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Palin Fans Get Star Treatment at Book Signing


A crowd braved inclement weather at a Sarah Palin book signing on Dec. 5 in Fairfax, Va. (Photo by: David Weigel)

FAIRFAX, Va. – The people who snagged the first spaces in line for Sarah Palin’s book-signing appearance had arrived at the parking lot of BJ’s, a members-only retail store, on Friday afternoon. They opened up folding chairs and draped themselves with blankets, camping out overnight. At 11 a.m. Saturday, they were shepherded inside by determined BJ’s staffers and given a few precious minutes with the Palin family. And when they were done they walked outside into a scrum of national and local media, cameras and microphones pointed out them, reporters shouting out the same questions: What did she say? What did you say? What does she mean to you? Do you want her to run for president?

[GOP1]“I think Sarah represents the majority values in this country,” said Peggy Fallon, pausing for reporters as her father Ron Wolf — he had been first in line — did interview after interview. “I want her to break up the corruption in Washington. I want her to bring her common sense good judgment, and do what she started in Alaska and take it into Washington.”

More Palin supporters started to exit into a scene that not unlike the one outside the audition room of an American Idol cattle call. Joseph Knowles, a Georgetown University freshman, walked up to the cameras as if conducting a press conference. “I came out of my last class at 11:30, which was an international relations class, and I came straight here,” said Knowles. “I got to meet Sarah, and Todd, their wonderful parents, their wonderful kids. It was a wonderful experience.”

An estimated 2,200 people, according to staff, showed up to get their copies of “Going Rogue” signed by Palin. Store employees offered mini-muffins to those who waited, although the food, like shopping carts full of lemon-flavored Snapple iced tea, sat untouched as the weather grew colder. As they huddled, the fans abided by strict guidelines. They needed to be members of BJ’s. They needed to have copies of the book purchased from the store (at $16.75). They needed wristbands, which gave them access to the event. When inside, they were to get their books signed quickly. They were not to bug the former governor for photos, although Theresa Danner and her daughter Maria — who has Down syndrome — got a group photo after the elder Danner hugged Palin’s son Trig.

At every stop on her national book tour, Palin’s handlers have managed to box out political reporters while granting exclusive access to fans. In Fairfax, the effect was enhanced. Palin eschewed the decked-out “campaign” bus that had spirited her to some earlier events on the tour. She arrived quietly and stayed at a signing table that only some reporters were allowed to see, and only then to take a few photos or B-roll before heading back into the falling snow.

The fans, huddling outside, appreciated the arrangement. Some were veterans of other excruciatingly long book-signings from conservatives who’d called foul on the press. Lonnie Robertson told TWI that she’d attended a legendary March signing event a few miles to the east, where radio host Mark Levin signed copies of his manifesto “Liberty and Tyranny” for five hours. She’d just finished Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” which she said had eerie resonances to what was happening in Barack Obama’s America. Having gotten an early start on “Going Rogue,” she was struck by how many people Palin “called out” for their corruption or personnel failures, people like former Gov. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) or Palin’s old legislative aide.

“It makes sense,” said Robertson. “Why deal with incompetence? She’s a nice person overall, though — good standards, good morals, fiscal responsibility.”

Some Palin fans declined to give their first names; one approached a woman being interviewed by TWI to pull her aside and inform her that (as she had been told) she was talking to a reporter. Reporters, who had descended on the event with Flip cameras and notebooks, pulled Palin fans aside, largely trying to figure out and report what they liked so much about her. The most excitable fans left with their signed books and milled around with the people still in line, psyching them up.

“Your toes are frozen now, but they won’t be anymore!” said one fan who didn’t give her name. She wore four buttons of Palin’s face; her husband had three, one with Palin’s image next to Ronald Reagan’s. “She’s gorgeous, guys! She’s gorgeous!”

The less attention-craving Palin fans, people who’d brought books to get signed as Christmas presents, had more to say about why, exactly, the former governor of Alaska was so appealing to them. Al Geunot, a consultant who said he couldn’t really talk about politics with his clients, said that he was less interested in Palin’s.

“Getting elected governor of Alaska isn’t that impressive,” said Geunot. “She’s a regular person now. I’d be more interested to read the book she writes in 10 years, after dealing with all of this.”

Geunot was one of several attendees at the signing who connected with Palin not on social issues, but on economic angst. He was happy about Friday’s labor report that showed the unemployment rate dropping to 10 percent: “Any good news is welcome.” But he worried that both parties in power were shoveling money to powerful corporations, which weren’t interested or able in bringing back prosperity.

“Bank of America gets $45 billion and cuts $200 billion in credits,” said Geunot. (Palin supported the September 2009 passage of the bailout but has occasionally criticized it since.) “When we were giving them $45 billion to keep them from going bankrupt, the whole point was to keep the lines of credit flowing!”

Joe Sargent, a conservative activist who’d spent the year attending conferences and Tea Parties, was fired from his job on Friday. Immediately thereafter, he drove to BJ’s to line up for Palin with his daughter. He got to spend a few minutes with the former governor and her family, “probably the only chance I’ll ever have.” The media were missing the point when they suggested that Palin’s fans didn’t understand the issues, he said; they understood that the government couldn’t fix the economy, as did she.

“God always has a plan,” said Sargent. “He took me out of an uncomfortable situation I was in and got me into a better job. And then that company went south, but I’m not worried.”

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