Pella, Iowa— On Tuesday night, as dusk settled over this close-knit Midwestern town, Sarah Palin was swarmed. Hundreds of supporters surrounded her, asking for autographs and posing for cell-phone snapshots. She embraced some, patted others on the shoulder. For over two hours, they kept buzzing, Going Rogue and pulled-pork sandwiches in their hands.
The town-square picnic was ostensibly to celebrate The Undefeated, the documentary about Palin’s gubernatorial record. But no one was talking about her energy reforms in Alaska. Instead, everyone from grandmothers in flag pins to fresh-scrubbed kids wondered whether she will run for president. Her appearance in Iowa on a hot June day — to watch a movie, of all things — had to have some deeper political purpose. Theories were as abundant as the potato salad.
Yet when I spoke with Palin, in a quiet conversation before she departed, she told me that all of the presidential chatter misses the point. She said that she enjoys being part of the national political conversation, but the idea that she needed to be in office to influence things is bunk.
“Being a private citizen, I think I am a good example for others to show that you don’t have to have a title, you don’t have to hold national or statewide office in order to effect positive change and make a difference,” she said. “The documentary encapsulates that — to be involved for the right reasons and challenge the status quo.”
But if Palin can stir whole towns to turn out for a film premiere, why not try to generate similar levels of enthusiasm for public policy as a candidate? “As a private citizen, you can effect change, too,” she replied with a smile. With that, she and her husband, Todd, jumped into a waiting sport-utility vehicle and zoomed away.