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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

PALIN 2012: CELEBRITY VS. CREDIBILITY

It's like a rash in a place that's not convenient to scratch in public. You can try to ignore it but it just won't go away and the prospects for a much worse case loom on the horizon. The McCain campaign in 2008, in an example of crass political cynicism and unrealistic expectations, gave the country a wet kiss we still can’t wipe away. Like a sexually transmitted disease, "It's the gift that keeps on giving." It's the prospect of the least qualified candidate for President of the United States in modern history winning the Republican nomination in 2012; it's Sarah Palin.


Palin is the political creature of the modern era of electronic access to information and entertainment. Unfortunately, for the serious policy debate which this country needs, her preferred "modus operandi" is entertainment. Writing books about herself, giving speeches full of smirky sarcasm, platitudes and simple minded attacks, the Twitter Queen entertains to carefully chosen crowds who enthusiastically buy into her simplistic version of conservative ideology. Here are several of her more "thoughtful policy prescriptions":

"How's that hopey-changey stuff working out for you?"

"We need a commander in chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern,"

Congresses top three priorities should be: "stop spending" (on what?), " energy policy"(what kind?) and this;

"I think, kind of tougher to put our arms around, but allowing America's spirit to rise again by not being afraid to kind of go back to some of our roots as a God fearing nation where we're not afraid to say especially in times of potential trouble in the future here, where we're not afraid to say, you know, we don't have all the answers as fallible men and women so it would be wise of us to start seeking some divine intervention again in this country, so that we can be safe and secure and prosperous again. To have people involved in government who aren't afraid to go that route, not so afraid of the political correctness that you know – they have to be afraid of what the media said about them if they were to proclaim their alliance to our creator."

This remarkable head shaker is just another example of Palin's lack of focus, lack of depth and inability to articulate a coherent thought.

Several more thoughtful conservative analysts know this and are warning that the current celebrity fan-like infatuation with Palin is a recipe for political failure for the Republican Party. Former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan, rightfully offended when Palin compared herself to the former president by describing him simply as an “actor”, offered this: "The point is not 'He was a great man and you are a nincompoop,' though that is true." Conservative columnist David Brookes described Palin not as serious presidential material but as a potential “talk show host”. Palin’s contract as a “Fox News contributor” and her temporary foray into a reality/travel log format come close to affirming this evaluation. Former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough has taken Palin to task for her dismissive comments about former Republican President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara as “blue bloods”. It is probably understandable that Palin would continuously disparage politicians, both Democrat and Republican who have real experience, quality education and real ideas, since in all of these categories she has none. Here is a potential presidential candidate who took five years and four colleges (Hawaii Pacific U. 1982; Northern Idaho College 1983; U. of Idaho 1984-85; Matanuska-Susitan College 1985, U. of Idaho 1986-87) to obtain a degree in. . communications? . Her political experience is six years as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population 7,028; and after winning the election for governor of a state with the approximate population of Memphis, in a race with three major candidates with 48.3% of the vote, resigning after two and a half years. That's it. But whether offending Republican admirers of Presidents Bush and Reagan is a tactic, or simply another example of mouth outrunning brain, it will cost her electoral support.

Nonetheless, a December, 2010 poll gives an early indication of the larger problem. While 79% of Republicans said they "like" Palin, only 46% of Americans as a whole have a "favorable" view of her while 49% view her "unfavorably". The overall numbers have great significance since they are dragged down not only by overwhelming negative Democrat opinion but more importantly by the negative views of self described Independents who make up over 20% of the electorate and whose votes are essential in presidential elections. A late October, 2010 poll also showed a large majority in the general population (67%) who believe that Palin is not qualified to be President whether they have a favorable view of her or not.

So how to explain the enthusiasm for Palin among the most conservative Republicans especially the Tea Party group. Essentially, Palin provides a voice to social conservatives who feel alienated, and powerless in the face of a socially changing and economically deteriorating America. Palin offers profiles of the "guilty": intellectuals and "elitists", social engineers and disconnected Washington insiders. Female conservatives are especially attracted to a powerful voice and role model that liberal feminism hasn't provided. But Palin's standard polemical fare is too simplistic for a serious presidential candidate. She simply runs "against" while offering nothing specific. Her speeches fall somewhere between theatrics and demagoguery, a format that betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the complexity of the issues facing the nation.

Her devoted followers are undeterred. When asked what it is that sparks their enthusiasm, the more obvious responses are missing. Nowhere does one hear "I like her: position on dealing with Iran or North Korea"; "her plan to deal with the federal deficit or exploding healthcare costs"; "her position on free trade agreements or how to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq". Few even dare to mention her experience in government or her educational background. What you hear are these actual reasons why Palin supporters believe she is qualified to be President of the United States.

"I'm rooting for Palin because she's tough".

"She loves guns, babies, Jesus and America."

"She is an attractive woman with an upbeat personality; a wife & mother with a charming family."

She has "major experience" as a governor, and negotiating a pipe line."

"She is "an extremely likeable woman, great mother, devoted Christian, pretty smart and well spoken."

She "connects with people".

"She is a mom. She has five kids".

She is just like "one of us."

While these are the attributes one might like to see in your kid's  high school principal, they fall far short of the desired traits one would like to see in the most powerful political official in the world. Thus she is commonly introduced as "the 2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee", as if this was an achievement instead of an appointment.

There is no certainty that Palin will choose to run. She has made enough money to have a happy life kayaking and watching dance contests, where her real expertise lies, but adoring crowds can have a narcotic effect . A few thousand screaming fans can seem like "everyone" and induce ego enlargement to dangerous proportions

American conservatives are in desperate need of a wake up call. Allowing Palin to become the face and voice of the Republican Party, to the delight of the far Left, is a serious mistake. Succumbing to an "American Idol" mentality for a walking, talking anti-Obama bumper sticker could sacrifice a historic opportunity for Republicans to gain control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency in 2012.

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