It’s a tough game being a friendly, off-the-cuff candidate. Sometimes you stumble a bit. Sometimes you say boneheaded things that make perfect “gotcha media” fodder, such as, “America has 57 states.” Or maybe, “the Middle East is obviously an issue that has plagued the region for centuries.” Even such a gem as, “let me be absolutely clear. Israel is a strong friend of Israel’s.”
Americans have been told for so long that Sarah Palin couldn’t find her way out of a paragraph with a comma splicer and a copy of Webster’s that the line has become cliché, a theme of the cocktail party circuit insert-joke-here variety.
We’ve also come to accept that President Obama is the great communicator, the American Demosthenes. But, as they say, that’s true until it isn’t. Sarah Palin didn’t actually make any of the gaffes above–Barack Obama did. But Obama misspeak? It wasn’t even a blip on the evening news.
The media mantra is that Barack Obama misspeaks, but Sarah Palin misthinks. Does Obama really believe that America has 57 states? Does he actually think that the Middle East is plaguing itself (well, OK, maybe) He’s said all of those things, but no one considers them indicative of his beliefs. They’re political gaffes, unimportant and un-reportable, mere slips of the tongue.
Unless, of course, you’re Sarah Palin. On November 24, Palin called in to Glenn Beck’s show, and in a moment of navigational abstraction, said “North Korea” when she meant to say “South Korea.” She didn’t substitute say, Cambodia for Korea, just mis-oriented the compass, then corrected herself and moved on, further discussing a subject she’s gone on the record about multiple times (including previously in the same show).
But no Obama-like gaffes for Palin. The psychologically astute media diagnosed the slip as Freudian, rather than semantic. The error meant, many said, that Sarah Palin couldn’t tell the difference between two completely different countries. Alas, wailed CBS (a touch too eagerly), this “couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Tea Party icon.” ABC wondered, non-rhetorically, “was it a simple blunder or did a possible 2012 presidential contender really get her geography wrong?” Somewhere, Katie Couric smiled.
These were all ridiculous, specious, reactions to a small gaffe. But in Palin vs. Media, circumstance and common sense aren’t factored in, favorites are. While Obama makes occasional slips of the tongue, Palin only reveals deep-seated insecurities and gross ignorance. He makes mistakes; she makes the news cycle.
The irony is that Sarah Palin is actually punished for being a good communicator. She likely does mess up more in public than Obama, because she talks to the public unscripted more often than Obama. Rhetorically, Palin works without a net, or, at the least, without teleprompters. She usually speaks off the cuff. She writes her own Tweets. She’s frank, earnest and open, qualities the American people desire in a leader, but ones unrewarded in a time where every word can be recorded, dissected and repeated ad nauseam.
While Obama is credited with having the common touch, Palin actually touches the common hands—and hearts. Liberals remain perplexed by her popularity, endlessly speculating about what it is that the American people see in Palin. Is it her looks? Her brashness? Her secret Tea Party cabal manipulating “Dancing with the Stars”? The real answer is that most Americans see themselves, someone who speaks honestly, and sometimes imperfectly, from the heart.