Without Further Ado, Sarah Palin Returns

Cultural and political phenomenon Sarah Palin returned to the national spotlight this week to promote her memoir "Going Rogue" and fielded questions about a possible run for the White House in 2012. Host Michel Martin talks with Mary Kate Cary, a columnist with U.S. News and World Report, and Matt Continetti, author of "The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star" about what might be next for the former Alaska governor.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, Army Specialist Alexis Hutchinson is a soldier and a single mom, and her unit headed to Afghanistan earlier this month. She did not go saying she could not find adequate child care for her son. And now she faces desertion charges. Is this a story about bureaucratic intransigence or personal responsibility? We'll talk with Specialist Hutchinson's lawyer about this in a few minutes.

But first, it's time for our weekly political chat. President Obama has been overseas all week and back here at home his ticket's one-time rival has taken over the airwaves. Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential candidate and former governor of Alaska. A little more than a year since the 2008 election, Sarah Palin is back on the national scene not as a candidate but as an author promoting her memoir, "Going Rogue: An American Life." The book was a bestseller even before it hit the stands. And Palin, as during the campaign, has been followed by adoring crowds and intense media interest.

But what does it mean? Polls show that a majority of Americans say they would never vote for her for president. But is she running and whatever the polls say now, could she be a viable candidate? And what role does the media in all its varied forms, conservative, the blogosphere, the so called mainstream playing in all this?

Because Palin is such a unique and controversial figure, we decided to focus our conversation about her with those on her and of the political spectrum with two conservatives. Mary Kate Cary is a former White House speechwriter for former President George H.W. Bush or Bush 41. She now writes opinions for U.S. News and World Report and she blogs there. We also have with us Matthew Continetti, who is the author of the new book, "The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star." Welcome to you both. Thank you for joining us.

Ms. MARY KATE CARY (Former White House Speechwriter): Thanks for having me.

Mr. MATTHEW CONTINETTI (Author, "The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star"): Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Now before we jump into sort of political side of the discussion, I wanted to talk about Sarah Palin as a cultural figure. Mary Kate, why do you think she - we are so intrigued with her?

Ms. CARY: You know, I think it's because she's kind of an enigma to so many people. She's a walking contradiction in a lot of ways. She wanted to take time off from being governor to make a difference and yet, you know, I read the papers daily, I couldn't tell you a single policy of hers. And it doesn't seem to me with this book, at least, so far on page 50 that it's any sort of a policy book. In some ways, she reminds me of Princess Diana, when Diana said I want to be the queen of hearts and yet there was this persistent anti-media, you know, I hate the paparazzi kind of thing.

MARTIN: But I love the paparazzi because they love me.

Ms. CARY: Right. You know, a lot of ways people thought the paparazzi ended up kind of causing her death. And so it's very interesting. She accuses the mainstream media of lying and yet there's a whole crowd that thinks she does nothing but lie. It's fascinating. Part of it too is people are curious about Alaska and what would it be like to be up from there and it does take a different type of person to live in darkness that many months of the year. And how would it - that be if you were, you know, living that life and then bursting on to the national scene?

MARTIN: So there are so many things that we are intrigued about you think. Matthew, what's your take, what do you think?

Mr. CONTINETTI: Well, I think Sarah Palin has become a lens for how people view politics. And she kinds of refracts the different ways that conservatives and liberals see the world. I think her supporters look at her and they see someone who is more or less and everyday American. Someone who talks like they do. Someone who thinks like they do. Someone with no pretensions to, you know, intellectual grandeur or whatever and they like that about her.

And then I think her detractors look at her and they see someone who has no place in American life, because she does not have expert knowledge, because she's very frank about her faith and because she doesn't really subscribe to, you know, the whole menu of what it means to be a feminist in American society.

MARTIN: You think she's kind of a Rorschach test that when we see her, it sort of raises things about ourselves?

Mr. CONTINETTI: Absolutely, yes. And that's why as I tried to document in my book, there was this huge kind of rush to judgment and rush to print. You know, whatever the press could find about her even though so many of the facts that they printed and reported turned out to be untrue.

MARTIN: Well, we'll hear more about the book obviously and your take on why you think she is being persecuted, which I think is a very, very strong word and we are going talk more about that in a minute.

But Mary Kay, I'm going to go back to you because you wrote a piece for the U.S. News and World Report Web site, it's titled, "Moderate Republican Women in the Sarah Palin Dilemma". And you say that you'll note many of the loudest opinions are coming from and, Matthew, we're not calling you loud, I'm just clarifying that but for me and for a lot of moderate to conservative women, it's been interesting to watch, none of us are saying much and you say we want to like her. There aren't many female Republican leaders we can root for, so we want a turn on one of our own. You mentioned all the ways in which she's an attractive figure. The fact that she has five kids, that she's trying to balance a complicated life and you said that she's made it difficult. So, talk to me a little about your Sarah Palin dilemma.

Ms. CARY: Yeah, I didn't start writing until January when Obama was sworn in. So, I got kind of a free pass on the campaign coverage. So, that was nice because I could sit back and sort of watch this whole thing unfold. I think a lot of women - at least here in Washington - like me, sort of center-right women are sitting on their hands and kind of listening and watching this whole thing.

We don't want to turn on a woman when we see some of the things that Matthew has documented in his book, how the mainstream media has gone after her. The immediate thought is why on earth would a moderate conservative Republican woman want to run for office when you see the way she has been treated and some of the other women on the right? But she's made it difficult for us to stand up and root for her because she comes from a rural state.

For example, they don't have traffic, they don't have crime, they don't have some of the concerns we have here on the East Coast. She does have this sort of far right rhetoric that is not common ground. You know, the consensus building type of women that I sort of hang around with here in Washington are sort of appalled by that. The whole tabloid celebrity, Levi in Playgirl magazine, you know, we're all sort of cringing like, oh, gosh, you know, this is not the person that we want kind of speaking for us. But we want to root for her. She's not our father's GOP and that's got a lot of appeal. So, it's conflicted.

MARTIN: It's conflicted. And you said you're digging into the book now, so we might need to invite you back after Thanksgiving when you finished it to see what you think. Matthew, you have also written a book about Sarah Palin and you say that she is being persecuted. Now for me, persecuted, you know, means shot at, detained, it means being arrested for your political views. It doesn't mean the honor of being invited to be the top of a ticket for your political party. It doesn't mean resigning from a job for which you campaigned and then, you know, earning millions on the book tour and being invited on, like, the most important television news program. So tell me why you think she's been persecuted.

Mr. CONTINETTI: Right. Well, persecution means an attempt to drive out, attempt to subjugate, and there are various ways that that can be done. And I believe, and as I write in the book, I think I have a lot of evidence for it, that Palin's opponents and her critics would like to see her leave the public square. They want to drive her out. And the way that they do this is by insulting, degrading, demeaning, abusing and ridiculing her, and - by pretending that she has nothing to say.

MARTIN: Well, can I ask you, though, more about this? And I'm going to play - I mean, obviously, one of the big sort of, kind of - I don't know if - maybe this is a Rorschach-test moment. It's this whole exchange he had with Katie Couric, where Katie Couric asked her what does she like to read to keep in touch with issues, and she was clearly offended by the question. Oprah asked her about the question on her interview program earlier this week. And we can - let's just play the exchange. You can hear what she had to say. Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Oprah Winfrey Show")

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former governor of Alaska): By the time she asked me that question, even though it was kind of early on in the interview, I was already so annoyed - and it was very unprofessional of me wear that annoyance on my sleeve. But it was like�

Ms. OPRAH WINFREY (Host, "The Oprah Winfrey Show"): But you couldn't think of any in the moment? Or you were�

Ms. PALIN: No. It was more like, are you kidding me? Are you really asking me - to me, it was in the context of do you read. It seemed like she was discovering this nomadic tribe, a member of a tribe from some Neanderthal cave in Alaska, asking me: How do you stay in touch with the real world?

MARTIN: You know Matthew, do you think that's an example of her being persecuted? Was she being persecuted by Katie Couric? Because I have to tell you - and forgive me for just putting my own things - as a White House correspondent, I covered President George H.W. Bush. We always asked him: What are you reading right now? And he would always tell us. And I don't recall him taking umbrage at that.

Mr. CONTINETTI: Well, Michel, when you read my book, you'll see that I actually say that the Katie Couric interview was a lousy interview. It was a terrible interview. Palin did not perform as she should have. And Palin admits that now. I find it interesting, though, as I talk about my book and, of course, talk about her book, that really, the basis of the anti Palin case comes down to two things: that Katie Couric interview and really what people think of Sarah Palin. When they think of her, they're really thinking of the Tina Fey impression of her. And the fact is, the Katie Couric interview, yeah, it was bad. But it was one interview, and I think that there's a much broader record with Palin, and also many more interviews with Palin, that it should be set into context - have a context around it.

MARTIN: Like what?

Mr. CONTINETTI: Well, like her record of reform in Alaska, for example, like the fact that she took on the Republican establishment there, like the fact that she got through three major reforms through the Alaska State Legislature, like the fact that - it seems to me, just look at her current tour right now. I think she's performing very well in these interviews. She's not a dummy. She has opinions. She has policies.

MARTIN: But is the question whether she's a dummy? Here - my question is, she was not running for vice president of the Republican Party. She was not running for vice president of the conservative movement. Given that - and particularly given that it was a very short general election campaign, an eight-week campaign. Given that she was running for president of the country, why isn't it reasonable for people to subject her to whatever test for fitness they may have for - to lead the entire country? Why isn't that reasonable?

Mr. CONTINETTI: I don't argue that in my book. You can subject anyone to any test you'd like. But I don't think that excuses the printing of just false information about a vice presidential candidate, nor do I think it excuses the vitriol that was directed at Sarah Palin, on the blogs and in liberal commentary. Just using the most heated and demeaning terms, that if they were used on any other political figure, the writers who used them would be denounced.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, talk to me about that. And we have a minute left, and we're going to come back after a short break and continue our conversation. So, never fear. You'll have a chance to finish your thought. But what do you think?

Ms. CARY: I have to agree with Matthew, that the vitriol took me aback, and - for example, when Maureen Dowd wrote that Sarah Palin was Caribou Barbie, I winced because I thought, wait. You know, why are you going after a woman like that? I know she's on the other side of the political spectrum, but I thought that was, you know, surprisingly personal. It wasn't going after on a policy or anything like that. And I sort of thought this is ugly and not necessary and let's talk issues and substance. And that didn't seem to happen at all in the campaign.

MARTIN: As I said, we need to take a short break. But when we come back, we're going to continue this discussion about Sarah Palin. We'll talk about whether or not she is a viable candidate for president in the 2012 election, if she even wants to be. We'll return with Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard. He's also the author of a new book about Sarah Palin and the media. And Mary Kate Cary, she's former Republican speechwriter who writes opinions for U.S. News and World Report and blogs at their site.

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Please stay with us.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, the Barbershop guys give their take on the end of Oprah's broadcast television show. We'll see if the guys are heartbroken and get their take on the other news of the week. But first, we're going to continue our conversation about the political and cultural phenomenon that is Sarah Palin. We're joined by Matthew Continetti. He is an associate editor at the Weekly Standard. He's also the author of the new book, "The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star."

We're also joined by Mary Kate Cary. She's a former White House speechwriter for President H.W. Bush, Bush 41, and she also blogs and writes opinions for U.S. News and World Report. And they're both here with me. Thank you again for staying with us. Now before the break, we were talking about Sarah Palin and the media. And I think we could probably spend another hour talking about that topic, but I wanted to focus on her political future and talk about a possible run for the White House.

Matthew, you wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week that Ms. Palin has two problems. The first is that she's become one of the most polarizing figures in the country. The second is that voters continue to worry about her qualifications for the presidency, a concern that her abrupt resignation from office last July intensified. Lucky for her, both problems are solvable. So I wanted to ask you, first of all, do you think she is running? And do you think she is still a viable candidate?

Mr. CONTINETTI: Well, I don't think Palin knows whether she's running. As I researched and reported on Palin's career and life, she's a very impulsive political figure, and that leads to decisions like the one of her resignation last July. So I don't know if she knows, and I think she will probably come to a decision after the midterms. If she does decide to run, I think she has a strong connection with Republican primary voters. I think they - they have passionate opinions about her to the extent that they really don't with some of her other potential rivals.

But her bigger problem - rather than connecting with the Republican base, which I think she does. Her bigger problem is convincing independents that she's up to the job. And right now, independents are divided on her, and more independents disapprove of her than approve of her. I think the gap is bridgeable. It's anywhere between seven to 12 points. And as we see with other political figures, public perceptions can change over time.

MARTIN: The question I have is: Is she good for the party? In the sense that, you know, there are some candidates that a lot of people are excited by. Like, for example, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are exciting to some members of the Democratic coalition, but they're very polarizing figures for others. And so the question becomes: Does the benefit of their galvanizing force outweigh the sort of the repulsion that other people have for them? And so that's my question about Sarah Palin. Matthew?

Mr. CONTINETTI: Yeah, sure. It's unanswerable at the moment, because really, the only test of these things is an election. And at this point, if the election were held today, yeah, Palin would lose.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, what do you think about this? And you said in your piece - which, again, we'll have a link to it on our site so that people can read it in its entirety, because I think it's very interesting. I think it speaks for the conflicted feelings a lot of people have. You said we want to like her. There aren't many female Republican leaders we can root for, and we don't want to turn one of our own. She is, in many ways, like many of us on the younger side of middle-aged, house full of kids, works part to fulltime, not your father's GOP. And yet what do you think? Is she still a viable candidate? What can - if she wants to remain in political life, not just public life, are her electoral problems fixable?

Ms. CARY: Where I come down on this is what I'm sick of hearing as a Republican woman is that the Republican Party has become the party of white male, Southern, you know, it's become a regional party, all this sort of stuff. She is not white - well, she's white, but she's not male or Southern, and she - she brings a different part of the party to the coalition from the West and women, and things like that. So in that sense, I think she's good for the Republican Party. But I have to agree, she's an incredibly polarizing figure. I think independents like her because of her anti-establishment bent.

MARTIN: Let's hear what you have to say after you've read her book.

Ms. CARY: Yeah.

MARTIN: And we are going to read - Matthew, we're going to read your book, too.

Mr. CONTINETTI: I hope so.

MARTIN: Mary Kate Cary is a former White House speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She's a columnist and an opinion writer and a blogger for U.S. News and World Report, and she was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Matthew Continetti is an associate editor of the Weekly Standard. He's the author of the new book, "The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star." And I also want to mention he is an occasional visitor to our Loyal Opposition Roundtable, and he joined us from Washington, D.C., also. I thank you both.

Ms. CARY: Thanks for having us.

Mr. CONTINETTI: Thank you.

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