Sarah Palin and Levi Johnston: How They Took America

Nov 2, 09 | 8:40 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Of all the outcomes of the 2008 presidential election, the strangest, beyond the rise of Sarah Palin herself, is the success of Levi Johnston.

He, in fact, may be the antidote to her rise, dogging her with his smile and his scabrous asides.

Or, as likely, they enable each other. Both stoke the other’s publicity machine. Levi wouldn’t be anything without Sarah. Sarah might well have been just an ordinary failed VP candidate were it not for the too-late-to-do-anything-about-it revelation that Levi had gotten 17-year-old Bristol pregnant. That’s the story that most rescued Palin from political mediocrity and VP invisibility.

Hers was an anarchic move, not telling the McCain people of the slightly more than problematic fact that she had a pregnant teenage daughter: She decided to just let the chips fall as they may. It was a decision that produced an anarchic result: Levi himself.

She unleashed him.

It actually seemed, initially, that she had flattened him. In shot-gun fashion, the Palins appeared to have secured Levi’s cooperation and submission. Levi would—and this seemed to warm the heart of a not-unsizeable electoral minority—do the right thing.

Except that plan clearly wasn’t figuring in the true nature of Levi Johnston. It is another element of the Palin risk-taking temperament and anarchicness—she might rightly be described as the nation’s first major anarcho-conservative politician—that she built this domestic-political fantasy around somebody her family undoubtedly had reason to believe was uncontrollable.

Or perhaps they didn’t. Maybe they saw him just for what he obviously was, some stupid, minor, local doofus, and missed the more salient point that he was a stupid, minor, local doofus who got the joke about himself.

Of course, it may not even be Levi who got the joke. He’s surrounded now by retinues of handlers and publicity strategists who are marketing the irony that is Levi—although, to be fair, such retinues are usually not known for their sense of humor, and this Levi rollout is riotous.

A pressing American political question is about how far Sarah Palin might ultimately go. As relevant is how big Levi Johnston might get.

I don’t think at this point it’s quite possible to say who, in terms of American archetypes and media success, will come out ahead.

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 You can also follow him on Twitter:
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