A new form of political communication?
This, admittedly, is not hot off the presses: Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate for the US Republican Party, is stepping down as Governor of Alaska. Having indicated that she would not stand again in the next election for governor, she announced she would also be stepping down from the office before the end of her term. Of course, who runs Alaska is not perhaps a major concern of many people in these parts, though if (as some believe) her decision tells us something about her ambitions for the US presidency, maybe it should be. But in any case, as someone who was last year thrown into the global political limelight and who may yet remain there, she is a politician who may merit the occasional glimpse from here.
Right now I am wondering about her official announcement of the resignation, which you can read here. After the slightly disarming opening with ‘Hi Alaska,’ the text meanders through a selection of comments and observations (frequently punctuated with exclamation marks, dashes and quotes), and you have to travel quite a distance before you discover the purpose of the statement. On the way you have to negotiate passages such as this:
We are doing well! I wish you’d hear more from the media of your state’s progress and how we tackle Outside interests – daily – special interests that would stymie our state. Even those debt-ridden stimulus dollars that would force the heavy hand of federal government into our communities with an “all-knowing attitude” – I have taken the slings and arrows with that unpopular move to veto because I know being right is better than being popular. Some of those dollars would harm Alaska and harm America – I resisted those dollars because of the obscene national debt we’re forcing our children to pay, because of today’s Big Government spending; it’s immoral and doesn’t even make economic sense!
And after telling us that ‘only dead fish go with the flow’ (or rather, ‘Nah, only dead fish go with the flow’), she proceeds to declare that she will step down as Governor.
Of course, Sarah Palin made her name as a rather folksy, tell-it-as-you-think-it anti-intuitive politician, and for a few moments in 2008 some thought that this could be a formula that would catch on. Let us leave aside the troublesome interviews she gave initially (someone suddenly pushed into an unexpected national role can be forgiven for that), and consider the more mature politician she should by now have become. Politics is all about communication, about doing it in a manner that engages your audience and that stimulates and inspires. It would be foolish and elitist to argue that this needs to be done in a style more typical of a university lecture theatre; but yet it needs to be done in a manner that impresses. If you cannot immediately make your audience understand what the purpose of your statement is, you have lost them.
For myself – and I hope there is nothing elitist in this assumption – I cannot believe that Sarah Palin has a future as a national or international politician. But I am also acutely aware that right now there are many politicians across the world who seem not to understand the significance of political communication, and who are not in particular using this tool to give confidence and a sense of purpose to communities in the current economic conditions. I suspect that the pace of economic recovery will, at least in part, be driven by a sense of confidence, and politicians have a key role in stimulating that. This is, I believe, an issue that needs to be tackled here in Ireland as elsewhere.
Mind you, I cannot help being beguiled by the thought put forward by Julian Gough in Prospect magazine, that Sarah Palin is in fact a modern poet. He suggests:
A great poet needs to leave open the door between the conscious and unconscious; Sarah Palin has removed her door from its hinges. A great poet does not self-censor; Sarah Palin seems authentically innocent of what she is saying. She could be the most natural, visionary poet since William Blake.
So as regards the quote from Palin’s announcement above, perhaps it needs to be read differently, perhaps so:
We are doing well! I wish
you’d hear more from the media
of your state’s progress and
how we tackle
– daily –
special interests that
would stymie our state.
Yes, I like that much better.