Monday, November 23, 2009

Sarah Palin? Frankly, My Dear, I Don’t Give a Damn

By Stuart Rothenberg

If you are planning on reading a column about former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s presidential prospects, you will be deeply disappointed.

I don’t know whether Palin will run for president in 2012, and right now I don’t really care. Most in the media do care, of course, which is why they can’t seem to stop buzzing about her book, her book tour and her political intentions. You’d think the Iowa caucuses were right around the corner.

Even “real” news programs, such as CNN’s “State of the Union,” hosted by John King, spent too much time for my taste on Palin last weekend, both during the program’s political roundtable, during an interview with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) and then during an unnecessarily long piece about her book.

Most — maybe all — of the current media coverage of the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 will be irrelevant for anyone who wants to know whom the GOP will nominate to take on President Barack Obama three years from now. There will be so many other developments over the next two years that will color that race that Palin’s book will be barely an asterisk.

Of course, if you are simply looking for entertainment rather than trying to understand how the next GOP presidential field will develop, then it’s certainly reasonable to pay attention to anything Palin, as well as to every speech by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

There are many in the media who will wax poetic about Palin and the 2012 race, so you won’t have trouble finding people who want to talk about the contest, even though there is no race now and there won’t be one for many, many months.

Ultimately, you have a simple choice: Do you get more enjoyment out of watching “The Biggest Loser,” “CSI” or “The Office,” or would you rather watch politics? If your answer is politics, then following all of the speculation about Palin and other potential candidates is the right thing for you to do.

And if you hate politics, you can watch Palin the way you watch any other pseudo-celebrity — on “Oprah” or “Entertainment Tonight.”

But don’t think for even a moment that any chatter now about the 2008 Republican nominee for vice president has any bearing on the 2012 GOP contest.

True, who will be in the race and who is raising big money for “next time” matters, but you don’t need to follow the Palin book tour or opinions about Pawlenty’s last speech to do that.

Even with their victories in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races, the Republicans are pretty much irrelevant now. That’s not terrible for them, and it’s not unusual for the “out” party to be irrelevant.

All of the nation’s focus right now is on Obama, and almost every day there is some news item that seems to put the White House or the Democratic Party in an unflattering light.

Whether it’s unemployment, the deficit, health care, Afghanistan, the president bowing to the emperor of Japan or the ill-advised comments from a single Florida House Democrat, Democrats seem to have more problems than they need.

Democratic activist Al Sharpton commented over the weekend how happy he was that Palin is getting so much attention. The more attention, she gets, said the Rev. Sharpton, a man who is no stranger to media attention or to self-induced controversy, the better for the Democrats.

That may be true today, but not 10 months from now, when the midterm elections are likely to be about Obama no matter what wacky things Palin does now.

Yes, both the national media and Democrats are likely to keep Palin in the spotlight as long as possible.

For the media, the former governor of Alaska is a celebrity with an “interesting” family, while for Democrats, she is an easy target — a political lightweight of uncertain substance, who drives “tea party” conservatives into a euphoric frenzy but divides the GOP into two very different camps.

Palin may or may not be particularly relevant in early 2012, as the first states begin to select delegates to the next Republican National Convention. Right now, I’d guess she won’t. But that’s still two years away, so I’m not going to spend much more than a few seconds thinking about it.

Instead, I’m going to watch the last episode of “The Office,” which I missed.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on November 19, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.