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The Education of Sarah Palin

One can't help but think Romney is a grown-up, someone who has thought about the issues and is at least trying to formulate sober responses to the Obama left-wing agenda. As Gerald Seib put it: "Mr. Romney has developed a well-modulated critique of President Barack Obama, one that is tough without sounding harsh. ... Yet the most important thing Mr. Romney is doing may lie elsewhere, in the air miles and shoe leather he is investing to help fellow Republicans. That is the kind of loyalty-inducing investment that can come back to benefit a presidential candidate."

Couldn't Palin have tried to do the same in the last six months? She gave not a single serious policy address. Her atrocious staff bollixed up or delayed multiple invitations to speak to sympathetic audiences. And we have had a non-stop drumbeat of personal angst.

The lesson here is not that conservatives can't prosper in politics. The take-away isn't that women are doomed to be second-guessed. And it surely isn't news that mainstream media elites are unfair and obnoxious toward social conservatives. The central message is that serious times require serious candidates.

If Mark Sanford wants to have a midlife crisis, fine. But don't run for higher office doing it. Huckabee wants to make a mint doing a cheesy Fox television show? Go for it. But don't expect people not already smitten by his brand of populism to think better of him.

It is rather odd to complain that politics -- the profession which marries serious policy and every manner of superficial PR -- can be successfully mastered by someone who lacks serious policy ideas and is overwhelmed by bad PR.

Romney and other Republicans running or potentially running for higher office (e.g., Tim Pawlenty, Bobby Jindal, Meg Whitman, Rob Portman, and Marco Rubio) may not have the raw political charisma or engender the populist adulation that Palin does. But they are pleasing personalities, articulate, and bright. They sport compelling biographies and, most of all, are clear on a central truism: Politics has to be about the voters and their concerns. Otherwise it is indistinguishable from celebrity gossip.

Never say "never" in politics. But if Palin can't figure all that out, she really has no national political future. If she can and gets as serious about the issues and as focused on other people's problems as her potential rivals are, we may have not yet seen the end of her.