Sarah Palin Has Captured Our Imagination

Jul 13, 09 | 9:15 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Americans can’t get enough of Sarah Palin. It doesn’t matter which side of the Sarah Palin argument you’re on. Awe or apoplexy produces the same result: Give me more coverage of Sarah.

The Times today follows my Vanity Fair colleague Todd Purdum with a meticulous documentation of Palin’s personal and professional dysfunction that should, reasonably, doom any political career.

And yet, I dare say, that won’t be the effect of the Times’ investigation at all. Each Palin disaster, instead of spelling the end of her, sets the story up for a new chapter—even if it’s a new disaster.

We’re no longer looking at Palin as principally a politician. We see her as the main character in a satisfying tale that over and over again confirms whatever it is we want to think about her.

We certainly don’t want this story to end.

This is because the story is not at all about politics. Nobody, really, wants a story about politics (one of the reasons stories about politicians having affairs are so popular is that they are not about politics). The Palin story is almost entirely personal. All politicians push their families in highly controlled ways into the story. No one has done this perhaps as cannily as the president.

(AP Photo)

But the Palin story brings this to an altogether new level. It banishes the political concerns—politics becomes the private affairs of the candidate. The personal is the true purpose and point of the story. In part this is pure soap opera or reality show. But it’s much realer than that. This is a novel, the great American kind. You’ve got farce, you’ve got realism, you’ve got place, you’ve got the customs of the country, you’ve got a central character of uncertain provenance and intention (good or evil?), you’ve got family so baroque and demanding and feckless that the story is constantly consoling just because they’re not your own, you’ve got circumstance from which, it seems fair to anticipate, no character could prevail…and yet…well, we wait to see.

Sarah Palin could be the most realized character in American politics since Richard Nixon. (Many of Nixon’s enemies felt more about him than they ever did about politicians they actually liked.)

I sound dismissive. I don’t mean to be.

The power—the political power, the media power, the financial power—is in holding our attention.

We’re gripped.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at

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