Fourteen months ago, few people had heard of Wasilla, Alaska, nor its former mayor, Sarah Palin. That changed in late August 2008, when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) chose Gov. Palin as his vice presidential running mate. Of course, McCain and Palin lost their bid for the White House, and in July, Palin resigned as Alaska's governor in the wake of 15 ethics complaints, $500,000 in legal fees, and revelations in Vanity Fair that she was on the verge of divorce -- and that she can't hunt moose.
But now that she's out of Alaska, she can get herself ready for her 2012 presidential bid. This brings us to Palin's recent speech to investors in Hong Kong. An outfit called CLSA, owned by a French bank, paid Palin an undisclosed amount that the New York Times suggested could be $300,000 to speak to an audience of major investors.
The speech was given at Hong Kong's Grand Hyatt, where I spoke in November 2003. It has spectacular views of Victoria Harbor, and the conference that I spoke at finished with a talk by Bill Clinton, who was staying on the 13th floor of the hotel, along with Mick Jagger, who was giving a concert in town. The morning I left Hong Kong, the taxi driver told me that I was sitting where Mick had sat the night before. According to the cabbie, Clinton had asked Jagger to go out on the town with him the night before and Jagger had declined.
So what tips did Palin have to offer? None, really. Her speech reportedly addressed her concerns about big federal bailouts and the U.S. government deficit. She called for a grassroots rebirth of the Republican Party. And she mentioned that China should be nicer to people in Tibet and Burma, and that North Korea should be more sensitive and careful.
Randy Scheunemann, McCain's former foreign policy adviser, was Palin's minder during her Hong Kong speech. In 2008, her foreign policy experience amounted to noting that as Alaska's governor, "you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska."
Why did Palin do this? Beyond the big payday, I'd guess she went to the other side of the world to try out a foreign policy speech for two reasons. First, it was overseas, which would give her "foreign policy experience." Second, if the speech did not go well, there would be no journalists there to report on it.
Why would investors want to sit through such an experience? I don't really know whether they learned anything that can help them make more money. If Palin's channeling of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher helps broaden her appeal beyond her "base" in the U.S., then they might be getting an early look at America's next president.
If not, it gives them something interesting to tell their friends at lunch.