The XX Factor

Palin the Broadway Star

Speaking of Sarah Palin’s compelling rhetoric , it always seems to me Palin is at least as persuasive for how she speaks as for what she says. Indeed, she’s sometimes compelling despite what she says . She is a natural; she breaks through standard pol-speak and overemphasizes her gestures and her facial expressions like an actress in a Broadway musical. (To hell with it; I’ll do the gauche thing and link to something I wrote in ‘08 about the way she uses winking and nose-wrinkling and a becheeked tongue to win people over.) Emily describes her as speaking with warmth , and that seems a good way to put it. Indeed, the fact that proves my point is that Palin manages to be understood despite poor grammar and going-nowhere sentences . Listeners pretty much already know where she’s going. They know what she stands for and anyway, the conventions of political discourse are hardwired into the American electorate.

At the same time, Bill O’Reilly’s interview with Palin on illegal immigration late last week is a good example of a setting in which she doesn’t do well. He kept interrupting her and trying to pin her down on specifics. (“But we got that, governer,” O’Reilly said at one point, when Palin returned to a talking point.) She seemed truly irritated. Online, pro-Palin commenters seemed split about the interview, with many calling O’Reilly a bloviating annoyance, and others thanking him for giving Palin a tough interview in which to hone her skills. They recognize this is a weakness of hers, whether or not she does . But the main point is that as far as Palin is concerned, policy is a relatively minor part of the message. She is trying to get across a feeling; she is a would-be maestro, at once listening to and directing the national mood. And like a maestro, she performs best when she’s in charge.

Photograph of Sarah Palin by Ethan Miller/Getty Images News.