The Washington Post

Sarah Palin, celebritician

Will former Alaska governor Sarah Palin run for president in 2012? (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

The signs are all there. The movie will be released first in Iowa, site of the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. Palin cooperated with the film — although she is not interviewed in it — and an early screening suggests it is a decidedly positive re-telling of her rise to prominence.

“This film is a call to action for a campaign like 1976: Reagan vs. the establishment,” filmmaker Steven K. Bannon told RealClearPolitics.

And yet, analyzing anything that Palin does through a “politics only” lens has proven to be decidedly problematic over the past three-plus years.

The reality is that Palin is as much celebrity as she is politician — call her a “celebritician” — and only by evaluating everything she does in that light is there a possibility of properly understanding the motivations and goals of her actions.

Viewed that way, the Palin movie is not a radical departure but rather entirely consistent with her transformation from small-state politician to worldwide celebrity.

Dating all the way back to her decision to resign from the governorship in 2009 with 18 months left on her first term, Palin’s life choices seem to be dictated far more by a desire to build a personal brand in the culture at large than to carve out space for herself in the political world.

Her show on TLC — titled, appropriately, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” — was an homage to Palin the person, not Palin the politician. Her daughter Bristol’s second-place finish in “Dancing with the Stars” (with the former governor in attendance — and shown on camera — in nearly every show) further solidified the Palin clan as players in the pop not political culture landscape.

Palin, at this point, is rightly regarded then as a celebrity first and a politician second. So, while the movie could well wind up as a vehicle for a late-entry into the 2012 presidential race, it could just as easily be (another) promotional vehicle for Palin’s brand.

While the stated purpose of the movie is to re-tell the story of Palin’s rise in a more positive light it’s hard to imagine any movie — no matter how good — fundamentally altering the deep dislike for Palin among Democrats and independents.

The movie then will almost certainly be targeted at people who are already Palin loyalists — the same audience as her television show, books and the speeches that she gives around the country.

Add to that the fact that the movie apparently spends a significant amount of time dramatizing Palin’s alleged shabby treatment by the media and the idea of the movie as some sort of presidential launching pad gets more clouded.

What Palin has consistently done since leaving office in 2009 is play to her small — and, if polling is to be trusted — shrinking base within the Republican party. The movie then could well be more of the same rather than some sort of attempt to broaden her appeal in the electorate.

Reading too much political calculation into anything Palin does is a fool’s errand. The movie could be setting up a presidential bid. Or not.

The only way we will ever know what Palin is truly plotting politically for 2012 is when she decides to make that decision public. And, she’s set no deadline to do that as of today.

So, we wait — and read the tea leaves. Even though we know it’s futile.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.


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