Palin on the Rise; Obama is Old News

Palin on the Rise; Obama is Old News

By Jack Kelly - December 13, 2009

I'm sure a 6-year-old with a crayon could do something not unlike that," snarked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Tuesday.

The object of Mr. Gibbs' scorn was Gallup's tracking poll for the day before, which showed only 47 percent of respondents approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing, with 46 percent disapproving.

Perhaps Mr. Gibbs' skin was thin because this was the lowest ranking for a president at this point in his presidency since Gallup began conducting presidential approval polls in 1938.

Meanwhile, a CNN/Opinion Research Poll also released Monday indicated 46 percent of respondents have a favorable impression of Sarah Palin, while 46 percent have an unfavorable one.

The polls were not quite the same. Gallup asked people what they thought of the job Mr. Obama was doing, not whether or not they liked him.

Even with that caveat, though, the convergence between Mr. Obama and Ms. Palin is remarkable. There is no statistical difference between the one and the other.

This represents a substantial gain in public esteem for Ms. Palin since she resigned as governor of Alaska in July, and a substantial decline for Mr. Obama over the same period.

Sarah Palin's been on a roll since the publication of her autobiography last month. "Going Rogue" is already the second-biggest seller among nonfiction books in history (only Bill Clinton's 2004 autobiography, "My Life," sold more copies in the first month), and could be No. 1 before the end of her book tour, since her sales seem to be holding up better than his did.

The book tour itself is a cultural phenomenon. At each stop hundreds, often thousands, of people have waited hours, sometimes days, to meet her.

Could Barack Obama -- who now seems so last year -- inspire that kind of devotion today?

The turnabout in fortunes is all the more remarkable because no political figure in recent history has been subject to such vilification from our news media as Sarah Palin. No malicious rumor was too preposterous to report. No accomplishment was important enough to mention.

Meanwhile, no presidential candidate or president has received more favorable press coverage than Barack Obama.

"President Barack Obama has enjoyed substantially more positive media coverage than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush during their first months in the White House," concluded a Pew Research study last May. Forty-two percent of stories in major newspapers and television news programs about Mr. Obama were favorable, compared to 22 percent for Mr. Bush and 27 percent for Mr. Clinton.

"The press just acted like this guy walked on water," Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz said during the campaign.

That's changing, in both directions.

Sarah Palin interrupted her book tour to speak at the Gridiron Club, the biggest social event of the year for Washington journalists.

"The very fact she was willing to take the chance of appearing in a room full of her most disdainful critics is testimony to her courage," wrote Dan Thomasson of Scripps Howard. "She came away with at least a consensus of grudging admiration."

"Her appearance produced the extraordinary scene of inside-the-Beltway cynics and their significant others asking for autographs," Mr. Thomasson noted.

"Palin won the evening," conceded columnist Clarence Page.

"As much as her politics are not mine, after chatting with her and her husband, good-natured 'First Dude' Todd Palin, I came away with a new fondness and respect for both of them," Mr. Page wrote.

"Going Rogue" received savage reviews from most liberals, like that from Ana Marie Cox in The Washington Post, who acknowledged she hadn't actually read the book.

Those who did have a different opinion. Stanley Fish, writing for The New York Times, described it as "compelling and very well done."

The reaction of liberals to Sarah Palin -- which is like that of vampires to garlic -- indicate she is the Republican they fear most. With good reason, Mr. Fish thinks.

"Perseverance, the ability to absorb defeat without falling into defeatism, is the key to Palin's character," he wrote. "Her political opponents, especially those who dismissed Ronald Reagan before he was elected, should take note."


Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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