I Was Wrong About Sarah Palin
The Palin moratorium’s been lifted, yes? With a new article by Joshua Green in the Atlantic and putting on my Iowa caucus-goer hat, it seems like a good time to admit the wrongness of my post-2008 assessment of Sarah Palin’s future prospects in national politics.
As I say, this isn’t a question of whether I ever found Palin’s message appealing or even palatable. The caucus process gives Iowans an up-close look at presidential candidates, an early glimpse of their campaigns, and a confidence (sometimes misplaced) in our intuition about which stars will rise and which flame out. Green’s article looks at how Palin shook up Alaska politics and cunningly thwarted Big Oil’s dominance of fiscal policy — a record that makes him muse about the reformist, pragmatic, bipartisan Sarah Palin that might’ve been. For my part, I made a wrong guess about what lessons an ambitious newcomer to national politics would draw from 2008 and apply to 2012.
Let’s stipulate that the former vice presidential nominee was woefully unprepared for a national campaign, and voters were treated to the spectacle of her winging it. The poll numbers in 2008 and after reflect that. But there’s also formidable political talent there, and a high dose of ambition. I was intrigued to wonder what she’d do with that experience — particularly what lessons she’d learn.
Foolish me, I thought Palin really wanted to win the presidency and realized that she’d have to bring her game up in a number of ways: making a play for swing voters by staking out some moderate positions; taking the details of policy more seriously (rather than winging it); and widening her circle of advisors to break out of an insular bubble of cronies. As I say, just plain wrong.
In a way, the issue is a basic level of respect for what running for president entails. And I don’t think of the question of basic seriousness a partisan thing. If Donald Trump answers Jon Stewart’s prayers and actually gets into the race, his hubris and unseriousness is going to collide with this reality like walking into a buzz saw. His experience in recent weeks was barely a foretaste.
Of course the other requirement for a candidate is total commitment and discipline. Any politician who brings ambivalence or half-heartedness will inevitably fizzle (see Fred Thompson or Rudy Giuliani).
Going back to Sarah Palin, the point might be that ultimately she doesn’t want to run for president. Really she’d rather just make a lot of money. Sure enough, she’s made a lot of hay. We’ll see how much longer the sun shines.
Photo credit: Bill Morrow