She was a small town mayor, a hockey mom with a large brood who took the Alaskan political scene by storm to become the youngest and first female governor of a state known for its rugged frontier and Native heritage. Her inaugural rhetoric invoked a distinctive Alaskan style when she paid tribute to the first woman to win the Iditarod, Libby Riddles. She said: “She was a risk-taker, an outsider. She was bold and tough. Libby, you shattered the ice ceiling. Thank you for plowing the way.”
When John McCain named her as his running mate in August 2008, news commentators were unsure of the pronunciation of her name: was is Puh-lin or Pay-lin? Little was known about her except what the 24/7 news cycle was putting forward in a continuous loop: a former beauty-queen; a moose-hunter; mother of five. When I wrote Paving the Way for Madam President in 2006, a book that chronicles the lives of five women who ran for president, I spent a considerable part of the last chapter positing what women were in the pipeline to emerge as national figures. At the time—four short years ago—Sarah Palin was still mayor of Wasilla. Her name appears nowhere in a book about women and the United States presidency.
Recently, Fox News announced that Sarah Palin will become a commentator.
While quitting the governorship was a bad political move for anyone who wants to be president, Sarah Palin may make up some of that damage with her new national presence. What she lacked in interpersonal agility as a vice-presidential candidate, she may quickly learn to overcome with the media exposure (and training) she’ll get on Fox. What detractors may be reluctant to admit is that Sarah Palin’s new national television opportunity may be just the preparation she needs to shed her distinctly Alaskan style for one that will play as well in Kalamazoo as it will in Ketchikan. Those of us who understand the power of media exposure realize that Sarah Palin’s new television gig may just turn caricature Sarah into presidential candidate Sarah. Stay tuned.
Nichola D. Gutgold is associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley and author of Almost Madam President: Why Hillary Clinton ‘won’ in 2008 (Lexington Books, 2009).