Is Palin electable?
Among the most astonishing phenomena of the current political scene in the U.S. is the relentless percussion of hatred, animadversion, revilement and outright dissimulation hurled against Sarah Palin—the mirror image of the orgy of adulation which Barack Obama enjoyed prior to his election and in the auroral days of his administration. One is put in mind of the vicious and slanderous campaign waged by the liberal-left against George Bush. But this is something different from Bush redux. The difference is that Bush was a sitting president whose policies many felt, rightly or wrongly, were steering the nation in a perilous direction, whereas Palin is without public office and executive power. The media have clearly gone beyond the limits of reason or propriety.
The question is why. What is it about Sarah Palin that has generated so intense a degree of tractarian misprision, that has turned almost the entire mainstream media against her, and has even led many reflective people to doubt her competence and her intelligence? What explains the abuse she has had to absorb, from being dismissed as a rabble-rousing populist lightweight to being accused as a murderer by proxy in the Tucson shooting?
In an article for FrontPage Magazine, Evan Sayet has essayed an answer to this provocative enigma. “What is it about her that they hate?” he asks, and replies, “It has to be her life story” which, pace her critics, “could not be more laudable.” And that, of course, is the problem. Everything she represents violates the Democratic left’s agenda and narrative: she is a self-made woman, enjoys a stable marriage with her high school sweetheart, has raised a together family, refused to abort her Down Syndrome child, is equally at home in the wilderness and in the halls of State, was a successful mayor and an effective governor, upholds the Constitution, is a doer and not only a talker, and exemplifies the traditional American virtue of self-reliance. Thus, as Sayet writes, “at every turn, Ms. Palin’s story debunks the myths of victimization and self-centeredness that is at the heart of the Modern Liberal ideology.”
In other words, Palin is neither a liar nor a parasite, but a truth-teller and an industrious worker—two attributes that have cost her dearly in a liberal environment dominated by special interest groups, entitlement seekers, political predators, fiscal sycophants, tax evaders, people addicted to welfare, single-parent families living off the dole, labor union apparatchiks, official and media appeasers in the “war against terror”—in short, the swarm of barnacles that have battened onto the ship of state.
Historian and commentator Victor Davis Hanson concurs. In a summarizing article for Pajamas Media, he concludes that Palin’s being “a mom of five children flies in the face of the demography of yuppie careerism.” In the “binary world” of network columnists, late-night TV hosts and the culture of the left, “Sarah Palin is apparently all that they are not.” Moreover, Hanson points out what is palpably obvious but often unadmitted. “And how can it be fair that Sarah Palin seems stunning after five children when so many in the DC-NY corridor after millennia on the exercise machine and gallons of Botox are, well, ‘interesting looking’?” This latter phrase is the most tactful—and tactical—of satirical put-downs, and says volumes about unconfessed resentment. Palin’s undeniable beauty works against her, especially among the feminist sorority, no less than her candidness, moral rectitude and integrity of character feature as liabilities in the eyes of her detractors.
Hanson believes that Palin is “scary not so much in 2012” as an antidote to Barack Obama, but that “she could be around—and around in an evolving way—for a long time to come.” Here I would be inclined to vary, however modestly, from Hanson’s analysis of the menace Palin represents to the liberal-left constituency. The veritable tornado of hatred and defamation to which she has been subjected argues something far more immediate in its implications. What the Democrats and their supporters earnestly fear is not only that Palin may be around for the indefinite future, but that she is indeed potentially electable in 2012 and must be stopped at all costs. This is perhaps the principal motive for so libelous a spectacle as the left’s all-out debauch of vilification. But will the strategy work?
We need to remember that the liberal-left ideology which seems so potent and widespread in contemporary America is to a large extent the creature of a progressivist elite and its media organs, busy collimating their quarry. It does not speak for the vast majority of Americans but, as Arthur Brooks clearly sets out in The Battle, accounts for at most 30% of the nation. What he calls the 30% coalition, grounded in “European-style statism…expanded bureaucracies, increasing income redistribution, and government-controlled corporations,” advances an agenda that is not shared by the remaining 70% of the population. And it is precisely here, in the preponderant sector of the electorate, that Palin’s real strength lies.
Palin has, as I’ve written before, all the right political instincts, a love of country and a practical understanding of foreign and domestic affairs that the ostensible sophisticates in the newsrooms and in the galleries of officialdom sorely and demonstrably lack. And she has the common touch. She does not fly over flyover country; she connects with the people who live there, often dismissed by their supposed betters as rustics and “clingers.” She is, to put it succinctly, down to earth.
Lest I’m beginning to sound like a hagiographer, let me assure my readers that I’m only trying to set the record straight. Does she have flaws? As the saying goes, you betcha. Does anyone else on the Washington conveyor belt have character flaws? You double betcha. Is there anyone today among the political actors we know and read about who is without blemish? The fact is, nary a one. To single out and denounce Palin for her personal beliefs or for aspects of her conduct, whatever these might be, while letting so many others off the hook, is the epitome of bad faith. And besides, would we really want the Dalai Lama for president?
The reason, then, that Palin may appear “dicey,” a long shot for the White House and unconvincing as a savvy political player is owing not to any calamitous personal deficiencies—after all, she has succeeded brilliantly in most of her undertakings—but to the well-coordinated offensive launched against her by the media, the special interest groups and the entrenched Beltway power brokers. That is, she has been targeted for extinction by the 30% minority who control the levers of power and influence. They have her in their “crosshairs.”
But this is to ignore the 70% majority of center and center-right Americans, many of whom have become more and more skeptical of the press and who are correspondingly fed up with the techniques of character assassination employed by the agencies of the generic left. Paradoxically, Palin’s electability can be reckoned as an inverse function of the virulent campaign intent on her delegitimation. The “war against Sarah” is a clear indication of the feasibility of her candidacy for the presidency. The greater the fury and bluster and dissembling she is met with, the greater the likelihood that she poses a genuine threat. One does not raise a mallet to crush an ant. The hatred meter going off the charts registers a force not easily dealt with or pragmatically resisted.
Nothing, of course, is guaranteed. As Myra Adams, who served on the McCain Ad Council, suggests, electoral calculations at the primary level require stringent caution and militate against nominating what she calls “Kamikaze Republicans” or “doctrinaire conservatives,” who could well lose in key states like Pennsylvania or Florida. Her warning is certainly opportune.
Echoing Adams, Nichole Hungerford, in a closely reasoned survey for FrontPage, points out that recent polls tend to favor Palin’s twiblings Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, but also indicate that neither Romney nor Huckabee poses a viable challenge to a resurgent Obama, whose “favorability level” currently exceeds theirs. This may very well be the case, but we should keep in mind that there are still two years to go—a millennium in politics—which Palin can use to convey her message, foreground her character and build up a solid and authoritative presence on the national tableau.
It won’t be a cakewalk. As received wisdom has it, the public is notoriously fickle and uninformed. Still, the plurality of the disaffected may prove otherwise and a large if amorphous majority may gradually trump the chicanery of a tenacious and concentrated minority.
Obviously, there is no reliable way to predict the vicissitudes of electoral politics. Were one foolish enough to prognosticate seriously as of this moment, one would probably give the nod to Romney for the Republican nomination. But signs and portents do exist to form the basis of a tentative hypothesis. And the hypothesis I am proposing is this. Given the inescapable mutability of the political world, the former governor may yet be able to count on the 70% solution.