The Sarah Palin book-signing tour comes to Birmingham today, and our local newscasts were awash last night with video of people waiting in long lines, hoping to get wristbands for admittance to the blessed event.
When Palin begins signing copies of Going Rogue at 4:30 p.m. today at the Books-A-Million store in Colonial Brookwood Village, it sounds like the place will be packed with people who can't wait to get a glimpse of the former Republican vice-presidential candidate.
As I watched video reports of people standing in line--if there were any folks with brown skin in line, they escaped my attention--this question came to mind: Why would people go to this trouble to see Sarah Palin?
Regular readers know that we like to play amateur psychology from time to time. So we've surveyed the literature and come up with an answer that we think explains Palin's appeal.
Let's get to our answer by asking a few questions:
* Are people drawn to Palin because of her qualifications for high public office? C'mon! All but the most radical Palin devotees probably realize that she was stretching herself by getting elected mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Palin was part of one of the most bungled national campaigns in American history, so it's hard to see why her appeal would have much to do with politics.
* Are people drawn to Palin because she's famous? The Palin story does have a postmodern, reality-TV quality to it, and quite a few folks probably find that charming. Palin's message seems to be: "If I can be nominated for vice president of the United States, who knows what you can do?" But we suspect her appeal goes beyond fame. After all, former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was signing his book at the same store yesterday, and he's famous. Huckabee drew a respectable crowd, but sounds like it paled in comparison to Palin Mania.
* Are people drawn to Palin because she's good looking? We're getting warm now. Even I have to admit that Palin is easy on the eyes. But does that fully explain her appeal in Birmingham, Alabama? I don't think so. As we noted in an earlier post, Alabama might have more good looking women per capita than anywhere on the planet. Is a woman from Alaska really going to cause a stir here? You could go to Colonial Brookwood Village on any reasonably busy shopping day and see plenty of women who are in Sarah Palin's league--or way beyond. And they probably know more about foreign policy than Palin does. So I don't think we've quite reached our final answer.
* Are people drawn to Palin because of her demonstrated fertility? Bingo! We think this is our answer--or at least the main part of it. Palin, at age 45, has pumped out five white children. And we suspect a segment of the Republican base finds a certain comfort--and primal appeal--from that part of her biography. Why would that be? Well, consider that the U.S. Census Bureau issued a report in 2008 stating that whites will be a minority in this country by 2042. I suspect that causes quite a few white folks to feel like they are under siege--and in red states such as Alabama, it causes them to reflexively vote Republican, against their own economic interests. I think this is part of what Barack Obama was trying to get at during the 2008 presidential campaign when he referred to "bitter" Americans who "cling to guns and religion" during difficult times. In our view, Obama was right on target, but he didn't go far enough. We suspect, subconsciously, many embittered Americans also cling to hopes for white fertility rates. After all, the "brown hordes" can't take over if whites get busy in the baby-making business, right? And who embodies that ethos more than Sarah Palin? Our guess is that Palin's fertility is a big reason she hit the national stage in the first place. What if she and the "First Dude" were like Bill and Hillary Clinton and had only one child? Would the McCain campaign have picked her out of obscurity for the No. 2 spot on a national ticket? I don't think so. Fertility is a central issue in the Palin story, and we suspect it's still at work, driving the Going Rogue book-selling train.
* Are people drawn to Palin because she has demonstrated her fertility while maintaining a svelte figure? Bingo, again! This is the second part of our answer to Sarah Palin's appeal. According to research at the Legal Schnauzer School of Amateur Psychology, anecdotal evidence indicates that society has a special pedestal for women who can bear multiple children and still maintain an eye-catching figure. Women admire this in a "how in the hell does she do that?" kind of way. Men admire this in a "hubba, hubba, what a hot mama" kind of way.
So there you have it: Sarah Palin has become a mayor, a governor, a vice presidential candidate, and a celebrity--all while producing five white children and still looking mighty fine in a tight skirt.
Is it any wonder she's a cultural phenomenon? Gee, I wonder if it's too late for me to get a wristband.