Time will tell how smart Sarah Palin is. Her position on the Republican ticket last fall was very polarizing. Core Republicans were apologists for her credentials and style, arguing that she was an experienced leader ready for the national stage. Others saw her as an inexperienced, unpolished, unprepared governor of a small state ready to be a national stooge.
I like what her selection said about the GOP—that it was willing to take a risk and look to an up and coming generation for new leadership. Many others within the GOP felt the same way. She was fresh and exciting. Her arrival was the best possible outcome for a blind date set up by a friend with historically bad taste. She was witty, attractive and engaging. But is she marriage material?
For those who were and might still be enamored with Ms. Palin, it’s time to study this objectively. There’s no need to defend the indefensible just to prove that you were right last fall. The election is over; it’s time to reflect on Sarah Palin thoughtfully and honestly as you look to the future.
Unless Ms. Palin fades quietly into the background (not likely), she has two choices: she can pursue the presidency or she can capitalize on her political celebrity. If she chooses the former, I’m afraid she’s going to discover that she is the Republican equivalent of Greg Brady’s “Johnny Bravo.”
Greg and his five siblings were auditioning for a talent show. As good as the ensemble was (gag me), talent agent Tami Rogers spotted Greg and singled him out for a promising solo career as Johnny Bravo, complete with a groovy, bullfighter/disco chic uniform. Greg decided to postpone college and leave his family behind only to discover that the record label was “sweetening” his songs and that, ultimately, he had been chosen because he fit the suit. Greg’s vanity and self-importance allowed him to believe he was more than he really was.
Sarah Palin had one shining moment–her VP acceptance speech (any doubts that the speech was “sweetened” by a team of Republican linguists and word smiths?). Otherwise, I think it’s accurate to say that Senator McCain selected her because she “fit the suit.” She was a woman to run against Obama’s blackness; she was outdoorsy, Christian, and neo-conservative. On a ticket quickly losing relevance, she was the perfect choice—the right woman at the right time.
Since that speech, Ms. Palin has had multiple opportunities to get smart on the issues and to develop strong positions on how government can help America move forward. Yet time after time she disappoints. We heard during the campaign that she often wasn’t well educated on the issues, choosing, rather, to wing-it.
Honestly, I could live with that, IF (and it’s a big IF) she explicitly stated that her approach to leadership is to rely on strong core convictions and values that provide a specific vision for America and that she surrounds herself with experts who provide her a broad range of non-partisan advice from which she chooses solutions, programs, and initiatives which support her convictions and values. She might well say something like, “As Governor of Alaska it hasn’t been my job to deal with and understand foreign policy in the Middle East; but let me tell you about the things I believe in that will guide my administration’s actions in that region. I believe in American exceptionalism. I believe that people worldwide have a God given right to certain liberties. It is not important that other governments pursue and apply democracy the same way we do in America. What is important is that individuals are able to determine their nation’s form of government for themselves and to have certain human rights afforded to them. America’s role is facilitating the promulgation of liberty and self-determination.”
In this case she is saying 1) I don’t know; 2) It’s ok that I don’t know—it’s not my job to know; but 3) if given a chance here’s what I believe. It’s not just an answer it’s an entirely new leadership style. It’s not important that she HAS the solution or that she can create one in isolation. What is important is that when given options she is WILLING and ABLE to make hard decisions that are consistent with core principles. This could have been her way-ahead—play to her strengths.
Instead, she has bumbled and fumbled her way through virtually every personal appearance since Minneapolis. She hasn’t expressed well-defined core principles. She hasn’t been honest about her approach to governance and she hasn’t gotten smart on the issues.
We need to also face the facts about her situation—as a losing vice-presidential candidate the odds are against her. In recent memory, only Bob Dole and Walter Mondale have gone on win their party’s next nomination and they were both running against strong incumbent President’s (Clinton and Reagan, respectively).
If Sarah Palin were to win the GOP nomination in 2012 that would tell me something entirely different about the GOP and not at all flattering. Her nomination would be the last chapter of the book on modern republicanism that began with Reagan’s 1964 speech supporting Barry Goldwater. It would be a tombstone for the GOP as we know it; an epitaph. While I believe those things are necessary, I don’t think Republicans need to wait eight years to reinvent themselves. Let the loss in 2008 be the end and Sarah Palin’s nomination was just the last gasp effort for survival; a fitting climax to the end of an era.
Ms. Palin’s other option, as laid out by daughter Bristol Palin’s former fiancé, is to make money. At this, I think Ms. Palin could be wildly successful. She could become a professional fundraiser, speaker, talk radio host or Fox News talking head. The support she already has likely would afford her access and sway in a variety of fields for which she’d be well compensated. It would be both humble (quietly acknowledging her inability to become president) and self-serving.
I have no problem with people benefiting from their experiences. Turning one opportunity into a fortune is the American way. I don’t begrudge Daniel Radcliff his multi-millions just because he looked like Harry Potter and happened to be 11 years old at the right time in pop-culture history.
This is the Madonna School of Marketing: be outrageous and be visible. It’s a well-worn path and it plays to her strengths. But it would require accurate self-assessment even to her discredit.
Ms. Palin’s my age. With any luck at all she spent her afternoons as a child plopped in front of the TV taking in the folksy lessons of The Brady Bunch, now prepared to make a better decision than Greg.