This week in Advancement, Jason Hartley explains Sarah Palin’s biggest obstacle in a 2012 presidential run: her Overtness problem.
After watching Sarah Palin’s response to the events in Tucson, I realized that if she intends to run against Barack Obama in 2012, she’ll have one major problem: he’s Advanced and she’s Overt. Let me explain.
First off, he’s probably not really Advanced. For starters, he has to be on the national stage for 15 years before he can really be Advanced. But like any good Advanced Genius, Obama has disappointed his original fans. He has shown frustrating (to his liberal base) willingness to compromise the ideals of the people who were responsible for his election. He quotes Ronald Reagan, didn’t shut down Guantanamo, spies on us, escalated the war in Afghanistan, let Wall Street off easy, and allocated a great deal of the stimulus package to tax cuts, even though liberal economists like Paul Krugman warned that tax cuts are less efficient means of stimulating the economy.
His reaction to the midterm elections were sort of like when Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival. Like Dylan, he spoke directly to the people who admired him most, telling them that he didn’t belong to them and he was going to do what he felt was right.
After the midterm elections, Obama was able to make a budget deal with Republicans, which allowed Democrats to go ahead with the repeal of DADT, push ahead the 9-11 first responders health care bill, and ratification of the New START treaty. Add to that what he already accomplished—rescuing the economy from disaster, saving GM, credit card reform, adding two women to the Supreme Court, a new food safety bill—and it seems now that he might have known what he was doing.
And then there are the events of this week—the liberals rushed quickly to blame the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sharon Angle, and Sarah Palin. Obama, of course, stayed above the fray, emerging on Thursday to deliver a speech that only someone who has worked to establish himself as a true believer in bipartisanship could pull off. He said, to all Americans, not just the people who follow him, “it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, it did not. But, rather, because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud.” And he had the right to say such a thing precisely because he has acted that way since his election.
Of course some Republicans decided to criticize the cheering crowd, the naming of the event, and the T-shirts (none of these were his doing), even going so far as to suggest he was lying when he said that Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes. But all of these things just serve to make them look petty and ennoble Obama further.
Palin, on the other hand, bypassed the media as is her custom to talk directly to those who already follow her. She had no interest in taking this moment to transcend her (paradoxical) image of Mama Grizzly/victim, choosing instead to play it up.
Her approach to politics is like Fugazi’s approach to the music industry. I love Fugazi, but they are extremely Overt: they play by their own rules, make no effort to expand their fan base, and avoid the media, but they have a devoted following who celebrate them for the band’s adherence to their principles. This is a good way to become kings of what used to be called alternative rock, but it’s a terrible way to become President of the United States.
Sarah Palin has been so busy creating her brand that she hasn’t stopped to think about what will happen if enough people don’t respond to it for her to meet her goal (assuming she wants to be president). Obama has as many identities as David Bowie: orator, socialist, tyrant, hawk, Wall Street lackey, enemy of business, Kansan, Kenyan, Christian, Muslim, Hitler, Jesus. Whether they are accurate or not isn’t important (and like most Advanced Geniuses, he doesn’t do much to directly dissuade people from thinking they are)—what is important is that he can change along with the national mood effectively. Palin pretty much has to be angry, whatever happens, even a tragedy like the one in Tucson.
Unfortunately, this type of thing happens to just about every President. Obama had the foresight to plan for it, while Palin was busy working on her reality TV show.
For more on Advancement, check out Jason’s book The Advanced Genius Theory.