The perils of “Palin fatigue”

Even with growing anti-Palin sentiment, she is still a threat to the left.

Since resigning the governorship of Alaska, Sarah Palin has not disappeared from the public domain. Her autobiography sold more than two million copies in 2009. Her second book reached number two on the New York Times bestseller list in its second week. She provides political commentary on Fox News and has hosted her own reality show, Sarah Palin's Alaska. Palin is also seen as a darling of the Tea Party movement, several of whose members she endorsed in the recent midterm elections.

But despite her visibility, there are big questions about how much power Palin holds – and whether she has any chance of securing the Republican nomination to run against Barack Obama in 2012. So is it time for the Democrats to stop invoking her as a hate figure? Is the left giving her more coverage – and therefore credibility – than she really deserves?

Several journalists, including CNN's Gloria Berger, have spoken of "Palin fatigue". On the American news programme Morning Joe, the presenter Mika Brzezinski pointed out: "I don't want to overemphasise her news value . . . I mean, OK, you ran for vice-president, it was a huge failure. At what point do you not become news? At what point do we just ignore?"

So, as the Washington Post's Dana Milbank begins a month-long Palin moratorium and urges fellow journalists to stand with him, when should the media stop trailing Palin to every book signing/town-hall meeting/Tea Party conference, or dissecting every new tweet and Facebook post?

Not yet, I think.

In November last year the former Alaskan governor announced in an interview with New York Times Magazine that she was considering running for the presidency, and to that end "was having that discussion with her family".

Following that, a poll by Ramussen detailing the views of 1,000 likely Republican primary voters in the 2012 presidential elections placed Ms Palin, with 19 per cent of the vote, second only to the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Then again, Palin trailed in fourth in a straw poll of the Republican state committee in the "kingmaker state" of New Hampshire. She was behind not only Romney, the serious contender, but also the Texas congressman Ron Paul and the former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

That straw poll listed 21 possible Republican nominees, perhaps highlighting the continuing uncertainty surrounding the GOP nomination. The Washington Post, however, sees the results as an indication that even with the rise of Tea Party, the party machine is likely to back an establishment candidate in 2012.

According to a recent Gallup poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, Ms Palin has a net favourable rating of 22 per cent. Those who placed higher than her in the New Hampshire straw poll – Romney, Paul and Pawlenty – scored 23, 18 and 13 per cent respectively. Interestingly, Palin's fellow Fox News pundit Mick Huckabee, who came 12th in the New Hampshire poll, had the highest net favourability rating of 30 per cent.

Judging by these early indicators, the Republican ticket remains very much unwritten. There is a marked absence of any declared runner providing a rallying point for Republican attention, or the attention of the wider press.

The Gallup poll found that Palin was the most recognisable Republican, which if nothing else demonstrates her capacity to grab the attention of potential primary voters more successfully than her Republican competitors.

Her recognition rating of 95 per cent was 11 points ahead of Romney's. It remains important that those on the left maintain their focus, however fatiguing, on the obviously frenetic Ms Palin.

Getty
Show Hide image

The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad