Published November 24, 2009
While Sarah Palin is hardly the first politician to release a memoir, in many ways, the enthusiastic response to the former Alaska governor's "Going Rogue: An American Life" boasts a story like no other.
Since the announcement of its impending release months ago, numbers for “Going Rogue” have been remarkable. Harper Collins initially announced a first printing of 1.5 million copies, half a million more than the first printing of Hillary Clinton's long-anticipated memoir, "Living History." But by last Friday, just three days after its release, the publisher announced it would increase those numbers by 1 million.
By Tuesday morning, the Associated Press, which had assigned a whopping 11 reporters to fact-check the book, announced that it had sold 700,000 copies in its first week alone, trailing the first-week sales of Bill Clinton's "My Life" by just 200,000 units. And if sales weren't telling enough, Palin's appearance on "Oprah" in support of "Rogue" earned the talk-show giant her highest ratings in two years.
Indeed, in just a week alone, it seems Palin's already massive celebrity has soared to even greater heights. At just 44 years old, with less than two years in the national political spotlight, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is the politician of whom America cannot seem to get enough.
So what is it about Palin -- a less-than-one-term former governor from Alaska -- that makes her such a star?
"Sarah Palin is a celebrity by virtue of her meteoric rise to fame," says Fraser Seitel, a public relations professor and managing partner of the communications firm Emerald Partners. "Celebrity sells in this country, and she has the 'it factor' that makes people watch her. She is controversial, and controversy sells. And she is a firebrand; she has many qualities that make her incredibly appealing."
But controversy and strong convictions aren't all that set her apart, says image expert Marian Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide Public Relations. "Sarah Palin's packaging is sublime. Her appearance has had an extraordinary effect on her popularity.
"She is attractive enough to be appealing to both men and women, and she looks likable, even if you disagree with her politics," Salzman says. "She is in great shape, her hair looks great, her clothes are beautiful. All of these things make her the modern embodiment of the American dream."
Salzman says Palin has been a political maverick for her fusion of femininity and politics, taking a divergent path from that of pantsuited politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. Palin's wardrobe has been full of high heels, tailored skirts, beehive hairstyles and black patent leather boots. According to Salzman, that fashion-meets-politics persona is the definition of a new generation of women in the public eye.
"Hillary Clinton was from a different era," Salzman said. "Palin's generation didn't have any glass ceilings to break through. It was an era of equality and of sexual confidence. Women did not need to be apologetic for being attractive and that is what Palin embodies.
"Why should she put herself in a plain navy pantsuit? She is [an] American woman who takes pride in keeping herself in shape and presenting herself as someone interested in looking good, but never pushing the envelope into the risque. And in that sense, she is the poster girl of that new generation. It doesn't take away from what women of Hillary's generation did, they had to make the transition for the Palins. But that won't be the look that younger people will want to see."
But while Palin will always be a draw due to her appearance, Republican strategist Steve Castleton says she has to further hone her arguments if she wants to be a potent political force.
"What gets her in the door is that she is eye candy," Castleton said. "She is using her appearance to get shows and notoriety, something Hillary didn't have the option to do. Hillary couldn't be on the cover of a magazine in running shorts, but Hillary did have her politics and her comments to stand on, which is what Palin will need if she is going to go on and be successful as a politician.
"People will go see her because she is gorgeous, but they will only vote for her if she has substance. Is she the kind of leader to whom America can turn in the wake of tragedies and wars, or will she be spending too much time on her hair and her outfit? She will need to show that she is prepared and knowledgeable and has a strong team behind her."
And though her closest advisers deny she's eyeing the 2012 presidential campaign, many Palin watchers predict another run for office in her future.
If her book tour stops are any indicator of political aspirations, Palin seems to have her eye on pursuing the Republican presidential nomination. According to the Washington Post, the tour includes 31 stops in 25 states in mostly GOP-friendly areas. Of those 31 county stops, only 11 were carried by Obama.
Still, even if she's sticking to friendly territory, Palin's national star power should not be underestimated, says Politics Daily writer Matt Lewis.
"To her critics who discount her potential," he says, "it's important to keep in mind: You can teach someone foreign policy. You can't teach them the charisma and star power that comes naturally to Sarah Palin."