Sarah Palin continues to galvanize the imagination of both her ardent supporters and her hectoring adversaries. It is easy to understand her appeal to those who have rallied behind her and her possible candidacy for the office of president of the United States. She has a lot going for her: charm, personableness, natural smarts, moral probity, executive competence, independence of character, and a passionate love of country. These are undeniable advantages, or should be in any sane political environment.
At the same time, she steps up to the plate with two strikes against her — or, in an alternative baseball universe, with three, four, or five strikes already logged in the umpire’s clicker. PDS (Palin Derangement Syndrome) flourishes on the liberal-left, to the extent that a correspondent to Salon.com suggests “we get rid of Palin” by having her electrocuted like one of Michael Vick’s dogs. According to the media scuttlebutt and her innumerable liberal detractors, she is poorly educated, brings no foreign policy experience to the job, shoots her own dinner, comes across as politically unnuanced, and, perhaps the most cutting strike against her, lacks gravitas. These negatives are obviously serious disadvantages for anyone contemplating a run for the presidency, but are they valid criticisms? Is she really “out” before she even takes a swing? Let’s consider each of these knocks against her in turn.
To begin with, Palin is by no means poorly educated; she merely did not graduate with a degree from an Ivy League institution, which by any reasonable account in today’s academic milieu should stand decidedly in her favor. Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Berkeley and other so-called elite universities charge prohibitive tuition fees while, for the most part, delivering second-rate curricular fare. They represent the kiss of intellectual death — unless, of course, one wishes to enter the service of the State Department or practice trial or immigration law. Palin did well to avoid these bastions of mainly liberal-left political correctness.
As for the absence of foreign policy experience, David Jenkins reminds us in an article for PJM that, with the exception of the elder Bush (who, incidentally, was no presidential cynosure), “it is not common for presidents to enter office with foreign policy experience.” In this respect, Palin is no different from the vast majority of her predecessors and certainly not from the present incumbent. What is needed in this domain is precisely what Palin would bring to the highest office in the land: insight and principle. As Jenkins writes, “she knows that America must be strong in order to be safe, and…that we must develop our own resources and end our dependence on foreign oil.” Palin also knows that an American president does not bow and apologize to foreign despots and does not alienate loyal and tested allies, but comports himself or herself with dignity and courage.
Nor is there anything wrong with shooting one’s own dinner, especially when one considers that liberal urbanites are perfectly OK with having other people shoot their dinner for them. Unless they are dedicated vegans, their hypocrisy is indigestible, and even vegans would surely vote for a meat-eating Democrat. Being handy with a shotgun and knowing how to skin a caribou is plainly not the real issue here. The implication is that Palin is some sort of primitive rustic rather than a credentialed cosmopolite. But the truth is that frowning on Palin’s wilderness skills is nothing but class snobbery on the part of those who would be utterly lost were they stripped of the “civilized” amenities they thoughtlessly take for granted. It is their mincing pretentiousness and fashionable outrage, not Palin’s honest hardiness, that is deplorable.
Further, Palin is by no means politically unnuanced. Quite the contrary, she is as politically savvy as they come, whether on the domestic or international front. Her speeches during the recent congressional elections were not only unteleprompted barnburners in the best populist tradition, but revealed a meticulous command of the domestic issues currently bedeviling the nation as well as a finely nuanced understanding of America’s pancreatic failures in international diplomacy. She displays a far more realistic perspective on the Middle East and has far more accurately taken the measure of America’s geopolitical competitors, particularly Russia and China, than anyone in the Democratic administration.
Palin does not believe in tax and spend, in fiat printing, in redistributive economics, in ObamaCare, in the AGW nonsense that is only an opaque wealth transfer scheme, in making purses out of sows’ ears (aka pork and earmarks), in pressing reset buttons, in blaming Israel for the Palestinians, or in a degrading and unproductive “outreach” to the Islamic umma. These are policies she would reverse, as indeed would anyone with a nuanced understanding of the economic and political worlds. There is little doubt that Palin would be a strong, resolute, and effective president should she ever accede to the White House. Unlike Obama, she would not try to square the Oval.
Finally, if Palin lacks gravitas, then so do many others on the current political scene. Barack Obama, for example, not only lacks gravitas, he exhibits the moral and intellectual substance of a will o’ the wisp. This is not to take anything away from his golf game, but in political life he is always badly in need of a mulligan. Joe Biden is a figure straight out of vaudeville who can be dependably counted on to drop the cane he is trying to twirl — though, it must be admitted, he would look great in a straw boater. Hillary Clinton is, frankly, a wizened party hack and, like her husband, an adroit shape-shifter: one cannot trust a word she utters. No gravitas to be found amidst this crew.
Among the possible Republican contenders there are (or were) some potentially credible choices, at least from the standpoint of knowledge, experience, and/or presence. Newt Gingrich carries weight and political erudition but unfortunately also carries baggage. The same may be said for Jeb Bush, whose family name still remains a heavy burden he may not be able to shuck. His opposition to Arizona’s immigration law is also a very bad sign. Others like Marco Rubio and Allen West, both highly impressive figures, are too young or new to the field to be presidentially assessed. Chris Christie is a bold and ethical administrator, but is not a particularly persuasive communicator. John Thune is little known and Mitch Daniels is aura-challenged. Mike Huckabee’s banjo is not an electoral plus. Bobby Jindal and Tim Pawlenty are “good people,” but Jindal does not seem ready for higher office and Pawlenty is prone to misjudgment, such as withdrawing from the race for a third term as Minnesota governor that he could have won handily. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour may have disqualified himself from consideration owing to certain insensitive or ambiguous racial comments — at least, journalist and fellow-Southerner Kyle-Anne Shiver appears to think so. John Bolton would make a decent president but an even better secretary of defense. Rick Perry’s secession remark, however flippant, has cost him dearly. Mitt Romney seems to wear a certain gravitas, but the “RomneyCare” fiasco that he imposed as governor of Massachusetts shows his weak and fallible side.
The real problem, however, is that “gravitas” is a vague and unreliable personality construct and, moreover, one that can be readily simulated by a good actor. Al Gore, for instance, managed to project seriousness of purpose for a time, until greed, corruption, and deceit tore away the mask with which he dazzled his public. “Gravitas” functions primarily as a media buzzword that can be applied indiscriminately, either to demean or to inflate its chosen subject. Only in the most proven and ineluctable cases can it be said to be an appropriate descriptor, and these are far and few between. Whether or not Palin is deficient in this regard, what she demonstrably lacks is the approval of a reprobate and partisan press, which is itself cripplingly short of integrity, not to mention gravitas.
But is Palin electable? The next two years will determine whether she will be able to counter the slanderous media campaign against her candidacy and her competence, and so convince enough people that she has the right stuff to lead the country in perhaps its most perilous historical moment since the Civil War. Clearly, she suffers more than her share of antagonists among the megabuck left and their myriad satellites, Ivy League academics, mainstream journalists, public intellectuals, union impresarios and henchmen, and the entitlement-addicted segment of the public. They are terrified of her. She even has the panjandrums in the Republican old guard shaking in their Guccis.
As Victor Volsky writes in American Thinker, “in the eyes of the political/cultural aristocracy, [Palin] is the embodiment of its worst nightmare: the revolt of the masses against their masters.” And she knows that the master class will mobilize its considerable reserves against her. The question is whether, by sheer force of character, will, and charisma, like an American version of Delacroix’s Marianne leading the charge at the electoral barricades, and by pursuing a tireless itinerary, she can prevail against overwhelming odds and bring to the American people authentic change and genuine hope for the future.