Most people who like Sarah Palin have a very strong and well-developed story in their heads about "elites" ruining their lives.
These people see the country as being run by powerful, wealthy, Liberals who maintain their power by giving away opportunity and resources for free to lazy people, poor people and foreigners. According to the story in their heads, these people are "hard working" and "normal," but they have not found success or happiness because the rewards they deserve have been given to someone else.
When these people with this story in their heads hear Sarah Palin they react positively.
When they hear Sarah Palin stumble on her words, botch a policy statement, or otherwise sound unprepared, they do not hear "stupid," they hear "normal."
When they hear Sarah Palin complain about being trashed by the elite liberal media, they do not hear complaining, they hear their own story of being defrauded of their success by powerful people.
These people see Sarah as the kind of person they want to be--a person who is just normal and trying to succeed. And the more Palin gets attacked, the more they feel she understands them and speaks for them.
Most of the people who flock to Sarah Palin view outward signs of education or intelligence from politicians as weapons used to victimize and defraud them. They do not respect or admire well-spoken Senators, Governors or Presidents--they resent them.
These kinds of people do not follow, understand, nor are they interested in the kind of complexity or subtlety required to discuss policy issues, either domestic or foreign--but not because they do not care about policy. The issue is simply that these kinds of Americans view well-spoken people as manipulators, tricksters, hucksters. When they hear an intelligent elected official, they feel angry, not assured--they feel judged, not informed.
Sarah Palin makes them feel the opposite. When she speaks, she makes them feel included, welcome, accepted.
By speaking as an uneducated policy outsider, Sarah Palin reassures these people that speaking with authority on issues is just a gimmick. What matters--what's really important--is that our leaders do not act like they know more or are better than us.
When Sarah Palin says that she believes in "common sense" policy, her supporters hear someone saying that she would do things for the country the way they do things for their family.
"Common sense" to these people is code for "like I do it." What they hear is someone who is against the overly complicated, overly intellectualized ways that Liberal elites force on them. To these people, the reason elected leaders sound complicated when they talk is not to explain complex issues, but to hide the truth.
What is the truth powerful elites are trying to hide that Sarah Palin reveals? The truth is that powerful elites are against them--normal people who work hard--and they are for lazy people, poor people, and foreigners. When Palin talks "common sense," she is saying that she is form the normal people--the people who see themselves as victimized by elites.
Now, this exact formula was used successfully by George W. Bush to win a governorship and two presidential elections. Sarah Palin has used it, so far, to turn a VP spot on one of the worst GOP Presidential tickets of all time into an A-List political celebrity status.
Whether or not Palin is able to use this formula to win another elections is doubtful, but she can use it to become influential.
While Palin's controversial status makes it very difficult for her to build the coalitions she would need to win an election, she can use her status and her ability to communicate effectively to people in order to endorse or anoint less controversial candidates.
And that is why we cannot afford to waste any more time forgetting what we learned from almost two decades of George W. Bush style communications and electioneering.
If you are one of the people obsessing over how "stupid" Sarah Palin is and how "dumb" her supporters are, then take a step back and force yourself to remember the lessons of 2000 and 2004.
Remember,in particular, that there is a large swath of the American public who sees themselves as victims of the very kind of force you embody when you attack Sarah Palin for lacking intelligence. And those people have money to spend and votes to give.
Sarah Palin probably won't win another election, but we cannot let her lull us into amnesia and forget the kind of political success a person with her attributes and skill set can achieve.
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