What to Expect When Sarah Palin Goes to India

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Sarah Palin is going to India next month to speak at the 10th annual India Today Conclave, a high profile talk shop of “global thought leaders” hosted in the Indian capital by one of the country’s leading magazines (its cover design is conspicuously similar to another newsweekly with a red border). Palin will be speaking alongside heavyweights such as Mohammed ElBaradei — at one stage, the figurehead of Egypt’s pro-democracy movement — feminist firebrand Germaine Greer, and the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Her speech, according to reports, is tentatively titled “My Vision for America.”

Televised adventures in Alaska notwithstanding, Palin is not known to be much of a traveler. I was on the scene in September 2009 when she delivered her first speech abroad, in Hong Kong, at a packed conference of bankers and fund managers. Those in attendance represented, according to that conference’s PR flaks, some $10 trillion in assets, and though no official figure came out, it’s safe to assume Palin commanded a six-figures speaker’s fee. Moreover, her address was strictly off-limits to the press, and so we grubby servants of the fourth estate had to chase desperately around the lobby of Hong Kong’s Grand Hyatt, seeking comments from pinstriped Masters of the Universe who had heard Palin speak. What we pieced together was… interesting.

Here are some highlights, from my report of the event.

She spoke of the Great Recession…

Addressing the financial crisis, she declared there was no need for new regulation: “Lack of government wasn’t the problem. Government policies were the problem. The markets didn’t fail. Government failed.”

… talked about her connections to Asia:

According to many delegates, Palin’s home state of Alaska dominated the talk. “She rambled on about the place for ages,” says an Indian banker with a major U.S. firm. “Palin even talked about Alaska’s land bridges with Asia and how animals once went across.” Based on a recording it reviewed, the Wall Street Journal says Palin invoked her husband Todd’s Eskimo heritage as a sign of shared “bloodlines” between the continents.

… and didn’t take many questions:

Though dubbed “a conversation with Sarah Palin,” the event turned out to be more of a monologue. She spoke for almost 90 minutes, all the way to 2 p.m., when the session was supposed to end. As an attendee said while walking out, “she clearly wanted to keep talking so there’d be no questions.”

In retrospect, it seems the Hong Kong speech was a kind of beginner’s level as Palin cultivates her political persona abroad. Insulated by a phalanx of business elites in a slick chrome and glass city that is ruled, ultimately, by authoritarian Beijing, Palin had the luxury of jetting in, checking into her suite at the Hyatt, and slipping away through back corridors surrounded by an officious security cordon. It’s unclear if she spent even a moment seeing any of Hong Kong’s tourist sites. In any event, no one in the city seemed to care — while Hong Kong’s foreign press corps ran around like headless chickens, few of the city’s prominent local tabloids even sent a reporter to cover the event.

That will probably not be the case in India, where its voluble media — especially its many English language 24-hour cable news networks and newspapers — have the resources and the interest to throw the proverbial full court press at Palin. It’s also hard to imagine India Today, a magazine, preventing other journalists from covering the event. Palin and her speechwriters will have to be prepared for the intensity of the media glare that falls on public figures in India. A lot of things can go very wrong for a foreign dignitary caught up in the heat of the moment. Just ask Prince Charles.