Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sarah Palin vs. the Establishment

As we have become accustomed to in modern politics, even though we are not even to Thanksgiving of 2010 yet, rampant speculation has already begun on the 2012 Presidential race -- specifically, the potential field for the Republican nomination. Much of this early fervor is centered around one woman -- Sarah Palin.

To be clear, though this blog is a huge fan of Sarah Palin, we have yet to decide on whether we think Sarah Palin should run for President or not or whether she would be the best choice if she does. Though much of the talk focuses on Palin, Gingrich and the leftovers from the 2008 field, plus a few others, there is still plenty of time for candidates currently not on the "serious radar" -- like Jeb Bush, for instance -- to end up emerging in the coming months.

That said, with the former Alaska Governor herself being honest about the fact she is seeking the office, much of the attention lately has been on her, and deservedly so. After all, if it wasn't for Sarah Palin drawing massive crowds in 2008, there would have been exactly ZERO enthusiasm for the McCain candidacy, and she clearly had a great deal of impact on the 2010 races -- and while not all of her endorsed candidates won, she clearly helped all of them get closer to victory than they would have, including Christine O'Donnell and Joe Miller, who many point to as Palin failures.

Of course, the fact that so many try to assign credit or blame for all candidates wins or losses on Palin shows the power she has in the eyes of the political media. Some of it is overstated -- she is not responsible for the fact some candidates turn out to be duds or run bad campaigns. However, some of it is clearly understated -- there is no individual out there right now, Barack Obama included, who has the ability to generate movement in a race on his/her own.

Finally, while we object to the notion that Sarah Palin is the face of the tea party movement -- as there is no real one singular face to a movement that is so massive and unorganized (not a bad thing, necessarily), she is, in our eyes, the face of what is, in our eyes, a more important political phenomenon that has emerged in 2010 -- and that is anti-establishmentism. Some will try to downplay the fact there is an establishment at all, and while sometimes drawing the line between what is "establishment" and "non establishment" can be tricky, in many cases we known it when we see it and we know it indeed exists. Whatever "it" is, it clearly does not like Sarah Palin.

The reasons for this are several-fold. Some of them like her generally but dislike the prospect of her running based purely on political numbers by those reading the early tea leaves -- they seem someone with very high unfavorables for a potential Presidential candidate, yet someone who could also emerge from the primary and thus sink our chances of defeating Obama. Basically, if these same numbers showed her being very popular, these folks would be singing a different tune.

To be clear, this group of Palin detractors bothers us at K&B the least -- in fact, it is likely that Palin herself is seriously weighing those very numbers as she decides whether to make a bid. Clearly, any serious presidential candidate has to take that into account -- namely, in her case, can those unfavorables be brought down? If she feels they can -- she will likely get in the race. If not, she'll keep doing what she is doing now.

However, it is worth noting that we feel that anyone who feels it is impossible Palin could improve those numbers is wrong -- the fact is Palin generates news simply by opening her mouth and that kind of access and ability to generate news brings with it the unique ability to perhaps move the perception of herself in in the way someone like Tim Pawently cannot. Certainly, some opinions of Palin -- both positive and negative -- will be locked in -- but our sense is that some of the dislike of Palin is rather soft, based on innuendos and perception rather than substance -- and that if people get to know Palin more and trust that she is indeed competent and a leader , that their opinions of her could shift in a way that gets her into general election electability range.

So, to be clear, discussion over Palin's electability is fair game. What bothers us, however, is the level of Palin hatred that is now seeping into some aspects of the conservative movement. While we would expect this level of "Palin derangement syndrome" from the left, it is disappointing when it comes from the right.

Last week, Politico reported that many in the party establishment were "fearing" a Palin candidacy -- basically, the calculation goes that she could win the nomination but would get crushed in the general election. This "panicky fear" demonstrated itself in conservative-yet-establishment columnist Mona Charen's recent piece on entitled "Why Sarah Palin Shouldn't Run".

Now, certainly, Mona Charen has a right to express a view that any candidate should or shouldn't run. That's fine in itself. Perhaps, for instance, it would be better if Palin focused on rallying the troops. Perhaps her numbers are just too low. Perhaps there is some better candidate on the horizon who inspires us all (more on that in a bit). That would be fine.

But, Mona Charen only loosely talks about those issues, instead resorting to what felt to us was a bit of an angry rant. Here are a few examples:

"Americans will be looking for sober competence, managerial skill, and maturity, not sizzle and flash."

"Instead, she quit her job as governor after two and a half years, published a book (another is due next week), and seemed to chase money and empty celebrity. Now, rather than being able to highlight the accomplishments of Sarah Palin's Alaska, we get "Sarah Palin's Alaska," another cheesy entrant in the reality show genre."

"But Reagan didn't mud wrestle with the press. Palin seems consumed and obsessed by it, as her rapid Twitter finger attests, and thus encourages the sniping. She should be presiding over meetings on oil and gas leases in the North Slope, or devising alternatives to Obamacare. Every public spat with Dave Letterman or Politico, or the "lamestream media," or God help us, Levi Johnston, diminishes her."

'Speaking of television, sorry, this must be mentioned. Have you watched "Dancing With the Stars"? Cheesy would be several steps up for this one. Perhaps the former governor should not be blamed for the decisions of her adult daughter. Yet there in the audience we see Sarah and Todd Palin, mugging for the camera and cheering on their unwed-mother daughter as she bumps and grinds to the tune of "Mamma Told Me (Not to Come)."

"She would be terrific as a talk-show host -- the new Oprah. "

"But as a presidential candidate? Someone to convince critical independent voters that Republicans can govern successfully? Absolutely not."

Our reactions to these hits are several:

First of all, calling a former Governor and Mayor and long time servant of the people of Alaska a "talk show host" is an insult to Palin herself, the people of Alaska, and the millions of Americans who support her --- particularly conservatives, which Charen claims to be, namely those who worked for McCain in 2008 when they wouldn't have otherwise. While Charen seems to indicate that the TLC show and Dancing with the Stars are beneath Palin, it seems to use that it is beneath Charen to whine in this manner.

Second of all, Mona Charen tries to imply that Palin isn't of substance at all, as if she is kind of ditzy TV clown who doesn't care about the country, but only herself, when a simple trip to her Facebook page would reveal post after post that delves into areas of policy, from energy to health care to taxes. While Palin might not be hosting think-tank-style seminars that no one ever hears about or sees, she is clearly addressing the topics of the day. Could Palin perhaps look to devise ways to express her policy views more? Perhaps so, that would be fair. But rather than making that point, Charen plays into the liberal characterization of Palin by basically saying she doesn't care -- or doesn't know -- about policy and thus is rock climbing on television, when the opposite is true and Charen -- and those like her -- know it.

Third of all, regarding the TLC show itself, we watched it and found it incredibly enjoyable and not the cheese-fest that Charen and other Palin detractors say it was. It provided very beautiful imagery of Alaska and its beauty from the perspective of a former Governor who clearly loves her state and whose family spends a lot of time exploring that state. What could be more American than that? Yes, it was a "reality show" in the sense what was going on was real and not made up -- but is that bad? While the verdict on the show is far from finished -- it's only had one episode as of this post -- it seems to us that Charen already had likely written her piece and predetermined her view of the show before seeing it -- and that's assuming she did even watch it. Her attempt to try to classify it in the same vein as something like the Biggest Loser or Survivor is at best, unfair, and at worst, an outright lie about what the show was about.

What Charen ignores and Palin grasps is that in today's world of communication, thinking outside the box -- such as having a show like Sarah Palin's Alaska -- might actually be a way to reach voters we wouldn't otherwise reach. For example, middle aged suburban women are a key demographic Republicans need to reach in 2012 - well, folks, guess who watches TLC? This isn't hard, yet Mona Charen would rather Palin appear on C-Span or PBS apparently.

Finally, let's address the core issue here -- electability. In our eyes, this panic over Palin's candidacy is delusional and insulting to Republican primary voters. The fact is, in order for a candidate to emerge from what will surely be a crowded field -- or even a small field - that candidate has to display a combination of charisma, intelligence, and yes, substance -- in order to win. If Palin comes across as the Mona Charens of the world portray her -- she'll lose. However, as we suspect, that if Palin comes across as the credible, passionate, affable, even if slightly quirky former Alaska Governor that people followed so loyally in 2008 -- she will have as good a chance as any to win the nomination -- AND the general election, because over time, she will build her reputation among voters enough to win the 270 electoral votes necessary to win.

Of course, the key ingredient in the establishment's fear over Palin is something that is her strength -- she's damn good at what she does. She has clear convictions and is unafraid to say them. Yes, she tangles with the media but that's a GOOD thing -- too often, our side isn't willing to do so. She's very charismatic and while some don't like her quirks, many do and there is no question she can draw and rile up a crowd -- yet in a different way than Obama did. Rather than using TelePrompTer-induced flowery rhetoric, Palin speaks plainly and from the heart, and yeah, to the establishment, that's annoying. To many, however, it's what they've been looking for.

The fact is, Sarah Palin has what few candidates ever have at this stage -- a following. Guess who else had a following like this at this stage? Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, two "rock stars" (even if you don't like Obama, clearly he was that to the Democrats in 2007/2008) in their own right. The fact is she has legions of supporters and those supporters are not mind-numbed robots -- there is a reason for why they like her. And rather than ripping her, it might serve Charen, Karl Rove, Kathleen Parker and others like them well to look and see why.

Furthermore, what you never hear talked about is the fact that none of the other candidates in the field exactly inspire confidence and visions of victory either. Seriously -- Mike Huckabee? Mitt Romney? John Thune, for goodness sake?

Good men, indeed. Not disasters or anything, but hardly people that most Americans would envision leading the country. If that person did exist -- a clear inspiring conservative who presented an alterative to Palin who perhaps also was anti establishment -- those who think Palin might not win would have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately for them, outside of possibly Chris Christie, who has said he will not run on numerous times and whose conservative bonafides are only somewhat clear -- no one out there is demonstrating that "oh, this may be the guy/girl" thought right now that so many Republicans are looking to have.

Finally, it is our view that Republicans should be not be so quick to dismiss the POSITIVES of a Palin nomination nor should they underestimate her -- not just on the ability to win a primary (as they clearly feel she could), but more so on the ability to handle substantive issues and navigate the political waters in a way that people view her favorably.

For if she does handle that well, and the combination of what she is doing in the media, her book deal, and in speaking engagements do eventually start turning her numbers favorably, there is no question in our mind that she could win the general election.

And that, at the heart of it, is perhaps what the establishment fears the most. Call it "protesting too much" -- but the "she can't win" talk is just a little too much for us. A Sarah Palin victory would upset their collective apple carts and that is what they fear the very most. Sure, they can handle a Rand Paul here or a Marco Rubio there crashing their cocktail party of, as Charen puts it, "sensible" Republicans.

But President Palin? That has to be stopped at all costs, even if it means lies and misrepresentations about the most compelling conservative figure in a generation.