[Update: I posted additional pictures in an album on my Facebook page. They are not great quality due to all the people who kept stepping into my shots and considering I don’t know how to use my daughter’s camera which I took with me, but they should give you some feel for the event.]
Yesterday I drove down to Fayetteville to visit my friend, milblogger Sarah at Trying to Grok, and to attempt to see Sarah Palin on her book tour stop at Ft. Bragg. Sarah and I headed to Ft. Bragg a little after 8:30. When we were going through the gate the security guy asked us if we were going to get a book signed. Then he said something about selling it on eBay. I laughed at the time, but when I got home I checked and evidently there are quite a few people doing just that. It was pretty interesting looking at the stories accompanying some of the books for sale. There was a two book signing limit and most everyone I saw in line had two books so there will likely be more for sale as people sell one book to pay for the one they kept. Capitalism at its finest.
Since my friend Sarah is pregnant and did not think she would be able to stand in line long enough to make it to the signing, and because I was hoping to report the behind the scenes workings, I asked a friend who knows people in the Palin camp if it would be possible to get a quick word with her. I had not heard back from the Palin people by the time we left for Bragg, but as we were waiting in line at the gate I got a call on my cell phone from someone on the Palin advance team. He said he would meet us in the parking lot.
We were taken into the PX “mall” up to the area where the book signing would be taking place and were given a place to sit while we waited for her arrival. From that vantage point we could see the activity of the advance team. We were right next to the section partitioned off for media. Shortly after we arrived we saw the media begin to trickle in. They were not there long before they began interviewing those standing at the front of the line — people who showed up around 6 p.m. the night before the signing.
Before long you could see the Palin bus pull up right in front of the big glass entrance. That really got people buzzing about. Shortly after that a small group of people came through the doors just in front of Sarah Palin herself. Palin walked in and came directly to me and Sarah and another blogger (from Conservatives for Palin). She shook our hands, waved to the crowd and went to work. She got in place at the signing desk and the line began moving. The advance team had set up a separate table to hold people’s bags, coats and umbrellas so that they would have nothing but their books in their hands when they went to the signing table.
It was really interesting, and impressive, how efficiently the staff handled the event. There were thousands of people there. I heard the numbers 1000 and 1200 on the news all day, but there were easily many times that number. Later in the evening I saw one television news reporter say there were 4, 000 in attendance. There had to have been at least that many. The line was insane. It was wrapped up and down the mall area leading up to the front of the PX where the signing took place, and continued out the door and wrapped around the back of the building farther than I could see. In many places, especially outside, the line was five or six people wide as people stood talking to each other while they waited.
Although each person only got a few seconds with Palin, no one appeared to be disappointed. Even those who had waited for many, many hours went away happy. It is no wonder. Palin looked directly at each person, shaking many of their hands (even though they were told Palin would not be doing that), and saying something to each as they went through the line. When there was a brief opening in the line as people were being prepared to go through, we were given a chance to get our books signed. Palin’s assistant sitting next to her let her know who we were when we came through. Palin thanked us several times for what we do online and then asked which one of us had the husband currently deployed in Afghanistan. Palin then thanked Sarah for her husband’s service.
Sarah Palin is a beautiful woman, but that is not what makes her special. She truly has a charisma about her. It is more than that though. She has an authenticity that allows her to connect. She has been governor of a state, and has been a candidate for the second highest office in the country, as well as now a multi-million dollar author of a best selling book, but everyone in that crowd knew that she had been attacked for many of the things they share in common with her. She has been criticized, and often ridiculed, for her conservative beliefs. Many of those people in line to see her share those same beliefs. Many of them share modest backgrounds like the one that preceded her career in politics.
I will describe the rest of our day at the Ft. Bragg book signing later today, including our chat with Palin’s father.
Update II: When I talked about people connecting with Palin, that has nothing to do with money or fame. Obviously Palin now has more money and fame than most of those who would be standing in line to meet her, but I think people can imagine Palin doing the same things they do with their families and friends. They can see her going to sporting events and goofing around with her kids (like I did this weekend). Many of them can also see her being bright and hardworking enough to serve in the highest office in the land. I think that combination is something people crave right now. They don’t understand how the politicians in power today can be so out of touch with their view of what their government should be doing. Maybe some of them think that a hockey mom would understand that point of view better than an arugula-eating Harvard Law graduate whose wife wears $540 tennis shoes. Go figure.
Update III: Sarah posted her account of our Palin experience at Trying to Grok. Sarah was shocked that we would receive the same treatment the traditional media received. Okay, we got a little better treatment than most of the media there (we were even given chairs and offered Krispy Kreme!). But I think that just goes to show how smart Palin and her team are. They recognize and appreciate the power of new media and know that is one way to offset some of the crap they take from the MSM. I also believe Palin really did appreciate Sarah’s husband’s service and the fact that she was pregnant while he is in Afghanistan. In fact, that probably was as much to account for our extra special treatment as all the years we have been blogging.