What Does It Mean?

She’s a draw, no doubt.  She has a bestseller, a slot on Fox News, and she commands speaking fees of $100,000 a pop.  But can that translate into votes?  Does that mean she is a viable presidential candidate — as some seem to think?

A story on Politico last week raises doubts:  “Palin is great at the box office. Among modern American political figures, she is second only to Barack Obama in generating clicks (for Web sites such as this one) and ratings (for the cable news networks hungering around the clock for fresh material).”  (See, “Why the Mainstream Media Loves Sarah Palin.”)

The media’s insatiable appetite for entertaining news makes it more and more difficult to say what is really going on.  Lively, unpredictable, confident, a little wacky, she has just those qualities that attract attention, that make for a good story.  Her sudden accent to fame is still remembered, along with the rumors and gossip about her family.  The continuing frenzy of her fans gets a lot of play as well, as does the ridicule she arouses on Comedy Central.

But important and mesmerizing as celebrity is in our culture, one type does not fit all our needs.  A winner on American Idol wouldn’t necessarily be a competent Senator, or likely to be elected president of the United States.

To be sure, she has some credibility in the political realm.  She came on the national political stage as governor of Alaska and Republican Vice Presidential candidate.  On the other hand, she had little experience as Governor before the national election, and she quit the job before her first term expired.

Politico cited a Washington Post/ABC survey that showed:  “only a quarter of those polled said Palin was qualified to be president — and 71 percent said she was not.  What’s more, 52 percent of self-identified Republicans — more than half — said she wasn’t qualified to be president.”

But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t continue to read stories about her or buy her books.  And it doesn’t mean she’s not enjoying the attention she’s receiving – or making money in the process.  If one stands back from the whole spectacle for a moment, it does seem as if she’s having fun.  And perhaps that is true for those of us who consume the news as well.

Politico concludes, she’s “good for business” – their business, that is, the business of news.  And that is what her popularity seems to mean.