of ignorant supporters.

  17. Jesse says:

    Does anyone remember that Al Gore won the popular vote for President in 2000, and then retired from politics, dissuading efforts to draft him in 2004 and 2008? What does that have to do with Sarah Palin?

  18. TG Chicago says:

    The Palin/Gore comparison is poor.

    I’m not sure how it’s possible to forget this, but apparently some have: Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000.

    With the possible exception of the first weeks after she was introduced to the national stage, Palin has never shown that broad a national appeal. And it seems highly unlikely that she ever will.

    Doing some quick searches, I found some polling data about Gore from 2007 (most recent I could find).

    It shows that his approval rating hovered around the 50% mark, with a bit of a bump after getting the Nobel Prize. His favorables are consistently higher than his unfavorables.

    When has Palin’s approval rating hovered around the 50% mark? Never. When will it? Never. Her unfavorables are consistently higher than her favorables.

    Looking beyond polling data, are Palin and Gore similar stylistically?

    Does Al Gore routinely insert himself into the news cycle? No – He is a one-issue guy. You rarely hear him talking about immigration or health care, for instance.

    Does Palin? Yes – she can be relied upon to routinely spout the conservative talk radio party line.

    Regardless of your personal opinion of Palin and Gore, you cannot dismiss hard facts like polling data and clear differences in style.

    Thus, the comparison is poor.

  19. TG Chicago says:

    Hmm… I just read that awful Slate article.

    Its thesis is that Palin is like Gore… but then it spends far more time admitting that the analogy is poor than it does explaining why it’s relevant or meaningful.

    This is a terrible comparison. Just because some writer at Slate got a lousy assignment and did a lousy job of completing it does not mean that we should take the headline at face value.

    Gore and Palin are not similar.

  20. KMF says:

    A comparison to Gore…………Is this amnesia time?
    Gore won the popular vote……She may not even win the tea party vote……especially if the Ron Paul supporters have anything to say about it.

  21. David Hume says:

    i think it is pretty clear that gore has become a very different figure in the aughts than he was in the 1990s. for that matter, he was a very different figure in the 1980s, as a conservative democrat who had the support of the current gov. of texas, rick perry, in 1988. IOW, i think palin has started out where gore ended up.

  22. b.a. says:

    David’s right. Yes, it’s true Gore won the popular vote in 2000, but he had the HUGE advantage of being vice-president for 8 whole years prior to running for president. Palin was a nobody before being on the VP ticket. Had McCain won the election and Palin been vp for 4 or 8 years she would have had broader appeal(especially after being watered down by the listless politics of incumbency.) Also Gore used to be thought of as a somewhat conservative democrat, whereas now he’s out in the left wing’s kook fringe of Kucinichstan.

    I personally can’t stand either one of them (Gore or Palin.) Palin seemed promising at first but turned out to be the same old retarded GWB style mixture of neocon and theocon. And one need only re-watch the 1993 NAFTA debate on youtube between Ross Perot and Al Gore to see who was right, and to determine just how serious we should take Al Gore’s predictions about anything…”NAFTA is going to solve the illegal immigration problem” -Al Gore 1993 Larry King Live.

  23. David Hume says:

    brandon, re: gore and his winning the popular vote, i don’t think it had anything to do with incumbency. i think it had to do with the fact that the second clinton term was the best period for broad-based middle class wage growth and overall economic dynamism we’ve had in the united states since the 1960s. i doubt incumbency would have broadened palin’s appeal, seeing as how it probably narrowed gore’s appeal as he lost his image as a conservative southern democrat and was tied to the clinton presidency and its cultural valences. similarly, i don’t get the impression that dan quayle ever recovered from his disastrous “reveal” in 1988 over his VP tenure. from what i have read/heard the dynamic is for favorable ratings of national politicians to be highest when they’re least well known, and eventually develop both floors and ceilings of popularity around a narrow band over time as public perceptions solidify.

  24. b.a. says:

    Well you may be right, but being VP for eight years I would say virtually guarantees one the nomination, which then in turn means you’ll get at least almost half the country’s vote if not a plurality. I mean even if they had wheeled out Cheney for the last election he would have probably won the same hodgepodge of states McCain did. It’s also hard to predict how Quayle would have been perceived after 8 years. His 4 years as VP translated to more of a 15 minutes of fame status than anything. His only great moment was his comments after the LA Riots. By the way, come to think of it, I’d say in a way that Palin and Quayle have more in common than Palin and Gore.

  25. RP says:

    I can’t imagine anybody seriously considering Sarah Palin as “transformative” figure in politics. It is comparable to calling Paris Hilton a transformative figure in the fine arts. Both are celebrities, pure and simple. Whatever popularity she has is reflective of the fantasy-based beliefs of many in the Republican party.

  26. Susan says:

    Speak of the devil: Palin is Number Nine on Time magazine’s new list of 2010’s most influential world leaders.

  27. Rich Rostrom says:

    The comparison between Gore and Palin is pathetic.

    Gore was the heir of a career politician (32 years as Representative and Senator) and millionaire. He was groomed from childhood to take over the family “business”, which he did at age of 28. He posed as a conservative Democrat until he went national, then repudiated those earlier “principles” that were now inconvenient. As a candidate in 2000, he was a stiff. Since leaving office, he has collected a huge fortune by inciting and exploiting the “global warming” hysteria in collaboration with various billionaire wheeler-dealers.

    Palin is a self-made woman. Neither her family nor her husband’s did anything for them (except raise them well, which is plenty). Her rise in Alaska politics was not greased by name recognition and insider connections, it was a battle against the party establishment. Since going national, she has stayed on the same message she had before. As a campaigner, she is recognized by just about everybody as having a natural connection with audiences, comparable to Reagnan, the Great Communicator. Since leaving office, she has made a lot of money – by writing a book, which unlike most political memoirs actually made money for its publisher; from speaking fees; and from her recent TV deals, with Fox and Discovery, both of whom seem to be getting their money’s worth.

  28. David Hume says:

    rich, since you like using strong words, analogizing palin with reagan is retarded.

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  30. Polichinello says:

    Wow, 28 posts. This shows why Fox wanted Palin. No matter what you think of her, she does draw an audience.

  31. Susan says:

    Of course Pain and Gore had radically different upbringings and backgrounds. But the point of the comparison between them is where they are NOW. They’re both very high-profile figures adored by their fan bases. They’re both polarizing figures. And they’ve both made considerable money delivering their messages–Gore certainly has raked in more dough, but the principle is the same.

    It’s interesting also that Gore at one point, liked to pretend that he was a hardscrabble type, too–sweating in the fields picking tobacco. And there, I suppose, is the big difference between Gore and Palin: he tries to retrofit himself to suit his audience (like his running mate John “Kin I get me a huntin’ license” Kerry) whereas Palin is always the same.

  32. Cass Rice says:

    If the Republicans nominate Sarah Palin for president in 2012, we can look forward to another 4 years of Barack Obama.

    Can anyone who has ever heard Palin talk be serious about supporting her for president? She never gets far from cliches, and quite honestly, every time I hear her talking, I cringe. Her knowledge base on world events and history is hideously deficient. We need someone with a big brain to be the Republican candidate. Someone like Newt only younger and with less personal baggage. Palin is a cult figure with only superficial understanding and insight.

  33. Susan says:

    Sure she’s a cult figure; that’s why people enjoy talking about her. Trust me, someone, some day, will write an opera about this woman.

    John Fund had a interesting short piece in the Wall Street Journal on April 14, 2010 that anticipates many of the points made in the New York Magazine article. Fund is betting that Palin won’t hop off the gravy train in order to run for president.

  34. Polichinello says:

    Can anyone who has ever heard Palin talk be serious about supporting her for president?

    You mean “Drill, Baby. Drill” isn’t a winning slogan now?

  35. Susan says:

    Well, I hope she didn’t use it when she appeared at the anti-abortion rally with Rick Perry.

  36. Cass Rice says:

    I have nothing against Sarah personally. I’m sure she is an honest and sincere person-the kind of dependable woman you’d love to have for a friend. In my opinion, though, she lacks the intellectual depth that is needed for this extremely important job. Unfortunately, it seems that way too many conservatives are content to be led by slogans and bromides rather than real ideas.

  37. Polichinello says:

    I have nothing against Sarah personally.

    I do. She’s an irresponsible, self-aggrandizing flake. You don’t need to look any further than her own family life to see that. That conservatives have made this woman a model of “family values” is a disgrace.

  38. David Hume says:

    setting aside personalities, remember that the economy is going to be the number #1 predictive variable. the person nominated will simply modulate the probability up or down. if the economy is bad enough, you would put your odds on anyone the repubs nominated. i doubt though it will be that bad in 2012.

  39. J. says:

    Is it Miss Palin vs the Mittster (as in…impending Mormonic theocracy)?

    Viva Palin!

  40. Alice Finkel says:

    Palin was clearly not ready for the 2008 campaign, yet managed to leverage the failure into a solid career outside of politics. Of course she’s not running in 2012. She was tired of being governor, and still has bad dreams from her last national campaign.

    Palin is barely getting oriented to the larger stage. She doesn’t seem to want to rush things. If she becomes powerful enough behind the scenes, she may never want to be president.

    She’s no megalomaniac like Gore, Clinton, or Obama.

    Nice job David. All except for stooping to Susan’s level in your 9:29 comment. Otherwise, fantastic.

    Rich’s comment was actually the best of the thread. Gore had everything going for him, and he got outmaneuvered by a Texas governor who couldn’t even pronounce nuclear correctly.

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