In 1976, Ronald Reagan lost the Republican presidential nomination to incumbent Gerald Ford. Yet his message during the primary campaign had so inspired the party’s conservative base that he was allowed to address the Republican National Convention anyway. And as he addressed that convention, speaking of the Democrat-led attack on personal rights and economic liberty, many of those who listened could not help but think they were hearing the man who would be the GOP’s presidential candidate in 1980.
On November 2, 2008, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and presidential candidate John McCain lost the national election to Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Yet throughout the campaign, Palin’s words, rather than McCain’s, jolted the conservative base of the Republican Party from its slumber. From her speech at the Republican National Convention on September 3, 2008, to the “common sense” solutions she’s prescribing for America’s ills while on her book tour, many of the people listening to Palin think they’re hearing the woman who will be a presidential candidate in 2012.
Reagan had been a Hollywood actor in Westerns before entering politics, and the media never allowed him to escape the stigma of being a “dumb cowboy.” To them he was B actor who became a C president in 1980, pushing a domestic agenda based on shrinking the size of government and a foreign policy that supposedly made America the laughingstock of the world. (Remember how pundits gasped when Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” and again when he called “Communism a form of insanity”?)
But a funny thing happened on the way to Reagan’s bid for re-election. To the media’s chagrin, it became obvious that the “dumb cowboy” was deeply beloved by the citizens of this nation. He beat Walter Mondale in the greatest landslide victory in American history by taking every state but one on election night.
And while it would certainly be fair to say the cause for this record-setting victory was Reagan’s optimism, his deep tax cuts, and his dealings with the Soviet Union from a position of strength (instead of a position of Carter-like weakness), it would be a mistake to overlook the important role common sense played in his huge victory. In other words, the specifics of both his domestic agenda and foreign policy notwithstanding, his possession of a tremendous amount of common sense made him a president to whom the people could relate.
Currently, this same kind of common sense is drawing crowds of people to bookstores around the country where they wait in line for hours just to get the chance to shake Palin’s hand after she signs their copy of Going Rogue – which sold 1,000,000 copies in its first two weeks.
Many who wait in these lines wear “Palin 2012” shirts or hold signs with “Palinisms” on them like “you betcha.” Yet through it all, the media does its part by taking a page out of their anti-Reagan playbook and focusing on how intellectually unqualified Palin is for high office. Slate’s Timothy Noah epitomized this effort in October 2008, when he mockingly reported that a number of Palin’s friends called her an avid reader without also telling reporters exactly what kind of books she read. Said Noah: “Tangible evidence of whatever data [populates] Palin’s cranium is hard to find.”
If Noah would be honest, what has he and the rest of the media so riled is the fact that Palin went to college in flyover country (University of Idaho) instead of a so-called prestigious school like Harvard or Yale. (Ironically, Reagan was educated in flyover country as well: a little school in his home state of Illinois named Eureka College.) And after going to a school like the University Idaho, Palin dared become governor of a state instead of a day worker at some factory or a clerk in the convenience store Joe Biden frequents. (Ironically, Reagan dared become the governor of California in 1967.)
When Palin talks, people from all walks of life listen. When she says we need to be cutting taxes instead of raising them, fighting terrorists instead of babying them, supporting our military instead of second-guessing it, and backing off the seeming endless push for global warming legislation until all the ramifications of Climategate are clear, conservative Americans hear a common-sense approach that sounds very much like Reagan.
This is not to say Palin could be Reagan’s equal. It is to say that if she’s dumb, I hope she’s dumb like Reagan.