Spotting Mark Leibovich's byline on Saturday's front page under the vaguely derisive headline "Sarah Palin, Vocal and Ready...but for What?" was enough to make experienced Times readers fear the worst. After all, Leibovich, the paper's chief political profiler Mark Leibovich is a reliable mocker of Republican politicians. Yet he played it (mostly) straight in a surprisingly fair profile of Palin, the former vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor.
Without leaving home, Sarah Palin will be able to reach much of her political base, courtesy of a soon-to-be-built television studio in her living room paid for by her newest media patron, Fox News. From her house in Wasilla, Alaska, Ms. Palin also sends missives to 1.3 million Facebook "fans," writes newspaper columns, Tweets and signs copies of her book for donors.
She reads daily e-mail briefings on domestic and foreign policy from a small group of advisers who remained loyal after her tumultuous vice presidential campaign in 2008. And though she has fashioned an image as an antiestablishment conservative, she also speaks regularly to a bipartisan nobility of Washington insiders who have helped enrich her financially and position her on the national political stage.
Ms. Palin is becoming increasingly vocal and visible, with a series of events scheduled this weekend: delivering a paid speech to the Salina, Kan., Chamber of Commerce on Friday night, headlining a national Tea Party convention in Nashville on Saturday and appearing on behalf of the re-election campaign of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas in Houston on Sunday.
Her growing cast of advisers and support system could be working in the service of any number of goals: a presidential run, a de facto role as the leader of the Tea Party movement, a lucrative career as a roving media entity - or all of the above. Ms. Palin represents a new breed of unelected public figures operating in an environment in which politics, news media and celebrity are fused as never before. Whether she ever runs for anything else, Ms. Palin has already achieved a status that has become an end in itself: access to an electronic bully pulpit, a staff to guide her, an enormous income and none of the bother or accountability of having to govern or campaign for office.
Leibovich provided some hard news about Palin's emerging political infrastructure:
Beyond what her Fox-watchers and Facebookers can see, Ms. Palin is quietly assembling the infrastructure of an expanding political operation. In addition to her longtime spokeswoman, Meghan Stapleton, Ms. Palin's closest aides include members of her former running mate's staff. Her current operations chief, Jason Recher, was a loyal lieutenant on Ms. Palin's campaign plane - loyal to a point where some top McCain aides believed he was encouraging Ms. Palin's "rogue" behavior. (According to internal campaign e-mail messages provided by a former top McCain aide, campaign officials considered firing Mr. Recher in October 2008 over "unacceptable" and "unprofessional" conduct during a rough swing through New Hampshire and Maine.)
"I wouldn't exactly call it a badge of honor to be thought of negatively by some of these people," Mr. Recher said. "But the bottom line is, I was incredibly proud to serve John McCain, and I couldn't be happier to be part of Sarah Palin's world now."