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Monday, September 08, 2008

Marketing Sarah Palin

New polling shows that John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, is pretty popular. With a favorable rating of 58%, she beats both of the frontrunners. On the one hand, this is good news for Team McCain, who are now enjoying a post-convention bounce in the polls. The bad news is that political common wisdom holds true -- people don't vote for things, they vote against things, so high favorables don't mean a lot. Add to this that people don't tend to be very influenced by the second slot -- 55% say it won't influence their decision -- and she's pretty much a wash. In fact, polls show that if there's any effect, it's a negative one. Support for the ticket has gone down among women, thanks mostly to Palin's extremist views on abortion.

But popular is popular. The reason for that popularity is easy to explain; the only thing most people know about her is what the McCain camp is telling them. Sarah Palin isn't a candidate, she's a projection cast by the Republican propaganda machine. The words she spoke at the RNC weren't hers, but those of former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully. All Palin really did was read it well from a teleprompter -- not much of a challenge for a former TV sportscaster. We have yet to see Sarah Palin as Sarah Palin, Governor of a state with a population the size of Baltimore.

It's said that familiarity breeds contempt, but it might be more true that ignorance breeds acceptance. If all the world knows about Sarah Palin is the glowing bio put out by the campaign and words she read on TV, then it shouldn't surprise anyone that people seem to like her. She's an advertising campaign; she's designed to be likable.

So the McCain campaign is going to great lengths to protect that ignorance by keeping her away from the media. At this point in time, Sarah Palin hasn't been asked a single question by the national media. She has never said a word in her own voice. Palin handlers, not wanting to screw up their marketing campaign by letting people see that she's an actual person, have been very careful to protect the ignorance that's working so well for them.

Jake Tapper, ABC News:

Rick Davis, campaign manager for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., just told Fox News Channel's Chris Wallace that McCain running mate Gov. Sarah Palin won't subject herself to any tough questions from reporters "until the point in time when she'll be treated with respect and deference."

Davis assailed the way the media had discussed Palin and her family in the last week and said the campaign would wait until a less hostile media environment.

Deference? What is she, the Queen of the North? It may just be a poor word choice, but I don't think it's the media's job to defer to a vice presidential candidate. This is a job interview, not an infomercial. Not surprisingly, Obama's running mate, Joe Biden, agrees.

"She's a smart, tough politician,” Biden told Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press Sunday. “So I think she's going to be formidable. Eventually, she's going to have to sit in front of you like I'm doing and have done. Eventually, she's going to have to answer questions and not be sequestered. Eventually, she's going to have to answer on the record.”

Sooner or later, she's going to have to cut the marionette strings and come down off the stage. But Team McCain has a cunning plan. Put Sarah on TV for a fluffball interview with a friendly interviewer.

"Sarah Palin will be interviewed by ABC anchor Charlie Gibson later this week in Alaska, her first time facing the press since being tapped as John McCain's running mate Aug. 29," writes Jonathan Martin for Politico. "Per AP, the campaign offered the sit-down to the network a few days ago and it will take place after Palin returns to her home state this week."

In agreeing to sit down with Gibson, they managed to find the one network news guy most likely to ask, "Gee but you're awesome. Why is that?" Bill O'Reilly must've been busy.

It was Gibson who asked George W. Bush, "You took a lot of doubting and rather skeptical questions about the surge. I'll give you a chance to crow. Do you want to say, I told you so?" And it was Gibson, with George Stephanopolous, who turned the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary debate into an attack on Barack Obama. In fact, Gibson's performance as a moderator in that debate was so transparently biased that he was booed by the audience. Anything's possible, but I doubt anyone will describe Gibson's interview of Palin as hard-hitting or tough. No other interviews have been scheduled.

To get a hint at what to expect, we turn to the Associated Press:

The interview is a coup for Gibson, who also had the only sit-down with McCain during the Republican National Convention. During that interview, he did not question McCain about Palin's family, a decision that he fretted about for hours, Gibson said in a Web log posted last week.

"Once you know about her daughter's pregnancy, once you know about her husband's political interest in the Alaska Independent Party, once you know about the special nature of their latest child, I think that's enough," Gibson wrote.

The relevant questions about Palin all related to her experience and policy positions as a mayor and governor of Alaska.

ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said he did not believe Gibson's stated stance about family questions was key to securing the interview.

Yeah, that's going to be a real tough interview, alright. And I'm sure ABC's absolutely correct -- Gibson's promise to steer clear of 90% of the Palin-related scandals couldn't possibly have influenced the McCain campaign, who've managed to make Sarah Palin a high-profile personality that most people know nothing about. It says a lot about Gibson that he's the one they turned to to protect the public's ignorance about her.

The shadow puppetry that is Sarah Palin will continue until the media does something about it. I doubt that Sarah Palin isn't media-savvy or that she can't handle an interview. It's just that the McCain campaign believes things are pretty much perfect right now and see no reason to mess with success. They're going to keep Palin as insubstantial as a logo for as long as they possibly can. As it is right now, she's not an actual political candidate, she's Tony the Tiger -- a personality created by a marketing team, tested by focus groups, and as popular as she's been designed to be.

Sooner or later, the McCain team is going to have to take Caribou Barbie out of the package. She'll lose some of her value at that point, but they can't keep her boxed up forever. The shrink wrap is going to have to come off.



Rob said...

It's not that hard to market Sarah Palin.

She is *totally qualified*.

(to go out with me)


Chus said...

Funny!: Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator