Sarah Palin’s Windfall: Outrage or Just Deserts?

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Big fans of Adam Moss’s New York magazine (4 National Magazine Awards!) already know that he has put Sarah Palin on the cover this week, with a headline written like the FedEx logo, “PalinInc.” The point: The former Governor of Alaska is getting rich quick. “The Revolution Will Be Commercialized,” runs the headline inside. Then comes the nut:

The numbers are staggering. Over the past year, Palin has amassed a $12 million fortune and shows no sign of slowing down. Her memoir has so far sold more than 2.2 million copies, and Palin is planning a second book with HarperCollins. This January, she signed a three-year contributor deal with Fox News worth $1 million a year, according to people familiar with the deal. In March, Palin and Burnett sold her cable show to TLC for a reported $1 million per episode, of which Palin is said to take in about $250,000 for each of the eight installments.

I don’t want to do a retread of yesterday’s posting over the existential Sarah Palin question: Is she a political phenom, or a pop culture phenom? But I do think it’s worth asking: Really? Are these numbers so staggering?

She did sell 2.2 million books, after all. She is about the biggest draw in non-musical celebrity going right now. If she writes something on her hand, huge portions of the country seem to quake. When she goes on television, people like to watch. This is exactly the sort of person who makes a lot of money in our world. Conservative politi-tainers are, without exception, pretty rich people. Glenn Beck made a reported $32 million last year. (Forbes noticed that one.) Oprah Winfrey pulls in hundreds of millions a year doing basically the same thing Palin now does for a living–getting people to pay attention. Rush Limbaugh is something like a $50 million guy. Howard Stern makes much more. Even the purpose-driven Rick Warren, another bestseller, made $25 million in 2006. And when President Obama pulled in $5.5 million last year, mainly from his books, no one accused him of commercializing hope.

So what makes this so staggering? Well, one reason is that everything Palin does is controversial, or so we like to write. But I wonder if another reason is that she is making all this money, while at the same time breaking gender, class, and geographic boundaries. Sure people make eight-figure salaries all the time in media. But very rarely is the person a woman politician from Alaska, who until recently lived on a government salary with borrowed clothing. I read the New York magazine piece and I can’t help but wonder if this whole thing is infused with a bit of country-club snottiness. What’s staggering may not be what Palin is doing, but how it makes all the rest of us Acela-riding wage laborers feel. Who does this Alaska woman think she is, anyway?

Once again, Ice-T offers the answer: “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”