Here are a couple ways to help you decide how to vote in the next presidential election: watch a potential candidate kill a reindeer on national television – or just follow some C-list celebrities online.
Ted Nugent, who's as facile with a crossbow as a guitar, made a YouTube video promo for the “Sarah Palin's Alaska" reality show – the Sunday night episode in which the former GOP vice presidential candidate bagged a caribou.
Palin returned the favor by giving the Motor City Madman a shoutout on her Facebook page – and by quoting him on TV. “In the words of Ted Nugent, I thank that mighty animal for living a good life and now sustaining a nice family,” she intoned solemnly as viewers saw the caribou's carcass.
Meanwhile, Margaret Cho tangled online with fellow "Dancing With the Stars" also-ran Bristol Palin, charging on her blog that her "friend" was “forced” to join the competition show by her mother as part of a grand presidential campaign scheme. Bristol Palin took to Facebook to deny the comic’s claims while making a pitch for Conservatism – and serving up a quip playing off Cho's bisexuality.
“If you understood that commonsense conservative values supports the right of individuals like you, like all of us, to live our lives with less government interference and more independence, you would embrace us faster than KD Lang at an Indigo Girls concert,” Palin posted Saturday.
Welcome to the latest rings of the Palin Family Circus where Bristol’s still dancing – online – while her mom is playing the Mama Grizzly version of Annie Oakley on TV. Both are engaging with fading stars on Facebook, in exchanges that smack more of high school than serious political discourse.
Palin, who has made Facebook a key plank in her political bully pulpit, seems to be using the social network site more these days to promote her new book and reality show. Even before the caribou killing, visitors to Palin’s Facebook page were treated to the Nugent video – and pre-emptive shots at PETA.
“Tune in to ‘Sarah Palin's Alaska’ this Sunday at 9pm ET/8pm central on TLC to see how we fill our freezers and feed our families with home-grown tundra-roaming Alaskan wild game. … And, PETA..., please remember: Alaskans eat, therefore we hunt,” Palin wrote.
While she’s been somewhat gun shy in consorting with what she calls the “lamestream media,” Palin recently began doing interviews with journalists other than her colleagues at Fox News, where she is a paid commentator.
Palin declared she's seriously mulling a run for the presidency in a recent conversation with Barbara Walters. Their chat is slated to air Thursday as part of Walters' "10 Most Fascinating People of 2010" special. Among the other guests: Justin Bieber, Jennifer Lopez and Palin's fellow reality show stars, the cast of "Jersey Shore."
This all comes as some old school GOPers, most notably Bush Administration adviser Karl Rove, have cited Palin’s TV show in dismissing her as unworthy of the presidency.
Palin cleverly used Rove’s comments to cloth herself in the cloak of Ronald Reagan, noting The Gipper was an actor before becoming president and a Republican icon. That perhaps unintentionally revealing self-assessment made some conservatives even more perturbed.
Still, her 2008 running mate, Arizona Sen. John McCain offered a somewhat backhanded endorsement of her take, telling CNN late last month that Palin, like Reagan, can be seen as "divisive."
That seems on-target given a recent Associated Press-GfK poll that found Palin to be both the best known and most polarizing of the possible GOP 2012 presidential contenders. Some 46 percent of those polled view her favorably compared with 49 percent who hold an unfavorable view.
Killing a caribou on national television probably isn’t going to move those numbers much.
Palin likely doesn't care. After keeping herself atop the news cycle for the 17 months since she ended her 18-month stint as Alaska governor, Palin no doubt realizes that bad press is almost as good as positive press.
In an age where the difference between fame and infamy is as fuzzy as what constitutes celebrity, Palin is, undeniably, a multi-platform star. A generally appealing surrogate like her oldest daughter could help her cause, especially as her family, via the TLC show, becomes more of a crucial part of what the image specialists would call Palin’s “brand.”
Palin’s strategy of portraying herself and her family as "normal, average everyday Americans" through the distorted lens of Reality TV while her daughter defends the family honor on Facebook commands attention – even if the ultimate impact on electoral politics is unclear.
So bring on the Margaret Chos, the Ted Nugents and all the caribou in Alaska – it doesn’t matter what the next act is in the Palin Family Circus, as long as we’re watching.
Be sure tune in this Sunday to “Sarah Palin's Alaska" for a visit from another supposedly ordinary American mom, who happens to be a Reality TV star and "Dancing With the Stars" alum: the original Octomom, Kate Gosselin, who apparently isn’t a fan of camping.
No word yet, though, if any animals – or American democracy – were hurt in the making of the show.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.