The news this week was filled with reports that Sarah Palin contracted filmmaker Stephen Bannon to produce a big-budget documentary about her years as the governor of Alaska, called The Undefeated. The level of buzz is remarkable, considering that hardly anyone has seen the rough cut.
I haven’t seen it myself, although I gather from watching Sean Hannity’s preview that it’s a sober, policy-oriented film, not a Michael Bay spectacle with scenes of Palin carrying a blazing machine gun across a huge, slowly rippling American flag, while her ATV transforms into a fighting robot and covers her six. I mean, who wants to see that? Actually, I saw it in my head just now, and it was awesome. Clearly Palin wanted something a little more… grounded at this juncture.
The Undefeated has the feel of a campaign video, and is widely seen as a sign that Palin might be inching closer to a presidential run. It is good for a candidate to draw so much attention while moving in inches, while others can run a marathon without getting noticed.
The conventional wisdom on the Republican primary season thus far is that it’s a snoozefest full of uninspiring candidates. It has been richly seasoned with pinches of trump and gingrich, yet the taste is still bland. This assessment is unfair to candidates like Tim Pawlenty, who has just begun his new life as a ronin warrior prepared to draw steel against ethanol in Iowa and Medicare in Florida, or Herman Cain, who vaulted from obscurity to top-tier with a single debate performance. At this point, those who did not enter the race at the eye of a cultural and political storm could not expect to do better than these gentlemen have, and the race has only just begun.
There is one potential candidate who travels in the eye of such a storm, and she’s about to release what could be a campaign video. Of course it’s exciting, and not just to her supporters, judging by how many liberals claim they can’t wait to run Obama against her. “Maybe” has a powerful allure, which can be tricky to preserve when it evolves into “yes.”
Only one person gets to be last season’s lightning-rod vice-presidential nominee, so comparisons between the Palin maybe-campaign and others are difficult to draw. The lesson I would recommend other candidates learn from Palin, even if she decides not to enter the race, is her knack for expressing complex issues in accessible and memorable ways. This is not easy to do. Only the master of a topic can become a good teacher, by making it simple. Poetry is a talent, as well as a skill.
Everyone’s favorite Palin example is her “death panels” comment. Its power only increases when liberals go into a frenzy and attack her for saying it. It is firmly based in an essential truth about government control and rationing. The Democrat defenses against it are far more damaging to ObamaCare than the comment itself was, because they quickly devolve into hair-splitting about her use of the word “death”… and the public can’t help but think those are some mighty thin hairs.
By contrast, Tim Pawlenty has an example he likes to use when illustrating the waste and inefficiency of government programs, as opposed to free people paying for their own services. He likens it to a wedding with both a cash bar and an open bar, and asks where the sloppy drunks are more likely to be found. He’s got the right idea, and his point is valid, but it’s just a little too… obvious. He’ll need to cut a bit deeper into socialism to deliver a mortal wound.
It’s easier to do what Palin does when the candidate speaks from a comprehensive philosophy. As each subject is addressed, a new facet of the complete whole is revealed. This avoids the need for a lot of backpedaling and clarification when you Meet The Press.
It also helps to understand the passion, and fury, of the opposition. Palin receives frequent lessons in that, as liberal websites self-destruct in their eagerness to run frothing, hateful attacks… on her 3-year-old son. Let every Republican candidate take the full measure of a philosophy that would stoop so low to hoard what it has already taken from the American people.
Every candidate is wise to study the strengths of both opponents and competitors. Study what Barack Obama did to get elected, not just what the media did for him. Watch Donald Trump work a crowd, and measure the enormous energy flowing back and forth between speaker and audience. Read and understand the many things Newt Gingrich has written.
And by all means, observe the excitement Sarah Palin generates when a producer announces he will soon release a film that might indicate she is perhaps thinking more strongly about a possible presidential run. Whatever they might think of her policy positions or political history, the current state of Sarah is a good place for any candidate to be… because every one of them needs a lot of people looking forward to their next move.
Update: Corrected phrasing in the last paragraph to reflect that Palin is the subject of The Undefeated, not its producer. Thanks to hrh40 for pointing this out!
Update: Palin has just announced a “One Nation Tour,” in which she will visit “historical sites that were key to the formation, survival, and growth of the United States of America” in a snappy bus that has a giant map of all fifty states painted on the back. I can’t help but see this as significant, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.