Yet Palin won’t quite go away, given her opposition to the two most unpopular institutions in America today: Big Government and High Finance.
The voters are tiring on left-wing, condescending big government. An Eric Holder, Timothy Geithner and Barack Obama are the best reflections of the contradictory urge to redistribute money, and hector the productive upper-middle classes—while at the same time indulging their rarefied tastes and desire for privilege through government administration.
Yet Wall Street elites are no more popular. They are seen as selfish, conniving, and of no political persuasion other than kowtowing to the particular powers that be in Washington. Their creed is not conservatism or liberalism, but rather statism and the marriage of the federal government and high finance. And we now know these one-eyed jacks. Federal regulators (cf. e.g., Timothy Geithner, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Hank Paulson, Franklin Raines, etc) drift in and out of Wall Street. In exchange for guaranteeing that firms don’t fail and get sweetheart attention, federal officials are promised that during their sabbaticals from Washington they are to be accorded ceremonial jobs with access to near automatic multimillion-dollar bonuses.
Again, Palin is not an inside-the-beltway hack, and has never held federal office. She is honest and won’t go to Goldman Sachs or get a government auditorship over Bank of America. She seems like a fish out of water in New York and Washington. For someone in government for nearly 20 years, she ended up, until the latest book blitz, broke. You can’t serve for two decades in local and state government and be poor—without being perceived as honest.
Her populism is anti-bailout, anti-take-over, anti-federal loan guarantees—and as anti-Wall Street as it is anti-Washington. And for many, that is found appealing: it cuts the legs from under both Rockefeller, beltway Republicans, and high-rolling Kerry-Gore-Edwards-Kenney-Pelosi multimillionaire liberal Democrats.
All of which brings us, again, back to the second question, where does Palinism lead? (It matters little that were she not so attractive, and were she not picked by John McCain, we would not now be discussing her; since were Jack Kennedy not charismatic and the son of a zillionaire, we would not have known him either.)
Palin must have at her fingertips far more elucidating answers than offered by any liberal icon—or what she showed in the 2008 campaign. If Sarah Palin thinks FDR was President in 1929, or that he could speak on non-existent TV, she is through; if Biden says that, it’s “just old Joe again.” If Obama does not know the first thing about our most prestigious medals, the language of Austria, or diplomatic protocol about presidential bowing, it’s because he is deliberately trying to be cool; if Palin did the same, she’s a buffoon hockey mom. That is the way it is, and her supporters should accept it, deal with, and overcome it.
In other words, Palinites should assume that there is no margin of error for her at all. Like it or not, she must, like Reagan, not only communicate, but also be able to draw on abstract concepts about conservatism. It does no good to say the media is biased, or to review the talking points offered above. She must be better than, not as good as, mainstream Democratic and Republican candidates in matters of foreign policy, gottacha recall, and talking points on health care, taxes, etc. Specificity, detail, and exactness, not generalities or whines about an unfair press, will make her a serious candidate.
The best thing she can do is to go out and talk, take her licks, promote her book, fend off foes, and gain experience in the arena of ideas—while spending her evenings reading and debating wonks and politicians. The marketplace of politics then will decide her fate, not pundits or political insiders. If she swims in the next year, she’s on her way; if she sinks, she will recede from our memory.
My own views?
I am prejudiced because what I learned over years of farming—dealing with California labor, environmental, legal, and tax regulations, pruning, tractor driving, listening to my grandfather, and handling unsavory characters, understanding plant physiology and fruit-production, etc.—I think gave me a different, but in the long run as good an education as a BA/PhD in Classical languages.
I found the former harder to do than the latter, the world of the one rather brutal and existential, of the other sheltered and protected. In other words, I would trust the judgment of someone with Palin’s background on matters of Iran or Honduras or Putin far more than I would someone of Obama’s resume. I would trust my neighbor who farms 180 acres more than I would a chairman of an academic department. I know, I know, there are extreme binaries, but they are reflective of the lack of autonomy and physicality today and the undue emphasis on elite schooling as prerequisites for success. We know now that you can do nothing and still finish as the head of Harvard Law Review, or win a Nobel Prize, but if you miss an antlered moose, or run out of gas in the tundra, or fall overboard on a salmon boat, there is no Norwegian committee or Harvard Law Dean to bail you out.
Such is not an argument for anti-intellectualism or a dismissal of in-depth scholarship and research, but rather a reminder that Palin has led a full life than can be enhanced by more formal investigation. A chatty, rarified Obama misses dearly a concrete past, where he had to succeed or fail on his own merits, in a competitive unkind environment, where the muscular world often conspires against the intellectual.
And boy, it sure shows as we are learning in just 10 months of his uninspired governance.