The XX Factor

Sarah Palin Is a Genius at Taking Umbrage

How seriously should we take Sarah Palin as she makes all the early exploratory moves of a presidential candidate? (See: the urgent speech to the base in Tea Party land, the dangling of herself as “willing” to challenge Obama on Fox, the appearances on behalf of other candidates like Gov. Rick Perry, the assembling of an experienced set of handlers, and of course the Facebook account and Twitter feed.) In mulling that question, it’s worth spotlighting her mastery of the favored tactic of the 2008 race: taking umbrage. As John Dickerson wrote two years ago, when Obama and McCain were just getting started, “If done correctly, candidates can exploit flamboyant displays of public upset to gain attention, raise money, put their opponents on the defensive, and distract from an unfavorable story.” Palin did this effectively when Obama made his quip about how he bowls as if he’s in the Special Olympics, and she did it again last week when she called for Rahm Emanuel’s resignation because he’d called liberals retarded. Insert your favorite third example here.

John wisely warned candidates that to win at taking offense, they have to keep their expression of outrage in proportion to the offense. But I don’t think that rule applies to Palin. In fact, it’s part of her genius that it doesn’t. Her Rahm scolding is a perfect example. To be cold-hearted: She’s the one with the Down syndrome kid, and that trumps the wing-nut aspect of saying that the president’s advisor should resign over one word. She gets to be the mother bear. That could play well with her base, the main audience at this early point, and it probably won’t alienate the independents she eventually needs to win over. It’s another genius shot from her motherhood arsenal-an arsenal she’s figured out how to deploy like no other woman in politics.

Photograph of Sarah Palin by Win McNamee/Getty Images.