The frenetic hostility to Sarah Palin, even by many on the Republican side, is unnerving, because her qualifications to be president are objectively better than those of almost anyone who has been on the national ticket over the past decade.
A reasonable conclusion is that these qualifications are precisely the cause of the hostility. To admit to the reality that the dominant political class, including the MSM and the punditocracy of both parties, has been giving us abysmal presidential candidates, to accept that a hockey mom plucked from small-town Alaska is better than the best that the political class can come up with, would require recognition of the terrible truth that the system has become deeply dysfunctional. Doing this would force our political elites to look into an abyss of serious questions about the functioning of our democracy. Palin creates a cognitive dissonance so intense that it simply cannot be accepted.
To start, compare her experience as a person, mayor, and state leader with George W. Bush’s pre-presidential career as an alcoholic, baseball executive, and ornamental governor. Whatever one thinks of his performance as president — and like most conservatives my views are complex — he was not promising material as of 2000.
Al Gore would be disqualified by knowledge of his academic career and by a reading of Earth in the Balance, an exercise in messianic ignorance. His subsequent career getting rich from climate change subsidies would reinforce this opinion. John Kerry had a Senate career of unbroken mediocrity, compounded by his unapologized-for Winter Soldier exercise and the still-unanswered Swift Boat questions.
John Edwards had no shadow of a qualification, and again the judgment is confirmed by subsequent events.
Obama’s qualifications were will-o-the-wisp. His supporters cited his “potential,” as they had to, because his only actual feat was his first book — and the claims that this was ghosted have been met by non-denial. The Asia Times characterizes these rumors as “well-established,” which tells one something about current foreign assessments of Obama. The president’s long-standing ties to the radical left should have tipped the balance to the negative.
Vice President Joe Biden has a long history of blurring the line between fantasy and reality to a degree that one wonders if he sees any distinction, but 36 years of this is enough to make him “qualified.” This, too, tells a lot about the mental processes of the dominant political class.
One can deeply respect John McCain’s courage and service. But he is an erratic senator, with a tendency to reach decisions on a whim and then excoriate anyone who disagrees. As demonstrated by McCain-Feingold — which hamstrings the middle-class base of the Republicans while leaving intact the power of unions and public employees, the media, the rich, and Native American tribes — McCain does not, or cannot, think even two moves ahead.
This leaves Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney as the only candidates with any weight, and Palin’s executive experience gives her an edge over Lieberman.
The list may not be impressive, but being number two is not bad.
The biases of the political class also explain why Palin got sandbagged at the outset. Anyone familiar with the world of Washington private schools knows that they are experts at resume building — creating scads of extracurricular activities and awards so that every student can shine for the college of his or her choice. Well, the kids learned it from their parents, who are also experts at blowing air into the CV.
Palin was called inexperienced because she had never gone on a five-photo-ops-with-foreign-leaders-in-four-days tour, held show hearings on the topic du jour, introduced meaningless legislation, or had her staff give her a list of the publications she should say she was currently reading.
In fact — and of course — negotiating with Exxon is better preparation for negotiating with Putin than is a foreign photo op. And running a town is a miles-better education than warming a Senate seat. But again, it is not in the interests of the political class to acknowledge this.
So her handlers tried to cram her into a D.C. frame of reference by stuffing her with facts on national and international issues that could withstand grilling from a gotcha! press, something that was neither possible nor the right game.
Palin should instead have conceded that of course she would not be ready to be president on day one, but that:
1. What she had turned her hand to, she had quickly learned to do successfully — and this ability, based on her solid grounding in the realities of American life, was and is the real test.
2. If she were called upon on day one, she would be the head of a government, not a lone individual, and she had the experience in handling people that would be necessary to tap into the collective intelligence of the nation.
Those are called real qualifications!
Since the election, Palin has learned her lesson about the political handlers and she has followed Mao’s advice, as channeled through Anita Dunn — “you fight your war and I’ll fight mine.”
Her resignation from the governorship, which was mostly condemned by the pundits, was dead-on shrewd. Why let herself be tied down defending perjured ethics charges from people with infinite money, whose only desire is to shut her up or bankrupt her? Her willingness to be herself and pursue her own ideas without regard to whether or not they could lead to future office is a source of great political strength. Her public pronouncements, such as the Hong Kong speech, are serious and adult, unlike most of the vapidity produced by politicians, especially Obama. And Palin is mastering the art of short, sharp statements.
None of this is winning over the political class. Indeed, Palin’s refusal to fulfill their desires that she be a clown or take a proper role in the kabuki theater of Washington is making them angrier than ever and more determined to marginalize her. But the disillusionment with government among the tea-partying middle class is so great that every attack on her builds her stature on Main Street.
Is Palin going to be nominated? Hard to tell, even assuming she wants it. The unrelenting hostility of the media does have an insidious effect. She also needs to achieve the discipline in speaking that she displays with her written pronouncements — more brevity and less nattering — but this is doable.
The cultural issues are more important. There is a middle ground of people who are against the increasing bipartisan kleptocracy but not conservative on cultural matters — personally, I am pro-choice (but with reasonable caveats about the exercise of that choice), utterly indifferent to gay marriage, pro-gun, pro-decriminalization of marijuana, in favor of a forward strategy towards the terrorist wing of Islam and with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and sympathetic to China’s extraordinary effort to remake itself economically and politically.
Ultimately, this may or may not make me into a Palin supporter. But either way, our most fundamental current crisis is the inability of the political class to produce plausible leaders, and its hostility to anyone, such as Palin, who threatens the system. The election of Obama was a symptom of our current dysfunctional politics, not a cause.
We need more Palins, not fewer.