It seems the homerun that McCain supposedly hit when he picked Gov. Sarah Palin as his VP, has gone up to the replay booth for further review. The homerun may have to be called back. Such is life in the political game. I was among the many who saw the Palin pick as a homerun with no down side as far as I could tell. Boy was I wrong on there being no down side. I really didn’t see that inexperience thing coming, especially in the light of Obama’s lack thereof. But the difference between Obama and Palin is, because of his oft noted eloquence, Obama doesn’t come off as inexperienced to the casual observer. Palin does. And in this media driven age, image is everything. Fair or unfair (and I think mostly unfair), Palin has been portrayed by many sectors of the media as a dimwit beauty pageant contestant who is more interested in hockey and moose hunting than foreign policy, health care, and economics.
And to be fair, I don’t think this image is created by the major news outlets. It’s really the popular comedic media that has created this image; Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, etc. I don’t begrudge them of this, it is what they do and they do it well. I laugh. And actually, all politicians get made fun of in this way, so it’s not just a piling on of Sarah Palin. However, it can’t be ignored that this image has hurt Palin and the Republican ticket, mostly because satire is often an exaggeration of the truth, and there is some truth to her image. Her lack luster interviews on the major news networks are the foundation of truth on which this satirical image rests. And on top of this, Palin appears to be not giving anymore interviews to the big three (“liberal elite”) networks (CBS, NBC, ABC), nor is she giving press conferences. It’s as if the McCain camp thinks Palin is an innocent little girl that needs to be protected from any adversarial situations. And thus the negative image is facilitated by her own party.
As if her negative media image were not enough, some prominent conservative voices are questioning her as the VP pick for the Republican party. For the last month and a half, one of those voices has been the much respected conservative columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan. In Friday’s column, Noonan wrote:
Here is a fact of life that is also a fact of politics: You have to hold open the possibility of magic. People can come from nowhere, with modest backgrounds and short résumés, and yet be individuals of real gifts, gifts that had previously been unseen, that had been gleaming quietly under a bushel, and are suddenly revealed. Mrs. Palin came, essentially, from nowhere. But there was a man who came from nowhere, the seeming tool of a political machine, a tidy, narrow, unsophisticated senator appointed to high office and then thrust into power by a careless Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose vanity told him he would live forever. And yet that limited little man was Harry S. Truman. Of the Marshall Plan, of containment. Little Harry was big. He had magic. You have to give people time to show what they have. Because maybe they have magic too.
But we have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office. She is a person of great ambition, but the question remains: What is the purpose of the ambition? She wants to rise, but what for? For seven weeks I’ve listened to her, trying to understand if she is Bushian or Reaganite—a spender, to speak briefly, whose political decisions seem untethered to a political philosophy, and whose foreign policy is shaped by a certain emotionalism, or a conservative whose principles are rooted in philosophy, and whose foreign policy leans more toward what might be called romantic realism, and that is speak truth, know America, be America, move diplomatically, respect public opinion, and move within an awareness and appreciation of reality.
But it’s unclear whether she is Bushian or Reaganite. She doesn’t think aloud. She just . . . says things.
Now, it should be noted that Peggy Noonan is the one time speech writer for President Ronald Reagan, so her conservatism is distinctively Reaganesque, contra the so called neo-conservatism of President George W. Bush and his cronies. The problem that Noonan and other conservative thinkers have with Palin is her seemingly lack of ideas, and her lack of philosophical grounding. Why does lowering taxes stimulate the economy? How does giving tax cuts to businesses create jobs? Or more foundational, what is the role of government? From what we’ve heard from Gov. Palin, we don’t know how she would answer any of these questions. But to be fair, the way politics has degraded so much in our country since Reagan, we don’t know how many of the big name politicians would answer these questions. We could guess based on how they vote or what party they belong to, but it’d be nice to hear the answers spelled out for us.
In the end, however, I don’t think Palin has hurt the McCain ticket as much as is believed. Palin has rallied the conservative base in a way McCain could have never done. And in that Palin may have helped McCain more than she has hurt. Let’s remember that McCain is no darling of mainstream Republicans, especially the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Sean Hannity. The more independently minded conservatives like Neal Boortz and Glenn Beck are no fans of McCain either. In fact, I would argue that McCain would be further behind Obama than he already is if it weren’t for Palin. He has a shot at the White House only because he picked her as VP. And in this, his pick was a good one; not a homerun, but it moved the runners into scoring position, so to speak.
If this election turns out in Obama’s favor, I’m thinking Palin could very well be at the top of the Republican ticket in 2016 or 2020. That is if she hasn’t been completely jaded by politics by then. She just needs to take her time and gain some much needed experience; perhaps serve a term or two as governor, then run for Senate. What makes a Palin run for the White House legitimate is how she rallies the conservative base of her party in a way McCain, Giuliani, and even Mike Huckabee (because of his fiscal policies) never could. If conservatives cannot rally around McCain when faced with the prospect of an Obama Presidency and a Democrat (at least) near majority in the House and Senate, then that says a lot about the current state of the Republican party. And just today, Colin Powell came out in support of Senator Obama. Couple that with negative attacks on Obama that wreak of desperation, and one starts to wonder if the wheels are coming off the McCain train.
As Peggy Noonan and others have asked, what happened to the party of Reagan? By the looks of the current Republican party, the era of strong leadership in the face of adversity are gone. All we are left with are mere politicians spewing shallow, self-serving sound bites at every turn. And this is a shame, because this is the time when America needs strong leadership the most.