Not since "Who shot J.R.?" became the defining pop culture cliffhanger of the 1980s, has America been as obsessed with a cliffhanger as we currently are with the "Will she or won't she?" Sarah Palin Circus. The speculation reached fever pitch this Labor Day weekend as Palin took her, "Aw, shucks. Of course I'm not trying to distract the media from the candidates who are officially running" routine to a tea party rally in Iowa, a state that just so happens to be the home of the first primary contest of the 2012 election. Alas, the rally has come and gone and we are still right where we were before it began, with no official Sarah Palin presidential campaign in motion, but one of the most relentless non-campaigns in the history of modern politics in full swing. (If this politics thing doesn't work out, Palin and her advisers could make a ton running a political version of an old-fashioned peep show. She could teach the pros a thing or two when it comes to the art of the show and tell tease.)
Regardless of politics, one thing we can all probably agree on is that Sarah Palin would very much like to be president. But she also does not want to be a presidential candidate -- at least not a real one who faces the kind of tough scrutiny that top-tier candidates do. She does want to be a powerbroker, who is both courted and feared and who is forever a media star. In other words, she wants to be the conservative movement's Al Sharpton.
Before the scoffing begins, consider this. Without doing a google search in under a minute can you name three of the Democratic candidates for president in 2004, besides the eventual nominee John Kerry? (Hint: There were ten of them).
Now if you managed to do that, any idea what they are up to today? Some of you may have an idea. After all if you are reading this post there's a good chance you are at least a mild political junkie. But many of you, who probably voted in that election are probably still scratching your heads trying to remember who did run, which one you voted for in the primary (if you voted in the Democratic primary) and if he is still even in politics today or off running a dairy farm somewhere.
But the one candidate we all remember, and whose present day activities we are well aware of? Rev. Al Sharpton.
Sharpton, recently solidified his place as one of the most prominent people of color in media, when he joined MSNBC's primetime lineup as host of his own show, this after years of serving as somewhat of a political kingmaker, wielding his support (or lack thereof) as a sort of weapon, at least in certain races. (Though this piece of trivia has largely been forgotten among the national media, Sharpton played a key role in depriving then-Democratic shoo-in Mark Green of the New York mayoralty, thereby catapulting then political novice, billionaire Michael Bloomberg into the seat. Click here to see other major media players who got their start in politics.)
America loves a good comeback, and Sharpton has staged one of the greatest in American politics, transforming himself from an anti-establishment figure mired in controversy, to a welcome ally of conservatives on key issues. Which means that, unfortunately for her detractors, it's not too late for Palin to stage a comeback of her own.
Yes polls show that she has become the conservative that conservatives fear -- not for her politics but for her divisive image and inability to actually win a general election -- but progressives felt the exact same way about Sharpton not too long ago, which is why she is likely taking cues from him. If his success is any indication, there's absolutely no reason not to run, as long as she runs much like he did: with no real intention of winning.
She could get in just long enough to serve as a grenade that shakes up the race, heighten her profile again in the process, have a couple of decent debate performances that remove the stigma of her being an intellectual lightweight/borderline laughingstock, and then get out early enough to avoid embarrassing herself and permanently cheapening her image like Rudy Giuliani did last election.
Then she can really live the dream; become the permanent queenmaker of the GOP, and hostess of her own primetime show, without the inconvenience of having to do all of that annoying work that comes with actually being an elected official or real candidate.
And as an added bonus, those of us in the media will no longer be titillated by the Palin peep show and will therefore no longer feel compelled to write about her ad nauseam.
Follow Keli Goff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/keligoff