Sarah Palin has a lot in common with black women

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Her memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, has been a best-seller for weeks and it’s not yet in bookstores. She can attract a crowd of thousands. Critics often blow her off as unimportant, not serious, or vacuous. Meanwhile, she seems to be on the White House’s mind a lot as it reacts – albeit not by name – to her specific criticisms regarding health care reform, troop levels in Afghanistan, and energy policy. That woman is former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Given that controversy sells, it’s no wonder Oprah Winfrey tried so hard to get Palin on her show next Monday during November sweeps. She even complained that Palin was snubbing her (after Winfrey snubbed Palin during the campaign season). Given Winfrey’s ratings slump – which may be partly due to women not liking that she supported then Sen. Barack Obama over Sen. Hillary Clinton, and later didn’t support Palin’s vice presidential bid – Winfrey needs Palin more than Palin needs Winfrey.

Much like my view of Winfrey, I have mixed views about Palin. I don’t get either the hero worship or the virulent hatred towards her. Although I agree with Palin on perhaps 65 percent of policy issues, she does not enthrall me. She’s not ready to be president or vice president, nor will she be ready any time soon. She took the easy way out, giving up a governorship a year and a half early. If she plans on running for the presidency – where one must be able to withstand withering attacks, even unfair ones – her abandoning her elected role in Alaska would be a significant strike against her for my vote.

I’d wager that, unlike me, most black women – being liberal Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents – have a pretty negative view of Palin. She’s been called “white trash” by white elites, and even by some blacks. Yet ironically, Palin probably has just as much – and arguably more – in common with many black women than most female politicians. Palin is from a working-class family. She’s not from the “right” part of the country. She doesn’t possess the elite background that many folks have come to expect out of political leaders.

While she went through four different colleges and universities – eventually returning to the University of Idaho to finish – she did stick with it and get that degree. Like most black women, she has Christian faith. Palin tells you what she thinks. She has come up in a mostly male-dominated field. She is the breadwinner in her family, and she balances work and family commitments. She’s even had to deal with a teen daughter who had an out-of-wedlock child and “baby daddy” drama, an issue that America’s black moms disproportionately deal with regarding their daughters and suitors.

Just like I do with black women who persevere despite various barriers, I admire Palin’s tenacity. I can also identify with the title of her book, which emphasizes her maverick streak against much of the GOP establishment.

Palin has encouraged some of my black center-right peers to, like her, “go rogue”. One, Adrienne Ross, a conservative blogger in New York, wasn’t active in politics at all until Sarah Palin came on the national scene last year. Now she’s a conservative activist trying to draft Palin for the 2012 presidential campaign and involved in other political activities. Ross, who has met Palin, states on her blog: “Some may think it’s a stretch, but I don’t think so: Sarah Palin is more like Dr. King than President Obama, and I believe he [King] would have held her in very high regard. He, like she, was a public servant. He paid the ultimate price for opening his mouth for freedom; he would not shut up because too much was on the line. I see the same spirit in her as she continues to fight the fight for the unborn, health care, energy independence, limited government — for freedom.” She adds that Palin inspires her because Palin “has common sense — something severely lacking in the leaders of our nation today.”

I disagree with Ross that there are strong similarities between Palin and King. Nevertheless, Palin is inspiring folks – including black conservative women who normally stay on the sidelines – to get involved in their communities and political activism. I’ve even seen it within my own family. I’m not ready to jump on the Palin bandwagon just yet – and perhaps never will, since we disagree on quite a few social issues. One thing that I do know, especially after having seen her speak in person last year; liberals would be foolish to underestimate her charisma and her populist ability to galvanize and grow the center-right base.