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Cohen: Who is reading about Sarah Palin -- and why?

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By Richard Cohen
Monday, December 6, 2010; 4:19 PM

Sarah Palin.

The reason I started this post with the name Sarah Palin is that two weeks ago, when I wrote about Palin and Michelle Obama, my column was recommended on Facebook around 11,000 times. I credit some of that number to interest in Michelle Obama -- but most to what is clearly an insatiable interest in all things Palin. In show business, they would say that the woman has legs.

Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin.

The spectacular interest in Palin comes not, as you might imagine, from her fans on the political right. Nor from those who share her love of (dead) bears or those who can relate to her reality television show, in which you never see a book in her house. In a fascinating New York Times op-ed piece, Charles Blow tells us that what he calls an "obsessive-compulsive fascination" with Palin comes from the left. He begins the column by vowing never to write "the name Sarah Palin until she does something truly newsworthy." I shall take up the slack.

Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin.

I believe that when the name of Sarah Palin appears in a post such as mine, all sorts of alerts are automatically issued by some sort of computer mechanism that I cannot begin to understand. Texts are sent to phones and possibly toaster ovens and things happen by way of Twitter and Facebook and even, I think, the town crier -- "Eleven o'clock and someone is writing about Palin!" -- and that is how someone like me gets 11,000 or so mentions or referrals of, to coin a phrase, whatever.

Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin Sarah Palin.

But why?

Alas, Blow is long on data but short on explanation. He tells us that CNN, sort of the neutral control group, mentioned her name 800 times from Nov. 3 to Dec. 2, but the number for "left-leaning MSNBC" was 1,000, while Fox News, a redoubt of the right, mentioned her only 600 times -- and she works for that network. Again, why?

Two reasons. The first is that the left is sincerely mystified by Palin. It finds it hard to understand how someone so clearly clueless about so much could possibly be considered a presidential candidate. The left, you see, has long thought that there ought to be some connection between intelligence or learning and the right to govern. This helps explain its infatuation with Barack Obama, who, along with his wife, is accredited by no less than four Ivy League institutions -- Harvard twice and Princeton and Columbia, once each. George W. Bush, too, had an Ivy League background, but everyone knew that was a fluke and that he thought that learning -- book learnin', as it is sometimes called -- interferes with instinct, which is better than knowledge, anyway, and which is also why we are still in Iraq.

Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin.

The second reason is much more ominous. The left just doesn't get America. I say this as a fellow-traveler of liberalism and as one who recognizes that many liberals fear the heartland. They see it as a dark place of primitive religions and too many guns. For such a person, Palin is the perfect personification of the unknown and feared Ugly American who will emerge from the heartland to seize Washington, turning off all the lights and casting America into darkness. The left does not merely disagree with the right; it fears it.

As for myself, I trust America to distrust Palin. The polls at the moment show her with considerable, but not overwhelming, support as a GOP presidential candidate, but in many of them she trails Mitt Romney and runs virtually neck and neck with Newt Gingrich. At this point, though, the polls are meaningless. They are ways for voters to send a message, to express dissatisfaction or anger. They are far from a commitment to a particular candidate. Palin's support will diminish as other candidates question her credentials.

Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin.

In the meantime, as with all celebrities, she will be used to sell products -- everything from soap to People Magazine to MSNBC's nighttime shows. I intend to use her the same way -- Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin -- and to boost the popularity of my pieces, to trigger alarms and interest among my nervous liberal brethren. And because I have a hard time spelling Kardashian.


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