GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Sarah Palin blew in here Wednesday with all the stagecraft (and subtlety) of Lady Gaga, pulling up in a luxury tour bus ensconced with the cover photo from her book, right down to her glossy lips and heavenward gaze.
Camera-waving paparazzi were there to capture Palin bounding out in her trademark red blazer with baby Trig in her arms, blessing the frenzied throngs of more than 1,000 with a 60-second speech.
"It's like a campaign event without the depth," a veteran political reporter muttered to me.
Which is saying something.
"I couldn't wait to get back to Michigan," the former GOP vice presidential candidate announced outside Barnes & Noble. "Michigan is so much like Alaska with the huntin' and fishin' and the hockey moms. This is the heart of industry in America."
That stereotypical mush would be condescending, except for the fact that Sarah Palin is quite the looker. So therefore, anything (former) Gov. Gorgeous utters automatically comes off as genuine and dare I say, genius.
This observation, of course, makes me Sexist -- as Sexist as the Neanderthals at Newsweek who made the unprecedented move to put the leggy lady on its cover to sell magazines. Feminist pioneers like Sean Hannity -- who has never, ever noticed the fact that Mrs. Palin is a babe (insert trademark Sarah wink) -- were outraged, because, well, that's the only emotion God grants right-wing talk show hosts.
For goodness sake, even Grand Rapids artist Mark Vainner -- who proudly had Palin sign his jacket next to signatures from Hannity and G. Gordon Liddy -- saw the marketing ploy for what it was.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know if you show a guy a picture of a girl with boobs and say, 'Does this bother you?' the answer is going to be no," he told the local paper.
Why conservatives comically insist that Sarah's sex appeal isn't, well, part of her appeal, is beyond me, but it seems to be a fascinating psychological blend of cynicism and repression. Sorry, but it's not her impressive reign as mayor of the Iditarod capital of the world (population 6,700) that lured screaming fans to a half-empty mall on a rainy weeknight.
This is America. We like pretty people. Let's move on.
Kicking off her book tour in Michigan was no accident, of course. For one thing, greater Grand Rapids evidently meets Palin's all-important "Real America" litmus test, evidenced by the preponderance of flannel and "Don't Tread on Me" shirts in the crowd. It was a diverse group, ranging from Twilight-toned onlookers like myself to a few folks savvy enough to know their way around a spray tan.
Alas, even in Real America, there's still a velvet-roped VIP area. Wonder what the poor souls who had waited for 16 hours thought of GOP luminaries like state House Minority Leader Kevin Elsenheimer (R-Kewadin) and Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville) being whisked right up to bask in Palin's glow while they glowered in the cold.
The Mitten State stop was intended to be the ultimate kiss-off to the John McCain campaign, as Palin made clear in her score-settling, factually challenged memoir. There's no doubt that the operation blew Michigan, culminating with its bumbling pullout five weeks before Election Day. That's when the veep-to-be "went rogue," striking back at the McCain meanies.
In the world according to Palin, she alone would have saved Michigan, making the irrefutable argument that she was tied to us through the unbreakable bond of hockey.
Yeah, you betcha.
Certainly her coming-out party underscores the fact that Republicans are itching to turn the Mitten State red next year. With a decade-long recession and an unpopular Democratic governor, it's fertile ground.
But forget the spin that Sarah Barracuda is running for president. Real candidates don't quit the first real political job they've earned after two years or trash a host of longtime, loyal GOP players within months of a campaign. They demonstrate some seriousness about policy and a modicum of class.
Palin, however, will have to keep the buzz alive long enough to keep filling bookstores (and the coffers of her political action committee), so she can provide her family with the kind of hoi-polloi lifestyle Real Americans can only dream of.
Last year, Tina Fey-as-Palin on "Saturday Night Live" confessed her goal was to be "the white Oprah." That's probably not far from the mark, given her Hollywood-style debut, replete with soft-focused interviews with Barbara Walters and, of course, the real Oprah.
Although given Palin's penchant for disemboweling fellow Republicans, she would probably be best-suited to host a glib talk show on Fox News. Her gleeful ignorance of basic economic policy, political history and international relations -- and disdain for eggheads who believe these are serious matters for leaders to contemplate -- can be worn as a badge of honor on the Know Nothing network.
So would her reckless quest to divide the country, whether she's accusing the president of "palin' around with terrorists" or trying to kill her Down syndrome baby (really) with health care "death panels."
In the end, that's what's truly disturbing about the Sarah-as-Savior phenomenon. And why it is stomach-churning to hear so many intelligent Republicans blather that she gets the base "fired up," so it's all good.
No, it's not. There have to be some basic qualifications and standards of decency for our leaders.
This is about the future of America. It ain't the Video Music Awards.