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Palin's Power

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 10, 2009 9:26 AM

For all the media bloviating, I gather that Sarah Palin's appearance at the big GOP shindig here was something of a bust.

"If she hadn't walked quickly across the stage at the outset and if her presence hadn't been mentioned briefly in the remarks of some of the evening's speakers," says Politico, "it would have been hard to know that she had, in fact, shown up."

But wait! Here's a CNN account:

"It was Sarah Palin who stole the show. . . . Republicans clustered around the former vice presidential nominee's table near the front of the ballroom, eager to meet the governor and pose for pictures. It was the only table in the vast ballroom that had a crowd gathered around it -- and despite their distance from Palin's table, multiple television cameras kept their lenses trained on the governor for much of the night."

Huh?

There's only one conclusion: Sarah Palin remains a polarizing figure! Polarizing for the media, that is.

You could almost hear the excited shouts as the Wasilla woman tiptoed back onto the national stage, however briefly. Palin is the perfect media subject, an attractive woman who arouses great passion among her fans and detractors (and gave a great boost to Tina Fey's career). Even David Letterman was exultant, announcing in a Top Ten list about Palin's visit to New York that she "bought makeup from Bloomingdale's to update her 'slutty flight attendant' look."

Palin's timing was good because we'd pretty much exhausted the whole Are-Rush-and-Newt-the-Face-of-the-GOP meme, anyway. And plenty of pundits would rather yak about her chances in 2012 than discuss, say, the deductibility of employer-provided health insurance.

Palin, of course, has been hard at work in Alaska, battling over a variety of issues, including her desire to turn away some of the federal stimulus money. But journalists don't really care about Alaska, except as an exotic backdrop to highlight her caribou hunting. So her on-again, off-again appearance at Monday's Washington Convention Center fundraiser was what was needed to put Palin back on the national radar.

It also set the stage for her interview with Sean Hannity, in which her take on Obama's economic policies was "told ya so," and the charge that the prez is steering America toward socialism, a word she embraced at Hannity's suggestion.

Palin gets the Republican base pumped up. But I found very little about her on conservative blogs yesterday, while liberal sites were fired up.

"Maybe it's just me," says Washington Monthly's Steve Benen, "but it seems like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), instead of becoming more credible and serious as her time in government progresses, is getting more ridiculous as time goes on . . .

"Palin [said] that increasing the national debt 'defies any sensible economic policy that any of us ever learned through college.' I'm going to assume Palin was absent the day they taught Keynesian theory. She really seems to believe the principal goal of government in the midst of an economic crisis is to lower the deficit . . .

"At this point, Palin manages to make George W. Bush look like a sophisticated policy wonk."

The Hill reports that "Sarah Palin has begun to get on the nerves of Republican senators who say the former GOP vice presidential nominee is taking her own White House aspirations entirely too seriously." Number of Republicans quoted on the record: zero.

Meanwhile, Palin didn't make the cut in this USA Today poll: "A 52% majority of those surveyed couldn't come up with a name when asked to specify 'the main person' who speaks for Republicans today. Of those who could, the top response was radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh (13%), followed in order by former vice president Dick Cheney, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former House speaker Newt Gingrich. Former president George W. Bush ranked fifth, at 3%.

"So the dominant faces of the Republican Party are all men, all white, all conservative and all old enough to join AARP, ranging in age from 58 (Limbaugh) to 72 (McCain)."

A fun demographic, to be sure, but not big enough to win elections.

Hillary the Heroine?

Another woman with whom the media have long had a love/hate relationship is the current secretary of state. At the Daily Beast, Michelle Goldberg says she didn't think much of candidate Clinton but has changed her mind:

"I was wrong to mistake her political ruthlessness for a lack of principle. Just as Clinton proved her skeptics wrong upon entering the Senate in 2001 with hard and diligent work, she is now quietly remaking the State Department. That's especially true when it comes to women's rights. As secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has been the feminist hero of this administration . . .

"The inexorable sense of righteousness that made Clinton so infuriating as an opponent makes her tremendously valuable as an ally.

"With her in the State Department, the administration has taken a number of other steps to make American foreign policy more responsive to women. Obama created a new post, ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, and filled it with Clinton's former chief-of-staff, Melanne Verveer. Clinton challenged Hamid Karzai when Afghanistan came close to passing a law that would have curtailed the rights of Shiite women. Later, during a press conference with President Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, she pressured both of them to improve the lamentable situation of women in their countries. . . .

"But Clinton's history in regard to feminism is complicated -- one reason she's always been such a Rorschach test for admirers and detractors alike. After all, she put her own ambitions aside for decades to be a political wife, and when her husband's mistresses threatened his ascent, she took part in trying to silence or discredit them. As first lady and later as the first serious female presidential candidate, she put on and discarded so many personas that it was hard to figure out who she really was."

Or maybe she's just a complex person that we kept trying to pigeonhole. In my view, her biggest problem in the campaign was not shifting personas but her initial reluctance to show a bit of herself from behind her candidate armor.

Spinning Off the Globe

It's now clear that the New York Times Co. has been slimming down its Boston newspaper in order to dump it. A day after the company imposed a 23 percent wage cut on the newsroom in the wake of a union rejection of smaller reductions, the Globe itself breaks the story:

"The New York Times Co. has hired an investment bank to manage the possible sale of The Boston Globe, and the company plans to request bids for Boston's major daily in the next couple of weeks, according to two people who say they may make offers on the newspaper."

Arthur Sulzberger's outfit, which declined to comment, has retained Goldman Sachs. The problem? "No one has publicly declared an interest in buying the Globe, which lost $50 million last year and is on pace to lose money this year with the economy struggling and more readers getting their news online."

Key Endorsement

The Republicans don't much like Sonia Sotomayor, but she picks up important backing from David Brooks, who says in his NYT column that we should look at the record, not the rhetoric:

"She is quite liberal. But there's little evidence that she is motivated by racialist thinking or an activist attitude.

"Tom Goldstein of Scotusblog conducted a much-cited study of the 96 race-related cases that have come before her. Like almost all judges, she has rejected a vast majority of the claims of racial discrimination that came to her. She dissented from her colleagues in only four of those cases. And in only one of them did she find racial discrimination where they did not. Even with what she calls her 'Latina soul,' she saw almost every case pretty much as they did.

"When you read her opinions, race and gender are invisible."

On the other hand, says Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones, she's kinda dull: "Sotomayor's impenetrable legal opus stands in striking contrast to much of the work produced by the court she aspires to."

President Joe?

Does Morning Joe have a future in politics? Christopher Buckley says the former congressman is the new face of the GOP:

"I have just read his new book, 'The Last Best Hope: Restoring Conservatism and America's Promise.' It's not a perfect book by any means. It's a bit preachy here and there, a bit speechy here and there, a bit cutesy here and there, and occasionally repetitive. That said, it is a thoroughly honest book about the largely, if not entirely, self-inflicted wounds the Republicans have visited upon themselves over the last eight or more years. And his argument that we are heading to certain fiscal disaster is quite calmly and dispassionately made. Into the bargain, Joe Scarborough comes across as a profoundly likeable and reasonable man. Reagan Lite, you might even say. Could we do better? I'm open to suggestions.

"(Full disclosure: He repeatedly invokes William F. Buckley, Jr. in more or less hagiographical terms; and I was recently on Morning Joe, during which, if I recall, Mr. Scarborough said pleasant things about the book I was on to promote. If that makes me out to be in the tank, fine -- but read the book and decide for yourself.)

"He is unsparing about the disaster wrought by George W. Bush and the Republican majority. At times, indeed, it reads like an indictment co-authored by Michael Moore and Paul Krugman. Iraq, reckless spending, the works. His insight is that Bush and the Republicans were not in any sense 'conservative,' but rather radical and ideological. In foreign policy, they tossed aside the Powell and Weinberger doctrines of restraint and went pell-mell into every quagmire in sight. . . .

"One truly senses that Scarborough, who went out of his way as a congressman to befriend such lefty firebrands as Ron Dellums and Maxine Waters, doesn't have a mean bone in his body."

The God Factor

Which recent president has worn his religiosity on his sleeve? Politico says it's . . . Obama:

"He's done it while talking about abortion and the Middle East, even the economy. The references serve at once as an affirmation of his faith and a rebuke against a rumor that persists for some to this day.

"As president, Barack Obama has mentioned Jesus Christ in a number of high-profile public speeches -- something his predecessor George W. Bush rarely did in such settings, even though Bush's Christian faith was at the core of his political identity. . . .

"More than four months into the Obama presidency, a picture is emerging of a chief executive who is comfortable with public displays of his religion -- although he has also paid tribute to other faiths and those he called 'nonbelievers' during his inaugural address."

Hey Media, Get a Room

You've heard the argument a million times, that the media are swooning over Obama. But you haven't heard it from MSM member Phil Bronstein, editor-at-large of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"NBC's Brian Williams' two-part 'Living Large With the Top Dog' feature on Mr. Obama's life included a plug for Conan O'Brien's new show and mention of cable talkies where Mr. Obama only cited MSNBC personalities. Accident? I don't think so. There were a few probing moments in there, but they were overshadowed by the flash of hanging out in the back of the Auto One limo and having burgers. A little navel-gazing among journalism standards hall monitors about whether the thing had been too soft came and went.

"Then, this Sunday in the NY Times, there was full-on chick-flick swooning over Barack and Michelle Obama's heavily scented 'date night' in NY City and its high bar standard effect on our relationship culture, with just a hint of controversy over the taxpayer costs to add some spice . . .

"And in Paris, Mr. Obama talked about how he'd love to take his wife for a romantic tour of the City of Lovers, but couldn't. Then he did. I'm guessing some regular-Joe freedom fries weren't on the menu.

"This guy is good. Really good. And, frankly, so far, we're not.

"You can't blame powerful people for wanting to play the press to peddle self-perpetuating mythology. But you can blame the press, already suffocating under a massive pile of blame, guilt, heavy debt and sinking fortunes, for being played. Some of the time, it seems we're even enthusiastically jumping into the pond without even being pushed. Is there an actual limit to the number of instances you can be the cover of Newsweek?"

Paterson Fading

Not only is David Paterson, at 21 percent, more unpopular than Eliot Spitzer, who quit after a prostitution scandal, but this NYT poll says "even black New Yorkers took a dim view of the state's first black governor: 38 percent approved of his performance, 41 percent disapproved. Only 22 percent viewed him favorably." Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, quietly continues his non-campaign.

Blogosphere Outing

In case you haven't followed the debate over Publius -- or, more likely, have never heard of Publius -- he's a liberal guy who was happily blogging away under a pseudonym until he got outed.

National Review's Ed Whelan did the deed, writing that "Publius embraces the idiotic charge . . . that I'm 'essentially a legal hitman' who 'pores over [a nominee's] record, finds some trivial fact that, when distorted and taken totally out of context, makes that person look like some sort of extremist."

After Whelan confronted the law professor -- no need for me to name him -- Publius wrote: "I have blogged under a pseudonym largely for private and professional reasons. Professionally, I've heard that pre-tenure blogging (particularly on politics) can cause problems. And before that, I was a lawyer with real clients. I also believe that the classroom should be as nonpolitical as possible -- and I don't want conservative students to feel uncomfortable before they take a single class based on my posts. . . .

"Privately, I don't write under my own name for family reasons. I'm from a conservative Southern family -- and there are certain family members who I'd prefer not to know about this blog (thanks Ed)."

Now Ed Whelan is sorry:

"On reflection, I now realize that, completely apart from any debate over our respective rights and completely apart from our competing views on the merits of pseudonymous blogging, I have been uncharitable in my conduct towards the blogger who has used the pseudonym Publius. Earlier this evening, I sent him an e-mail setting forth my apology for my uncharitable conduct. As I stated in that e-mail, I realize that, unfortunately, it is impossible for me to undo my ill-considered disclosure of his identity. For that reason, I recognize that Publius may understandably regard my apology as inadequate."

Says Publius: "I know it was not an easy thing to do, and it is of course accepted. I therefore consider the matter done, and don't intend on writing about it anymore.

"The real story here wasn't really about me anyway -- it's about whether the norm of pseudonymity is a good thing. And there's a legitimate debate about that. Personally, I think that pseudonymity is a net benefit, whatever other costs it brings. More voices are better than less -- and pseudonymity (to me) enriches the public sphere by adding voices that could not otherwise be heard."

My own take is that people who engage in public combat ought to do so with their names attached. They may have personal reasons for wanting to stay behind the curtain, but there's always another option: don't blog.

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