- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 12, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin may not be your huckleberry when it comes to the presidency, but she came to town the other night and proved once again what has been undeniable for some time: She has more political sex appeal than anyone on the scene with the exception of President Obama.

The former Alaska governor and last year’s much maligned Republican vice presidential nominee and now author showed up at one of the toughest venues in town - as the Republican speaker at the winter dinner of the venerable Washington Gridiron Club, a bastion of opinion makers who over 125 years have roasted politicians with glee, claiming rather disingenuously all the while that their fire only singes but never burns. As they say in the Army, “Hoo Ah!”

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, as if that were ever in doubt. But when you’re shooting percentage is as good as the ex-basketball star from Wasilla’s has been of late, confidence leads one into situations that might otherwise be called foolhardy. Her luck held, and she came away with at least a consensus of grudging admiration, having hit several 3’s and a driving lay-up.

The mere politeness that normally prevails in this setting disappeared in a welter of good will and at times produced the most extraordinary scene of inside-the-Beltway cynics and their significant others asking for autographs, an event almost as phenomenal as she is. Meanwhile, her husband, Todd, whom she recently made graphically clear in answer to tabloid rumors of a pending split was a hunk no woman in her right mind would give up - “Are you crazy! Have you seen Todd?” - was the center of similar attention from the ladies.

Mrs. Palin has been successfully pushing her book “Going Rogue” to spectacularly large crowds across the country, and she played off that in remarks that revealed a remarkable understanding of the value of self-deprecation in settings like this. She said she had contemplated titling the book “How to look like a million dollars in $150,000 worth of clothes,” a reference to the flap over her wardrobe spending during the presidential campaign.

Throughout an evening when club members filled the air with quips about her penchant for sourdough experiences, the onetime impersonator of “Saturday Night Live” ‘s Tina Fey laughed good-naturedly. She even joined a chorus of Gridiron singers to perform a parody of the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” which included some biting comments about her and her philosophy, inserting her own line about adding mash potatoes to the moose steak.

In sharp contrast, her counterpart for the night, veteran Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, one of the leading figures in the economic bailout, sat unsmiling and obviously uncomfortable throughout Mrs. Palin’s appearance, obviously aware that he was upstaged in star power even in a town where his acerbic wit is celebrated.

While she may not have succeeded in totally convincing the several thousand years of journalistic experience and close-up political observation in the room of her ultimate viability as a second-time national candidate three years from now, she did pry open the eyes of some of those who have refused to regard her as little more than a jumped up political gate-crasher one step removed from a trailer park.

The incredible sales of her book, the crowds who flock to her appearances on this nationwide tour, and the polls that show her at this moment at least leading her party’s potential candidates in popularity certainly dispute that.

So as she sat coolly sipping wine and taking a bite now and then and chatting amiably with the Gridiron’s gracious outgoing president, Richard Cooper of the Los Angeles Times, and the incoming Ann McFeatters of Scripps Howard, she was every bit the remarkably good-looking, self-assured and determined friendly young woman whom no one should take lightly, capable of charming an audience that fashions itself even tougher than she is. She may just be a fad, but no one has told her.

Dan K. Thomasson is the former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.

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