An Open Letter to Sarah Palin Supporters

Comparing Bachmann and Palin in regards to managing the media.

Back when Sarah Palin was named to be McCain’s running mate, one of my main criticisms (and I was not alone) was that she appeared, as I said on several occasions “not ready for prime time” i.e., not really equipped for the national stage, especially in terms of dealing with the media.

This was demonstrated when she spoke to Charlie Gibson and it was demonstrated when she spoke to Katie Couric (also here).  It was, in fact, reinforced by the way the McCain campaign tried to manage her (also here).  And, in honesty, she hasn’t done anything since that time to disabuse me of the basic assessment that she really cannot hold her own in a real interview.  I will say, however, she has managed to learn how to be a media personality (as long as she is in control of the situation).

At the time, and subsequently, Palin supporters would claim that criticisms of Palin along the lines of those outlined in the previous paragraph were driven by either pure politics or sexism (or both).  This was never the case, and I now have a comparative example to make the point:  Michele Bachmann.

Bachmann and Palin share both a gender and a relatively similar worldview.  Both, for me, are examples of politicians for whom I cannot see a reasonable scenario in wherein I could see myself casting a ballot.  As such, if my critiques of Palin’s media performances were gender-based or ideological in some way, I ought to have the same reaction to Bachmann’s.  However, this is not the case.

Having watched Bachmann in numerous interviews I can say, without a doubt, that she is capable of playing in prime time (to return to the phrase) in ways that Palin still is not.

The basic point:  people (and certainly myself, the only person for whom I can actually speak) who criticized Palin’s ability to deal with the mass media had good reasons for doing so.  Indeed, those who defended Palin’s interviews with Gibson and Couric were likely engaging in a bit of partisan blindness on behalf of a politician they like.

Bachmann does the following, that Palin never did (and still does not):

1)  Bachmann is willing to go wherever she needs to, media-wise, to get her message out.  She has been all over TV during the straw poll season.  Palin has always managed access, claiming that the lamestream media is out to get her, and therefore she ends up primarily hiding on Fox News Channel.  This is a rather fundamental difference.

2)  Bachmann takes a question that she does not like, smiles, thanks the person who asked the question, and then goes on to answer it.  Sometimes she directly answers, sometimes she answers the question she wants to answer.  She does not get defensive.  She does not bristle and act the victim.  She seems to recognize (unlike Palin) that running for national office means answering question that one does not want to answer and from people one would prefer to avoid.  Obvious examples include, Wallace’s “flake” question and York’s “submission” question.  Indeed, you can see it any interview, e.g., her MTP sit-down last Sunday.  This is a radical difference from Palin.

3)  Bachmann in prepared; she know what she wants to say and says it, and typically does so effortlessly.  Palin always sounded like a student who crammed the night before the test—as if she knew roughly what she was supposed to say, but not necessarily why or what the proper application of the thought was supposed to be.

4)  Bachmann has a fairly well-developed worldview, while Palin just doles out sound bites.   Or, perhaps it is just that Bachmann appears capable of speaking in paragraphs, while Palin has a hard time with sentences.

This is a long way of saying two things.  First, the general point:  it is wholly possible to assess the abilities of a politician without such an assessment being ideological in nature.  Second, and this is the specific point:  Palin is honestly not that good at dealing with the media in the way a politician who wants to compete in elections has to be and a direct comparison to Bachmann pretty well underscores this fact (especially #2 above).  Bachmann does not act the victim, whilst Palin’s whole shtick vis-à-vis the media is based in the notion that she is that they are mean to her.*

So, to those who accused me of sexism or political bias in terms of my assessment of Palin and the media I say to you all:  the problem was not my ability to dispassionately judge Palin’s media performance, it was yours.

*UPDATE:  I had not read Doug Mataconis’ post on Palin’s latest rant about the media when I wrote this post, but the contents of that post help underscore my point.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Media, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Andyman says:

    I always giggle at the “open letter” literary device. I imagine someone reading a blog, coming across a post addressed as a regular letter to Sarah Palin supporters, and moving along because it would be rude to read someone else’s mail.

  2. bACHMANN pERRY oVERDRIVE (formerly Hey Norm) says:

    @ SLT…
    Stand by for the barrage of Palinista’s rallying to her defense…in 3, 2, 1…

  3. Texas says:

    Interesting that you feel the need to continue to try and prove your point so everyone can see how right you are.
    Perhaps you should just move on and let this one go.

    Michele is great but no one would have given her a second thought had Sarah not come first.

  4. mantis says:

    Interesting that you feel the need to continue to try and prove your point so everyone can see how right you are.

    Welcome to the Internet. Nice of you to join us.

  5. Bleev K says:

    Michele is great but no one would have given her a second thought had Sarah not come first.

    Ahaha! That’s a good one!

  6. rodney dill says:

    So we just don’t know yet if the match up will be The Bachinator or Mooseferatu against Obamhotep.

  7. liberty60 says:

    Palin is a spent force. She has all the supporters she will ever have. There isn’t really any pool of voters who are unfamiliar with her, whose minds have yet to be made up.
    Barring any freakish “gamechanging” event, there isn’t anything that will change anyone’s opinion of her.
    As I have written before, she isn’t going away, but she will slowly fade to become this century’s Phyllis Schlafly, writing vanity books and giving red meat speeches on the conservative circuit for decades to come.

  8. Texas says:

    @liberty60:

    Just because we say something over and over and over and over again… doesn’t make it so.
    Only time will tell the whole story…so why doesn’t everyone just move on. People keep saying she’s not relevant. If you truely believe that then why the need to keep pointing out how irrelevant she is? JUST MOVE ON!

    BTW, people change their mind everyday. Look at how many people voted for Mr. Obama and now realize they made a mistake. People are fickle. The worst stratigic mistake you can make is underestimating your precieved enemy.

  9. Fiona says:

    The difference between Palin and Bachman is that Bachman is smart and has done her homework. She has a well-defined (if scary) worldview and knows how to espouse it. I’d seen her on the mainstream media doing interviews long before Palin hit the national scene. Palin did not create an opening for her–she’s done it herself.

    Palin is a narcissistic, publicity seeking missile. She follows the spotlight. Her main goals are self-promotion and making as much money as possible. McCain provided her with a golden opportunity when he brain farted and picked her as his running mate. Otherwise, she’d still be back in Alaska trying to milk the governorship for all it was worth. I curse the day McCain inflicted this ninny on the American public.

    In short, Bachman is the real deal, someone willing to do the hard work necessary to become a nationally recognized politician and to run a presidential campaign. Palin wants glory and recognition to come her way without working for it.

  10. jan says:

    @liberty60:

    As I have written before, she isn’t going away, but she will slowly fade to become this century’s Phyllis Schlafly, writing vanity books and giving red meat speeches on the conservative circuit for decades to come.

    …..one of the few times, Liberty60, we agree on something.

  11. Texas says:

    @Fiona:

    Classy.

  12. Matt Gagnon says:

    Addendum to your point here.

    The best example of the difference between Bachmann and Palin (or, “ready for prime time” and “not ready for prime time”, if you will) is what happened with Bachmann’s Newsweek cover.

    Bachmann has a legitimate case to be made that she was screwed by Newsweek… an unflattering picture of her was printed on the cover and a ridiculous tag line (Queen of Rage) put on the picture.

    Had this happened to Palin, you can have little doubt that a long Facebook rant would have followed, quips about the “lamestream media”, complaints for a week, etc. In short, she couldn’t resist playing a victim.

    Bachmann had the grace and class to let it roll off her back. The cover spoke for itself – everyone knew it was unfair and foolish, she didn’t need to engage in a petty war of words about some rag making her look bad. She is “ready for prime time”, in that she has a much thicker skin, and knows exactly how to handle that situation.

    And I share your opinion that I could vote for neither Palin, nor Bachmann. But you are absolutely right that MB is a national figure that actually belongs there, and SP is an insulated celebritician who has never learned how to manage being “a big deal”.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    People keep saying she’s not relevant.

    Oh but she is relevant, in a reality show/entertainment way…what she’s not is electable…

    The worst stratigic mistake you can make is underestimating your precieved enemy.

    And yet, in regard to the President, certain people do this all the time…

  14. jan says:

    @Matt Gagnon:

    Good comparison of the two women, Matt. And, I think you have a point regarding the Bachmann cover photo, in how Palin would have reacted versus how Bachmann handled it..

  15. Tservo says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Bachmann is showing Palin how it’s done- that is, being a candidate for national office.
    Bachmann shows: you don’t have to try to control media- it’s impossible. Best to let go and go on.
    Paranoia is unflattering, even when the paranoid is pretty.
    Education matters.

    The fact is, Bachmann is making Palin look like a slacker with resentment issues.

  16. Texas says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Oh, I don’t underestimate him at all.

    Listen, I didn’t vote for him and won’t in the future. That said, I do not feel the need to beat him up here or anywhere else. To call him nasty names or see if I can be the one to make the most nasty comment.

    I heard his speech (I think at a democratic convention) where he said “we are not red states or blue states but the United States. Man, it was a incredible speach. I applauded him. What I want to know is… where is that man now?

    He’s our President. Even if I didn’t vote for him he is still my President. I’m having a real problem with each time he gets in front of a camera and a microphone he says more to divide our country than anyone else.

    As President of all he should speak words that encourage us to come together. Instead it’s a blame game and telling everyone to point the finger at everyone else. This will not end well for any of us. And yes, republicans are doing the same but they are not the President.

    Listen, if he was still in congress it would be different because he would be speaking for his district. But this man is the president of us ALL. Behind closed doors… say what you want… but addressing the nation… as our leader…. UNITE… don’t divide.

    Anyway, today is my first time here. It’s been fun.

    Have a great day.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    @Texas: I never claimed you are one of those people who underestimate him…

    I’m having a real problem with each time he gets in front of a camera and a microphone he says more to divide our country than anyone else.

    Really? More than, say, the Republican leadership in Congress? Or other Republican partisans? I don’t think so…

    And yes, republicans are doing the same but they are not the President.

    You would prefer he just stood there and accepted GOP attacks against him? I’m sure that would be such a winning strategy…

    Behind closed doors… say what you want… but addressing the nation… as our leader…. UNITE… don’t divide.

    Part of uniting doesn’t mean not telling the truth about what others are doing…I’m sure it would be easier if our country had a different kind of political system where the president was simply the head of state, but we have to work with the system we have, and in that system, no president can simply be a cheerleader saying all kinds of nice things to unite us…when any president sees what he thinks the opposition party is doing as hurting the country, of course he is going to call out the opposition party…the funny thing is that this particular president has been far more milder than many of his own partisans would like him to be…you have a great day too…

  18. Unbelief says:

    Gee…only 17 comments so far. Your premises have no factual basis. For example, Palin is a Fox News contributor which means paid commentators have signed a contract not to appear on competing news formats. Even if she was not under contract, what’s wrong with Palin doing interviews with Fox News? Polling and TV ratings show Fox news broadcasts are mainstream America. Don Lemon, Wolf Blitzer and local media outlets are on record saying that Palin answers questions unscripted. Scott Conroy said he ran out of questions to ask Palin. You are quoting media memes. As Palin said at the Iowa State Fair, it is passe to compare Palin to the only woman out of the 10 registered contenders to be the Republican nominee. Palin is the sole person who gives indepth analysis of legislation on healthcare reform, defense spending, energy and drilling, QE3 policy and the debt ceiling farce then releases that analysis to the 3.2 million people following her Facebook postings, I’d say she does a whole lot more than the current President who doesn’t write any legislation, does not offer any solutions but “summons people to the WH to come up with ideas and lastly will FINALLY come up with a grand plan for the unemployment /food stamp rate……(wait for it)….after his 10 day Martha’s Vineyard vacation and after Labor Day. What a leader !!!!