Oprah, Sarah and me

Actually, I found Gov. Sarah Palin before most Americans did. When there was rampant speculation on whether Barack Obama would put Hillary Clinton on the Democratic ticket, I wondered: Is there a Republican woman ready for a national ticket? 

Sadly, the names within the Big Tent Grand Old Party were sparse on the gender front. But I remembered Gov. Palin; went to the State of Alaska website and found the Palin family. I liked what I saw: First Dude Todd Palin and a reformer governor who beat the calcified establishment. 

After watching Sarah on Oprah, I began to see all sorts of grays emerge for this Palin story. It has a Dan Quayle tinge to it. An obscure but talented politician is plucked out of the masses and immediately put on the Big Stage with the glare of the klieg lamps and a tormented, craving news media, irritated that they didn’t get the scoop. The campaign handlers lose their grip and the nominee twists and twirls in the gale. 

There were all those adoring fans, like the 24,000 Hoosiers who showed up during rush hour at Verizon Music Center, or the Hoosier Republican delegate who quickly anointed Sarah “one hot chick” at the national convention. 

That was not what the Lugar Series on Public Excellence had in mind. If the Republican Party wants to regain enduring power, it needs to not only expand the Big Tent into regions of America (like New England) but also into demographics. It needs more women in statehouses and Congress. The Republicans need to take note of the Indiana Senate, where some half dozen female senators have ascended into leadership. 

What we’re seeing unfold with Palin book signings in places like Fort Wayne and Noblesville is a Republican love affair with the ceiling shatterer. I can see why. When she talks of learning her child Trig had that “extra chromosome” as she told Oprah, she asked, “Why us?” Todd replied, “Why not us?” As the step-dad to a lovely autistic 9-year-old, the sequence hit a deeper spot within me than the torrent of Palin fan lust and media feeding frenzy.  

She talked about her grandson’s father – Levi – who had just finished his photo shoot with Playgirl Magazine in New York. This is the full thrust of the Palin tabloid glare. But Sarah Palin left the family door open for teenage Baby-Daddy Levi (or is it Ricky Hollywood?), even if Oprah had to coax her into inviting him over for Thanksgiving dinner. 

She talked about the infamous Katie Couric interviews. It was those disastrous sessions (along with the infamous turkey decapitation presser after the election) that caused great concern with me over someone so green being a heartbeat away from a presidency that would have to deal with two vicious wars, the Wall Street meltdown, the auto industry collapse, and all the lost jobs. 

The ex-governor was saying things the McCain campaign handlers cringed at because she was out of the loop. According to Palin, the worst moments of her Couric interviews got stitched together in several 2-minute packages on the CBS Evening News. 

This has that Jim Baker handling Dan Quayle Greek tragedy written all over it. The McCain campaign had wrapped up the nomination essentially in February 2008 and then it wasted time, money and ultimately the vice presidential nomination luster. And it wasn’t Sarah Palin’s fault. She simply got swept up in the whirlwind. 

Now her book, “Going Rogue,” has hit the stands. It seems to be more intent on settling scores. Many Republicans wished she had spent more time studying policy. But it will be No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Why didn’t Sarah just tell Katie that she reads Newsweek, the Weekly Standard, Rolling Stone and the New York Times?

Last Thursday, Hoosiers lined up to see the ex-governor by the thousands as she began her million-dollar book tour. There will be much speculation on a presidential run, even after her participation in the New York 23 debacle that actually gave the Democrats a critical House vote on health care reform vote. 

She is a political celebrity. She is not yet presidential material.

As for Sarah and me, I still can’t erase the great unease that she came perhaps one quote (“the fundamentals of the American economy are sound”) away from the heartbeat away. But after watching Oprah, I found a real, compassionate woman. I hope the Republican Party brings us even more. 

(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com)

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