Has there been a more polarizing figure in American politics in the last few generations than Sarah Palin? In the last 30 or 40 years, there has certainly been no shortage:

Barry Goldwater, who wanted to lead us into nuclear war;
Lyndon Johnson, who single-handedly expanded Government entitlements to the point of bloated no-return;
Richard Nixon, who disgraced the Presidency;
Jimmy Carter, who raised incompetency to a fine art form;
Ronald Reagan, an amiable dunce who lucked into all his successes;
Bill Clinton, who personified lying and personal untrustworthiness;
Newt Gingrich, the shifty, stick-it-to-the-little-guy conservative fat cat;
George W. Bush, whose inability to speak intelligibly should have disqualified him from the County Commissioner’s office, much less the Presidency;
Al Gore, the pompous, self-aggrandizing, insincere opportunist;
Hillary Clinton, the ruthless, conniving, duplicitous shrew;
Barack Obama, the Socialist, Muslim-in-disguise, taxer-in-Chief

While most of the current major national figures of both parties elicit more than their fair share of vitriol and wildly histrionic criticism, none seems capable of challenging Mrs. Palin for the top spot.

Even those in her own party are relentless in their opprobrium. Respected conservatives like Charles Krauthammer, Kathleen Parker and Peggy Noonan have been unbendingly negative in their comments.

From Noonan’s 11/5/10 WSJ column:

Conservatives talked a lot about Ronald Reagan this year, but they have to take him more to heart, because his example here is a guide. All this seemed lost last week on Sarah Palin, who called him, on Fox, “an actor.” She was defending her form of political celebrity—reality show, “Dancing With the Stars,” etc. This is how she did it: “Wasn’t Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn’t he in ‘Bedtime for Bonzo,’ Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor.”

Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin…..

The point is not “He [Reagan] was a great man and you are a nincompoop,” though that is true….

Palin brings out more visceral, deeply-rooted, emotional reaction than almost any politician/national figure in memory.

(By the way, the fact that even some conservatives, who share her basic philosophical views, publicly rebuke her the way they do speaks very strongly to the inherent intellectual/political honesty and courage that is central to the Conservative psyche. One would never find a Liberal commentator publicly dressing down a Liberal standard-bearer in such an elemental way. Never.)

So, what is it about Palin that drives these reactions?

It’s doubtful that it’s her views, per se:

– Lower taxes so individuals and businesses can be more directly involved and responsible for their own affairs, rather than relying on Centralized Government largess and regulation
– A strong national defense to meet the requirements of national security in today’s challenging global environment
– Increased border security and control, to better handle the myriad problems associated with unrestricted illegal immigration
– Less onerous Government-mandated PC rules and intrusions into the everyday lives of the citizenry

These basic positions are actually agreed upon by most people, from all points on the political continuum, especially if one can divorce these views from the person actually saying them.

And therein lays the issue. It’s a matter of presentation, of persona, of aura. For the Coast-bound Liberal Elite Media (including a few Conservatives), Palin is just too ‘folksy’ and ‘down home’ in her approach. There is a limit to how many “Betcha’s” and “By golly’s” the self-appointed intelligentsia can stomach.

It remains fascinating to continually see these self-declared experts confuse “intelligence” with “presentation.” The two are not necessarily directly related, just as leadership/inspirational/motivational skills and absolute intellectual capacity are not necessarily related. They can be, but a lock-step correlation (assuming—obviously—that the requisite minimum abilities are present) isn’t necessary or even present most of the time. Rendering the entire issue moot is the ludicrous notion that a casually-observant third party could accurately determine so-called “intelligence” by the presence or absence of such things like a regional accent, use of colloquialisms, unclear enunciation, etc.

Also, let this be very clear: IN NO WAY is any of this to be construed as an endorsement of Palin for high national office. Rather, it’s an observation on how polarizing personalities (whether those personalities are naturally polarizing or media-manufactured to be so) can obscure actual viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are straightforward and seemingly appeal to a wide swath of the electorate.

In the end, there are three take-aways from all this:

1. Most people, regardless of their raw intellect, are incapable of separating a politician’s substantive views from their presentation style.
2. Because of no. 1 above, politicians (with their managers’/publicists’ help) should attempt to adapt their presentation style as well as they can to the audience they’re addressing. If it’s to a Coastal Elite and it will get national coverage, then “dress” accordingly.
3. Those who can see through the ‘Betcha’s” and “By golly’s” and recognize Palin’s views on lower taxes, a strong defense, better border security, et al. are to be commended for dispensing with the extraneous distractions and distortions of media-influenced political coverage. Very few people are truly capable of assembling the facts and thinking for themselves.