Aside from Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, the respective campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin remain the highlights of the last political season. Clinton got 18 million votes in the Democratic primaries and nearly became the nominee. Palin came out of nowhere to energize a lackluster McCain bid, and, for a couple weeks in September at least, helped him take a lead in the polls. Since then, she has easily become the most sought after personality in the GOP.
Last Sunday, both Clinton and Palin were in the news, albeit for different reasons, and made it clear why both fascinate the media and the American public. The Secretary of State was on Meet The Press doing a one-hour interview. Meanwhile, Palin was delivering her farewell address to the people of Alaska. Events dealing with health care reform and yesterday’s ‘Beer Summit’ limited the interventions of the two politicians to one-day news stories. I might add regrettably because both these political figures will continue to play a vital role in the public life of the United States.
Clinton was truly at her best. If anyone had any doubts about her qualifications or her expertise in foreign policy, they can rest assured. The world according to Hillary is one where diplomacy, respect for international institutions and groupings, and multilateral initiatives are the cornerstone of American foreign policy. To her, it was clear that the moral outreach of American ideals reinforce its power and strength in the world. Pushing for peace with adversarial countries is not seen as a sign of weakness. Changing course when it is obvious there is little progress is also not a sign of weakness. Appointing reputed high-profile envoys like Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell to hot-spots is evidence that effectiveness and obtaining results trump ego with this Secretary of State.
Being a team player in an Administration that has been characterized as a cross between a ‘team of rivals’ and ‘the best and the brightest’ shows that the national interest carries the day over personal interest in the case of Clinton. She seemed in sync with Obama on the vital issues. Finally, when asked if the President consults her on other issues outside of national security and foreign policy, she replied in the affirmative. It speaks volumes about how the Administration operates and how vital Hillary has become.
Palin, on the other hand, was not at her best. She chose to castigate everyone from Hollywood producers to mainstream media to politicians who choose to complete the mandates they were elected for. It was quite a performance that seemed to appeal to her audience at the farewell gathering. She can do no wrong when it comes to the social conservative base of her party and this unique performance probably reinforced her credentials for her post-Alaska life. While she strays little into policy matters beyond the standard Republican credo of conservatism, she does have a populist streak that is guaranteed fodder for sustained media interest. A Palin presence draws crowds and coverage.
Next stop is a high-profile speech at the Reagan library. With the eventual publication of her life story coupled with numerous speaking engagements, we can assume this will make her a wealthy person able to pursue her political career at the national level. The Fox News types just love her and the cynical crowd like Maureen Dowd, columnist with the New York Times, are salivating at the thought of more Palin days. She is telegenic and unpredictable, two ingredients made for reality TV. The detractors now say gleefully that she has three advisors on staff in a permanent capacity–me, myself and I. At the end of the day, like her or not, she will be a force to be reckoned with within the Republican party.
It is difficult to find greater contrasts between two individuals. Clinton is a classic liberal Democrat while Palin is a social conservative Republican. One served as a Senator of an influential state while the other was a Governor of a small state. They differ widely on policy issues. Their electoral bases reflect the polarization of American politics of the past three decades. There are no crossover votes with these two political figures. You either support them or you oppose them vehemently. What is most interesting beyond the politics of each is that they have become the most fascinating political personalities outside of President of the United States. When was the last time that two women in American politics became so prominent?