Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.

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Queen bee

Q: Can former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who is hugely popular among conservative Republicans, help her former running mate John McCain hold onto his Arizona Senate seat? How often do proteges eclipse the success of their mentors?

Sarah's revenge! Stealing the spotlight from John McCain must be sweet for Sarah Palin.

McCain was hardly a good mentor for her. By all accounts, he barely knew her before he picked her as his running mate in a cynical attempt to woo women voters in the 2008 presidential race. When McCain's little invention proved to be a more unmanageable creature, his campaign tried to freeze her out, which only made her quirkly style more appealing to the radical fringe she excites and incites.

Palin became more outrageous as the campaign evolved because she knew that McCain could not win. What did she have to lose?

By creating an extreme political persona that combined good looks, mangled syntax and an unapologetic jingoism, she became the darling of extremist factions that think she's authentic. She's not. She's as much a media creation as any politician, right down to moose dressing and putting opponents in the cross-hairs of her Facebook page. She's locked & loaded.

By becoming the Obama Antithesis, she aligned herself with the wingnuts who view government and social progress with profound suspicion and hostility. The irony, of course, is that Sarah Palin's most authentic persona is her inner feminist, a woman who craves a position of power --- real power, inside the Beltway, unlike the Alaska governor's seat, beset as it was with concerns about caribou and melting tundra.

Great mentoring provides significant advantages for both parties -- the mentor has a willing audience to absorb pearls of wisdom and tips from experience; the mentee gets valuable advice on networking for success.

At the same time, every mentor-mentee relationship has some elements of power and control on the mentor's part, and some restless desire for freedom in the mentee's heart. Wise mentors take pains to avoid adopting a parent-child model for the relationship, but co-dependency can often take both parties by surprise if they don't establish good ground rules for professional distance.

I've had several wonderful mentors in my life, people who took an interest in my professional development, offered helpful advice and opened doors. I also had one or two who became more distant over time, unhappy that I did not always take their advice, miffed that I was not going along with the direction they chose.

Some mentors may even come to resent the success of their once-fledgling mentee. More mature professionals take pride in saying, "I knew her when ..."

John McCain and Sarah Palin seem to have a classic use-use relationship, but I would hardly characterize it as a result of effective mentoring. They are politicians, after all, a class of professionals whose work demands the ability to use and dispose of loyalties all the time. McCain is in trouble in his Senate race in Arizona; Palin has great appeal with the Tea Party that is supporting McCain's opponent.

Palin's desire to be a credible candidate for power leads her to buzz about the outer circles of the Republican Party, brokering the fragile relationship between real conservatives and radical rightwingers. Helping McCain deal with the Tea Party in Arizona scored some points for her own political future.

McCain is close to the end of his career, while Palin has many acts still to come in her bizarrely compelling repertoire. She is no mentee coming back to help out her old mentor. Rather, she is a queen bee thirsty for a few more sips of honey before she flies on to sweeten the next Tea Party gig.

Watch out for her stinger!

By Patricia McGuire  |  April 1, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Mentors Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Plus, love the black leather, touseled hair look. Kinky.

Posted by: dudh | April 2, 2010 11:09 PM
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"By creating an extreme political persona that combined good looks, mangled syntax and an unapologetic jingoism, she became the darling of extremist factions that think she's authentic. She's not. She's as much a media creation as any politician, right down to moose dressing and putting opponents in the cross-hairs of her Facebook page. She's locked & loaded."

Very insightful. Very true.

Posted by: arancia12 | April 2, 2010 1:26 PM
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Yes, she craves a position of power but has no qualifications for such a position.

Posted by: Utahreb | April 2, 2010 12:52 PM
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The problem with this theory is that SP doesn't crave a position of power, she craves the trappings of power without the responsibilities. She has repeatedly talked about how she doesn't need a "title"; that's all being Governor or Veep or President is to her -- a title. And...judging from the stories that continue to come from Alaska...she also craves the clout to abuse the system (cover up daughters' misdeeds, misuse personal e-mail for state business, reward friends and punish enemies, avoid taxes, etc.). If feminism is proving that women can be as shallow and corrupt as men, the last century has been a waste of their time.

Posted by: kidvidkid | April 2, 2010 12:25 PM
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