Gabriel Sherman's New York Magazine cover story takes an in-depth look at the "singular national industry" that is Sarah Palin. But what's most interesting about his piece is how much Palin comes to resemble her nemesis, Levi Johnston.
Sherman makes a compelling case that Palin's decision to quit the governorship of Alaska was largely about money — she was facing hefty legal bills related to Troopergate, and she couldn't go on a lucrative book tour while still governing her state. She turned out to have made a good decision, at least in terms of her bank account — she made $12 million last year, and can pull in $100,000 per speech (though she has sometimes donated this fee to charity). Sherman repeats the concerns many have voiced about Palin as a presidential candidate: she's fickle, she's insular, she doesn't want to educate herself about political nuts and bolts. None of these qualities, however, are roadblocks to reality TV stardom — which is where Levi comes in.
Fans of Johnston — and it's hard not to have a little affection for someone who so obviously annoys Sarah Palin — may be a little less enamored after his description of the show he's pitching:
Like one day I'll be hunting, next day I'll be, ‘Hey, I gotta fly to California tonight,' so I'll hop on a flight. Go to a party, maybe meet a chick, bring her back to Alaska and take her fishing and see if she can hang. If not, kick her out. Then go hang out with my son, or go to the track and race my dirt bike. Next week, up in the mountains sheep hunting. Or jumping out of airplanes. I don't know. It's not looking at glaciers and going to Bristol Bay.
Johnston's high-flying, chick-auditioning public life stands in stark contrast to Bristol's, punctuated as it is by abstinence PSAs. But it bears some similarity to her mom's latest exploits, as he acknowledges with the snide remark about looking at glaciers. And his current strategy may have a lot in common with his onetime future mother-in-law's. Sherman closes his piece thus:
Johnston gets up from lunch and wants to beat the traffic on the only highway back to Wasilla. He's off to practice his motocross before leaving on a weeklong bear-hunting trip in the Alaska Range. "Why not jump on it?" he says of all the money being offered his way. "I'm not gonna lie and say I'm not gonna go for it. It's there, why not? It's a great living, you make money, and it's fun."
Sarah Palin is clearly having fun. As her longtime Wasilla friend Judy Patrick told me, "I always used to say she needed a bigger crowd."
Palin may well have bigger ambitions than Johnston does — she apparently once told a campaign manager, "I don't want to be governor, I want to be president" — but like him, she's "jumping on" a lot of money-making opportunities. Some of her recent appearances seem strategic (think Tea Party), others just a way to collect a check (the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America). And her decision to forego the crash courses in foreign affairs and other difficult issues that many suggested, instead "building-and monetizing-her personal brand, the plainspoken Alaskan frontierswoman who's not ashamed of what she doesn't know," certainly seems like a fun-over-homework approach. Palin may even be auditioning members of the press and potential staffers the way Levi auditions girls, taking them salmon-fishing to see if they can hang. Sherman says "relations between Johnston and the Palins have been surprisingly good" in part because "they're actors on the same show" — but Johnston and Palin may be playing the same character.
Image via New York Magazine.