Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The media's mistake: Turning Sarah Palin into Princess Di

By personalizing the vice presidential nomination through the early obsessive attacks on Sarah Palin's family life - and by treating her as a mother, not a candidate, at a time when Palin was not yet defined in the public imagination - the media merely succeeded in turning Sarah Palin into Princess Diana ("the People's Princess") or a pre-election Oprah, female cultural icons who established an emotional connection with many women as they persevered through their own personal struggles.

That's why a lot of women are angry with Oprah right now. They see Palin - "the people's politician?" - as a woman cut from the same mold, so they don't understand why Oprah is not embracing her.

Bill Clinton was also very effective at capitalizing on personal politics. He moved the impersonal presidency into a more interpersonal sphere. After all, he ate Big Macs just like an average guy, and he spoke freely about his difficult childhood and struggles with his weight. Hillary Clinton became a more beloved political figure after her husband's scandal. Similarly, her primary loss didn't hurt her image with women.

For all his ballyhooed charisma, Barack Obama isn't really good at personal politics. He's good at giving sweeping speeches to large stadium audiences, but there's something that remains aloof or remote about him (the same is true of John McCain, who has a "greatest generation" reserve to him, even though he excels in smaller town hall formats). Yes, the media turned Obama into a celebrity, but they made him into George Clooney. I'm not referring to Clooney's playboy behavior here; rather, I am referring to the fact that George looks really dapper in a suit, and is a big celebrity, but I'm not sure we really know him or care to try.

Many women relate to Sarah Palin now. When you feel like you know someone, you are more likely to personalize future attacks against that person, even those legitimately based on the issues. The media turned her into Teflon. They've created an insatiable appetite for everything Sarah. Like Diana, she is a far from average woman dealing with average issues. Barack Obama must empathize with Queen Elizabeth II now. Like Diana, Palin is becoming bigger than the monarchy. In this scenario, the monarchy=the political process. It took a long time for the Queen to get it.

This is not necessarily a good thing. I don't mean to insult women in this post. I recognize they are perfectly capable of voting for people based on the issues versus personality (after all, women are still more divided about Palin than men are, probably because they tend to vote more Democratic, even though there is a significant shift in female support toward the Republican ticket). But personal politics works for a reason. It's telling, and disappointing, that the media chose to personalize the female candidate, of course, rather than focusing on her record. But it's coming back to haunt them.

Still, I'm happy to see a woman of Palin's intelligence and caliber becoming a societal icon. She's a role model for our young girls.

The media seem to now be trying to make up for lost time by correctly focusing on Palin's record (but with improperly scant attention to Biden's; and don't tell me all voters already know his record because they don't). Imagine if this had been the media focus in the beginning. Good luck putting the genie back in the bottle now!


Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Minor note: McCain is from the Silent Generation, which followed the "Greatest".