Sarah Palin announced Wednesday that she will not be running for the office of the U.S. presidency in 2012. Her declaration brought to end the exhaustive media speculation that had centered around her political aspirations for nearly three years. Over the next couple of days we’ll most likely hear from a multitude of news analysts weighing in on her decision and several comedians joking about how the country has dodged a bullet. I’m already reading messages of celebration from some of my Facebook friends. God bless ’em.
Make no mistake about it, however… It was Palin, not her critics, who got the last laugh. I never believed for a second that she was ever seriously considering a run at the presidency. Her public appearances and provocative statements over the past three years have been about rebirth, reckoning, and living the American Dream.
By the end of the 2008 presidential campaign, Palin had become a national joke. While conservatives remained galvanized around her and continued to hail her for her proud promotion of their values, most of the country had concluded that she was a know-nothing airhead who had no business in national politics. The media scrutiny and defamatory criticism of her was like nothing I’d ever seen. Her and her family had inexplicably become fair game to vile personal attacks that often exceeded levels of complete lunacy. As the governor of Alaska, she was left knee-deep in frivolous, politically-motivated ethics complaints that came at a great professional and personal expense to her and her family. Having spent a good portion of the year exhaustively touring the country in a role that she had never asked for but felt obligated to accept, one wouldn’t have blamed her if she’d crawled under a rock in Wasilla and shunned the public spotlight for good.
But that’s not what happened.
Instead of fading into the background and conceding defeat, she used the news media’s remorseless obsession with her to revamp her relevance in our political discourse. She studied up on geopolitics, refined her narrative, and reentered the political stage as an effective voice of stinging opposition against the Obama administration. She became more comfortable in front of the camera, sharper in her public appearances, and began looking and sounding like a serious presidential candidate.
The media predictably wasn’t about to stand for it, and once again put their derangement on display for all to see. Palin drew out and exposed the worst in them, from the author who creepily rented the house next to hers to the commentators who insanely identified her as a likely inspiration to the Gabrielle Giffords shooter. She continued on as an object of disgust for talking heads and mean-spirited comedians like Bill Maher, Kathy Griffin, and David Letterman whose unhealthy fixations on her routinely crossed boundaries of decency.
But as negative as a lot of the exposure was, it helped garnish publicity that opened up new opportunities for Palin including lucrative careers as an author, public speaker, political commentator, and even a reality television star. Her voice of support for conservative congressional candidates helped the Republican party regain a strong majority in the House of Representatives. And perhaps most infuriating to liberals, she really seemed to be enjoying her life in the process. They hadn’t broken her after all.
As the Republican presidential primary race began to take shape, I got a kick out of Palin’s unconventional and often confusing tactics of hinting at entering as a candidate. The national bus tour was my favorite. I found it amusing when the national news media would voice frustration over the cryptic nature of the tour which they felt compelled to cover, yet couldn’t quite explain why. They would routinely demand interviews with Palin along the way, who seemed to take some delight in turning them down and draining their resources. As Andrew Breitbart so skillfully observed, she drove the media nuts by refusing to cooperate with her own demise. I suppose that if my family and I had been assailed by them the way the Palins have been, and I had money to burn, I’d enjoy messing with them as well.
A lot of Palin’s detractors might feel some sense of accomplishment today in her sagging approval ratings and exclusion from the 2012 race, but they shouldn’t. They gave her exactly what she wanted: The platform. Public approval only matters if you’re serving the public, not if you’re just speaking your mind, meeting supporters, providing for your family, and loving what you’re doing. We all should be so lucky.