The great television event of this winter is not what happens with Jay Leno and the late-night crew at NBC. Rather it is Sarah Palin signing on as a contributor for the top-rated Fox News Channel.
In her maiden run on Fox, Palin delighted her admirers and confirmed the negative view of her by those who watched “The O’Reilly Factor” just to see if the former Alaska governor would make a spectacle of herself.
When Palin dismissed allegations about her shortcomings as John McCain’s 2008 running mate in the new book Game Change, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, as “crap,” both her followers and detractors got what they thought they wanted from the Woman Who Would Be President. Her followers saw a gutsy conservative and her detractors heard a woman who they believe to be ignorant and incapable of serious responses to serious charges.
For Palin, the real issue is what will television do for her? Will it hurt or hinder? Will it be the final nail in her political coffin as she becomes a talking head, an entertainment, a figure of fun?
To appear from time to time on television is essential for aspiring office seekers. To have a regular spot there is something else. It reveals the mind behind the face, and no politician has been able to survive or be enhanced by too much television.
If Palin doubts this, she look at her colleagues on the Fox box. Step forward Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove and Dick Morris. Or switch over to MSNBC, and see how things are going for two other former politicians: Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough.
Let us take them one at a time.
Newt Gingrich, once the fount of Republican ideas, is a somewhat reduced man on television, another pundit among many. It has not put him up in the polls as a potential Republican candidate for president.
Karl Rove, once thought to be the omnipotent brain behind President George W. Bush, has also been leveled by regular television appearances, with his insights no more compelling than those of a host of Washington commentators.
Watching Dick Morris’s lugubriousness on Fox, it is hard to believe that President Bill Clinton hung on his words, as did many other politicians. Many political reporters in Washington have as much insight.
Over at MSNBC, Pat Buchanan, some-time presidential candidate and longtime columnist, gets more air time than all the rest. This outpouring of Buchanan philosophy has not produced the slightest groundswell for him to run again.
Joe Scarborough, a former U.S. congressman, has done well as a morning television host, but nobody has suggested he should give this up and return to politics.
Television can be good for the ego but it is a career killer, unless that career is in television.
While television builds name recognition, it also breeds familiarity and robs politicians of their mystique. We do not want to know what politicians think about absolutely everything that happens every day. We want to believe they know things we do not know and think things above our understanding.
Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate, alone has been enhanced by appearing on Fox. But he is hosting a variety show, not just showing the variety of his opinions. He is good on television — so good that he may never run for office again. Huckabee could offer himself to any network as an accomplished entertainer and host.
Palin comes to television with a fearsome following. She has reputedly sold 2 million copies of her book, Going Rogue, has 1.5 million friends on Facebook and half a million followers on Twitter. All of those numbers are in the stratosphere.
Has there ever been such devotion to a political woman, so much homage paid to the idea of an iconoclast as a leader? It is a lot to risk for jabbing at liberals on television, along with other women who jab at liberals like Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Laura Ingraham and Monica Crowley. — For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate