At first blush Argentina's Eva Perón and Sarah Palin appear as extreme opposites. Evita is synonymous with the welfare state and big labor. She was and continues to be the face of the populist left. Sarah is synonymous with the Tea Party and the evangelical base. She is the face of the populist right. Their ascension to power was, to say the least also very different, the tango rooms of Buenos Aires vs. the city council of Wasilla.
While Peron and Palin's political rise and ideological persuasions are as different as the North and South Poles, their similarities as leaders are striking. Eva Perón had, as Sarah Palin now has a mass appeal like no other female counterpart. Their styles are populist, plain and simple. Masses would gather to hear Eva Perón speak from the balcony of La Casa Rosada, paralyzing the streets of Buenos Aires. Masses gather to hear Sarah Palin from every corner of the United States. Whether the throngs of people are los descamisados ("the shirtless ones", referring to laborers) or Mama Grizzlies there is no difference in the veneration toward their respective Saints -- Santa Evita or Saint Sarah.
An electrifying charisma is the common denominator in both women. Like with Palin, Evita was either loved or hated, their personalities inspired nothing less than one of the two extremes. More specifically, both women inspired/inspire elite disdain and mass fervor. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina's current and first female president, describes Evita as passionate and combative. Both characteristics are a perfect fit for America's favorite Mama Grizzly.
Tactically, Palin has taken numerous pages out of Perón's playbook. Eva did not have a Facebook or Twitter account, but she did have a radio show accomplishing the same purpose of mass dissemination of her message. These messages would then be reinforced with public speaking engagements. Different mediums, same end.
In 1951 Eva Perón was briefly the de facto vice-presidential candidate for her husband. Both vice-presidential candidates electrified their campaigns. However, in the case of Perón, the opposition by the elite and the military prevented her from being placed on the ballot. According to the Argentine constitution, the vice-president automatically succeeds the president in the case of his death. The idea of a 32 year old woman from a humble upbringing without adequate preparation being a heartbeat away from the Presidency was too much for the Argentine leadership to handle. Sound familiar?
The strongest tie between Evita and Sarah is their role in mobilizing women for their respective parties. Evita was the driving force in extending suffrage to women in Argentina. She also organized the Female Peronist Party in 1949, a branch of the Peronist Party. Eva Perón made targeted calls to the women on the left and these women followed. Twenty-first Century America is not 1940s Argentina, but the role of women in the Republican party has lagged in comparison to that of the Democratic party. Sarah Palin has also made a call to women on the right, and not just as voters, but as candidates. Palin has provided a structure and an identity to women on the right, the pink elephants, to seek a more pronounced presence in the political arena. Eva carved out a place for women in Argentinean political life, Sarah has carved out a new place for women in America's political right.
A laundry list is easily composed of the superficial differences between Perón and Palin. Scratching below the surface erases those differences and uncovers core character and leadership commonalities. Perhaps Sarah the musical is not too far off.