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11/29/2010 11:55 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Sarah Palin Show: One Night Stand or Long Running Hit?

To a lot of Democrats and Republicans, Sarah Palin is like a cup of strong coffee: she might wake you up and even give you a jolt, but she's completely without substance. After a quick trip to the bathroom, there's nothing left but a slight buzz.

If Sarah Palin has a thoughtful worldview based on her experience in public service or insights gleaned from considering and synthesizing the thoughts and actions of great thinkers and leaders, she's certainly kept them under wraps. She's been called annoying, petty, self-important and massively insecure. But, while she may be many things, none of them is stupid. She is a highly adept self-promoter making bazillions of dollars, not because of what she's done or what she thinks, but how she looks and what she's willing to say.

So, even though 140-character messages on Twitter seem to be the ideal medium for her thoughts, Republican and Democratic leaders would be well advised not to dismiss her or assume that mature people will quickly grow tired of this political diva. The Sarah Palin Show could run for a long time.

Those who smugly assure themselves that the American public would never buy this act should remember that 30 years ago, there was a B movie actor from California who was too unsophisticated and unschooled in the ways of the world to mount a serious challenge to President Jimmy Carter. And ten years ago, a third-generation Connecticut blue blood, a product of Phillips Academy, Yale and Harvard, ambled onto the world stage acting like a Texas cowboy and shot the place up. The country will be cleaning up after The Adventures of John Wayne and his Neo-Con Posse for a long time.

Like George W. Bush, Sarah Palin has somehow turned a lack of genuine accomplishment, an absence of curiosity about the world around her and an apparent inability to communicate in complete, declarative sentences into a strong image of a plain spoken, no-nonsense, 'I'm one of you' populist.

Her mother was a school secretary; her dad a science teacher and track coach; Sarah played the flute in her junior high band, ran cross-country and played basketball. After attending four different colleges over six years, she graduated with a degree in Communications; not exactly a Horatio Alger story. Yet she's made her 'Mama Grizzly' shtick really work, and sounds like she was born in an igloo above the Arctic Circle and wrestled Kodiak Bears on her way to school every day.

Does it work? You betcha; but not because the folks who listen to Sarah Palin are ignorant. It's because their days are filled with thoughts about jobs, finances, families, PTA meetings, their next vacation and a thousand other normal pursuits and interests. When they do focus on politics, they tend to make judgments using the same criteria they do on everything else. Does it make sense? Does it waste money? Is it going to make my life better or worse? Does it agree or conflict with my values? Do those people in Washington understand what's important to me?

Sarah Palin understands. So she delivers a unique perspective on what government is doing or failing to do that affects their lives. And, because history tells us that people facing tough times often tend to look for someone to blame, Ms. Palin is only too happy to help. Of course, her version of assigning blame generally involves questioning the motives, common sense and even the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with her.

The Republican establishment isn't going to have a lot of luck trying to bring her into the fold. She is not going to be muzzled, controlled or eclipsed. They know she wasn't trying to promote the Republican agenda with her somewhat bizarre Facebook endorsements. She was promoting Sarah Palin. Their only hope is to find someone who can shine as bright as she does, but with substance.

Democrats couldn't "out-Sarah" Sarah if they tried. But they don't have to. They do, however, have to have something to say, and they do have to find a compelling way to say it. They do have to start defining issues instead of allowing the Republicans to do it. They do have to have a cadre of effective, credible spokespeople to speak out for them, loudly and frequently. Because, if they do not, The Sarah Palin Show may be held over for a long run in Washington, DC.

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