Jacksonville, AL. My combination Review of Sarah Palin’s book-and-Essay about American populism is found in the new issue of The American Conservative: http://amconmag.com/article/2010/feb/01/00040. TAC senior editor Dan McCarthy was kind enough to give me plenty of space to explain my conflicted thoughts and feelings about Governor Palin. Still, being a writer, and trying to beat a deadline—and not knowing what might end up being good and useable—my original, unabridged version was much longer than what ended up in print.
I didn’t bother to submit over half of what I wrote and what I submitted was still over the suggested word limit. I’m pleased with how the published piece turned out, and I was honored to be asked to write it in the first place, but for anyone who isn’t tired of Palin analysis, I’ll give you some extra helpings, taken from outtakes of my article. I realize my approach makes me few friends, since I’m too positive for Palin haters and too negative for Palin lovers.
My original, academic-sounding title was “Sarah Palin and the Contradiction of American Populism.” I identified the paradox near the end: “The contradiction of populism is that the sincere champion of the common people must be better informed, more astute, and more steadfast than the people themselves in order to serve them effectively in politics.”
Considering the intended audience, I deleted most of my analysis of specific liberal criticisms of Palin, concentrating instead on conservative criticisms. I also deleted portions dealing with sexism, libertarianism, and the Religious Right. What was left in the published article—which focuses mainly on Palin’s populism, reputed stupidity or ignorance, and neoconservative foreign policy—was sometimes trimmed for the sake of space and fluidity. I’ll give you a little more here, including a portion about childbearing and abortion that did not make the editorial cut. Palin’s personal story in that regard is one of the things that drew me, on an emotional level, to the candidate as soon as I heard her story in August 2008. The draw wasn’t strong enough to lead me to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket two months later, but I have retained respect and admiration for that part of her life.
Here are the remnants. I warn you up front that they add up to a lengthy essay, so please don’t complain that I’m wordy if you take the time to read them all.
Sarah Palin is no Bill Clinton. She does not revel in position papers and bureaucratic details. She is not intimately familiar with the alphabet-soup-ology of laws, agencies, and treaties. But then we, as Americans, are choosing a president, not a professor-in-chief or dictator of the world. If only omniscient Ivy League grads are acceptable to meet the high demands of the Oval Office, perhaps the position needs to be scaled back to something befitting a more humble republic. In theory, we do have three branches and a bureaucracy to co-govern the nation.
Questions arise: What good are endless details on the campaign trail when candidates have little intention of following through? What good did Clinton’s encyclopedic knowledge do while he was pursuing wrongheaded policies and sexual affairs? Is there any reason to think Joe Biden is any smarter than Palin? He strikes many of us as a glib dunce yet he’s “one heartbeat away from the presidency.” Should we be scared? Biden would pursue the same policies as Obama if he were to fill in so what difference does it make? Brilliant or dim, informed or disengaged, we’ve seen all kinds of presidents and things pretty much continue on the same course. It’s the naive overeducated who take such matters too seriously. IQ scores come and go but the bipartisan consensus in favor of statism and imperialism continues.
When comparing Sarah Palin to Geraldine Ferraro, the first Democratic woman to be put on a presidential ticket, both “came out of nowhere” to face the glare of the national spotlight. Of the two, Palin had more executive and political experience. Yet, Ferraro did not face the incredulity of the mainstream media in the same way Palin has.
A related criticism is that her emphasis on “real Americans” such as herself and the good folks of Peoria, Scranton, small-town Ohio, and rural Kansas is divisive. It leaves out equally real Americans in the big cities and those with alternate orientations, skin colors, and religions (or lack thereof).
One of Palin’s opponents alluded to the same cultural divide earlier in the 2008 campaign. Speaking at a closed-door fundraiser with wealthy Democrats in San Francisco, Barack Obama was trying to explain why working-class whites were not flocking to his candidacy. After mentioning job loss to globalization, he explained, “So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Similar to Tom Frank’s classic-but-flawed What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Obama’s intepretation sounds sympathetic but reveals an elitist subtext. The problem is not so much with the system, it is with the ignorant victims of the system. If only we can pry them away from their crutches of rifles, national sovereignty, and God, we can have the scientific, globalistic, socially-progressive world that all enlightened persons desire. This is the liberal Democratic view.
People don’t like to be talked down to or have their communities dismissed as fly-over country. There is a reason why we find a sea of red with islands of blue, mostly representing the metropolitan centers, when we look at a map of U.S. counties for recent presidential elections. Maybe talk of “real Americans” is the revenge of the demeaned. When compared to cosmopolitan elites, there is an element of truth to it.
Sarah Palin’s religion is not above scorn. You see, she is a holy roller, or at least she used to be, so she remains tainted by crazy religious fanaticism. As a group, the political pundit class is so irreligious that its members are easily scandalized. Palin says that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead. That’s not unusual. She thinks God created the world. So do 80 percent of Americans (50 percent pure creationists, 30 percent theistic evolutionists). She believes creation and evolution should both be allowed in public school classrooms, as do 65 percent of Americans.
But there is a bigger scandal. Palin grew up in the Assemblies of God and continued to attend the local AG church for two decades as an adult. The AG is pentecostal, which means speaking in tongues, divine healing, and references to the Devil. As for the last point, in his book Mere Christianity, the quite mainstream and somewhat intellectual believer C.S. Lewis refers to an acknowledgement of Satan as one of the basic beliefs of Christianity. Tongues and healing are more debatable within the evangelical family, but the Assemblies of God is not a fringe group of nuts. The national denomination has 3 million members. Internationally, we’re talking about a reported 300,000 congregations and 60 million adherents. So the AG is not really an obscure sect of kooks clinging to their religion.
Sarah Palin is the most popular Assemblies of God alum to arise since Elvis Presley. Sadly, when this fact became a perceived liability for the McCain campaign, shortly after her selection, she distanced herself from the AG. She allowed a spokesman to tell CNN that Palin “doesn’t consider herself Pentecostal” but rather a “nondenominational Christian.” Not exactly a cock crowing, but also not her finest hour. Even so, Palin did not throw her former pastor, or even the visiting demon-battling Kenyan evangelist, under the bus. That’s more than you can say for Barack Obama who is, at the least, an ingrate and opportunist in how he treated Jeremiah Wright. Regardless of what you think of Reverend Wright’s theology, using him as a stepping stone on the way to power and then casting him aside when he became inconvenient shows a lack of character. Score one for Sarah.
Despite her willingness to sanctify materialism and militarism (cultural tendencies shared by most evangelical Protestants and a staple of American civil religion in general), I think Palin is a better Christian than Obama. In his revealing 2004 interview [ http://blog.beliefnet.com/stevenwaldman/2008/11/obamas-interview-with-cathleen.html ] with Chicago Sun-Times religion reporter Cathleen Falsani, Obama reveals that he is a mushy modernist in his theology. He rejects Jesus Christ’s exclusive claims as a savior. Christianity works for him but other religions are fine for other people. He isn’t sure about the existence of heaven. Most tellingly of all, he defines sin as “Being out of alignment with my values.” This self-absorbed definition adds credence to Barack Obama’s reputed messiah complex. She may not always live up to her own standards, or to our standards, but at least Sarah Palin understands that sin is being out of alignment with God’s values.
From the pages of The Wall Street Journal, token populist Tom Frank attacks Palin for being a vindictive whiner who uses her book to settle scores. This is one variant of a strategy to undermine her strongest suit: character. She is mean and self-pitying, is not honest about her accomplishments, and is a quitter to boot. There is no reason to think that Palin, like any of us, is without her share of foibles, weaknesses, and sins. Most of us are guilty on occasion of shading the truth when we put the best spin on things.
Admittedly, resigning the governorship is a strange move when you have 1½ years left in your term—years, not months. Having over one-third of your time left is not lameduckery! At the time, there was speculation that a scandal or indictment would soon follow, but the other shoe has not dropped. Maybe it does have something to do with Palin’s unsophisticated maverickhood. Perhaps she really did want to allow Alaska government to move on without being tangled up in political controversy, simultaneously freeing her to pursue her national ambitions without being tied up back home. The resignation may have been a mistake, and it’s doubtful that she was completely honest about her reasons, but it does reinforce her reputation as an unconventional politician.
All of us have heard about Sarah the moose slayer. Not everyone is charmed by the image. I recently received an email from an impassioned critic: “Sarah Palin is a wolf killer. She is also a bear killer. Sarah Palin is a destroyer and a murderer. Sarah Palin is despicable.” In response, I told the writer that while I, too, support animal rights, the vast majority of Americans do not. They see nothing wrong with shooting a wolf (from an airplane or the ground), or killing a moose, bear, deer, cow, pig, or chicken. There’s no use trying to hold Palin to a higher standard. In my book, the gratuitous killing of a goose by a costumed John Kerry for the sake of a campaign photo op is more disgusting. I’m guessing the two hours he spent in an Ohio cornfield and the bloody goose he hauled out lost him more votes than he gained. At least Sarah Palin hunts without inviting the press. She became a lifetime member of the NRA because she truly believes in hunting and Second Amendment rights.
In her autobiography, Palin writes about hunting and cooking: “If any vegans came over for dinner, I would whip them up a salad, then explain my philosophy on being a carnivore: If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?” (p. 133) Groan. Palin ought to re-read Genesis 1:27-31 and 9:1-3. We know God’s original intention: vegetarianism. A concession was later made because of man’s hardness of heart (cf. Matthew 19:3-8). Palin would benefit from a conversation with Christian animal advocates Andrew Linzey or Matthew Scully. Actually, she has conversed with Scully since he was the speechwriter for her national convention acceptance speech. In addition to ghosting words, Scully is author of Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy and is described in Palin’s book as “a bunny-hugging vegan and gentle, green soul.” Perhaps Palin and Scully need to talk some more.
Some mock Palin’s backround as a beauty queen. She was Miss Wasilla and runner-up at the state pageant. As with meat-eating, beauty contests do not offend average Americans. They are undoubtedly a throwback to a simpler, more sexist time, but few people take much offense. The whole fascination with Palin’s looks is superficial and sexist itself, but it does not stop liberals from equating physical beauty with vapidity and ignorance. People are attracted to Palin not because they like how she looks, but because they like what she says and how she says it, and because she is comfortable with herself. She’s not phony. Her good looks are icing on the cake, a sort of guilty pleasure. The snickering about Palin as sex symbol, which adds for some and detracts for others, is part of a socially-acceptable objectification of women that cuts across every ideological category. You see it occasionally with men, in a more benign manner (e.g., Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama). It says more about our culture than it does about Palin.
Speaking of sexism, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans occasionally unite in contending that Sarah should just stay home and take care of the kids. After she was chosen as McCain’s running mate, CNN anchor John Roberts asked correspondent Dan Bash, “She has a child with Down’s Syndrome, and care for children like that can take a lot of time. Is there any concern about the balance of that?” To his credit, Bash responded, “The McCain camp is probably wondering if she were a man, whether you would be asking the same question.” We saw the same query raised about parenting in regard to all of her children: How could a mother of five have the time and energy to run, let alone serve, as vice president of the United States?
Some liberals openly raised this implicitly patriarchal question, perhaps thinking it was a “Gotcha!” that revealed hypocrisy coming from a woman representing the party of traditional family values. They did not bother to ask the same question of Barack Obama. Of course, it is easy to avoid hypocrisy when you evade morality in the first place. In other words, you cannot be accused of being a moral hypocrite if you proudly reject moral standards in the first place. It’s a high price to pay for avoiding hypocrisy, however. Anyone like Palin, who makes a public stand in favor of right and wrong, is open to charges of inconsistency and failure. Beyond the amorality of modern liberalism lurks the old sexist double-standard.
Traditional, moralistic conservatives, most articulately represented by Chronicles magazine, echoed the criticism of Palin-as-irresponsible mother. When Katie Couric asked Palin in September 2008 if she considered herself a feminist, the candidate replied, “I do. I’m a feminist who believes in equal rights and I believe that women certainly today have every opportunity that a man has to succeed and to try to do it all anyway. And I’m very, very thankful that I’ve been brought up in a family where gender hasn’t been an issue. You know, I’ve been expected to do everything growing up that the boys were doing.” That is like fingernails on a chalkboard for some paleoconservatives.
Not all right-wing moralists agree with the just-stay-at-home-and-do-your-duty-to-your-husband-and-children stance. At the national convention, Phyllis Schlafly praised the Palin selection as the best possible one. She disagreed with the accusation that Palin was hypocritical, noting, “We do stand up for the role of the full-time homemaker. On the other hand, a lot of women work hard.” (Those who stay home also work hard, but we get the point.) Pointing to her own example, Schlafly mentioned that she worked her way through college and had six children when she ran for Congress. Many conservatives believe we would have been worse off if Schlafly had simply stayed home and tended the hearth.
Conservatives have their own complaints about Palin, most of which are unique to the right side of the spectrum. There is the argument that Palin caused McCain’s defeat. This is a stretch. Would Joe Lieberman have helped more or hurt less? The choosing of a liberal, pro-abortion Democrat—even a pro-war Democrat—would not have fired up the base or attracted independents. Lieberman is so dull and deficient in charisma that he was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000 partly because he would not outshine Al Gore. A recycling of Gore’s handpicked choice by McCain would have reinforced doubts about his conservative credentials and led to an upswing in nonvoting or voting for third parties by pro-life, anti-state conservatives. Independents had already turned against the Iraq War, so adding a second war architect to the ticket would not have helped with those voters.
Tim Pawlenty, another passed-over possibility, is a lightweight who was barely reelected to a second term in Minnesota. He’s ambitious but there’s nothing in his personality or record to energize conservatives in the way that Palin has. Most likely, for every vote Sarah Palin cost the ticket, she gained one—usually an enthusiastic one.
The two individuals actually to blame for McCain’s defeat are George W. Bush (unpopular and unconservative) and McCain himself (dismal debate performances). Also, the McCain campaign grossly mishandled the Palin candidacy. Her strengths were downplayed and her weaknesses were put on public display. Instead of emphasizing her personal accomplishments, authentic vision, and Reaganesque charm, they pretended she was a Hillary-like policy expert. This resulted in the disastrous Couric interview with an over-prepped Palin, who was left clutching at straws, repeating canned phrases she had been instructed to memorize. She was not herself, which undercut her original appeal. After that, she was shielded from a mainstream press that smelled blood, thereby compounding the error. McCain operatives arranged for Palin to wear expensive clothes, also diluting her populist appeal, when the news invariably broke.
Many Republicans fear Palin’s presidential candidacy because they are convinced she is unelectable in 2012. They may be right, but electability can be elusive. . . . Would Pat Buchanan really have done worse than Bob Dole in 1996? Even as he lost a handful of bicoastal elitists, he may well have rallied the Republican base and attracted independents with his populist stances and hard-hitting criticisms of Clinton.
Turning from pragmatists to purists, some libertarian and moralistic conservatives argue that Palin thoroughly compromised herself by accepting a spot on the McCain ticket in the first place. What real conservative would run with such a man? If Palin had any anti-social-immorality, anti-big-government, anti-policing-the-world sentiments, she irrevocably set them aside when she made a deal with the devil. The Reagan-Bush ideological mismatch in 1980 signaled a surrender of Reagan populism to Bush elitism but the inverse of this scenario was certainly not the case with McCain-Palin.
If they were more familiar with their own history, conservative populists might remember earlier mismatches: Willkie-McNary in 1940 and Dewey-Bricker in 1944. Other GOP populists were too principled to accept the second spot offered by a plutocratic, imperialistic nominee (Hiram Johnson in 1920 and William Borah in 1924). But if Senator Johnson had accepted Senator Harding’s offer, he would have become president three years later. It may have been a gigantic missed opportunity not only personally but for the Johnson-Borah-La Follette movement that would eventually morph into Robert Taft conservatism. Even if one cannot count on a president dying, the vice presidency could serve as a powerful springboard for a future White House bid. Either way, a spot on a presidential ticket would be very difficult for most of us to resist.
William Kristol, neoconservative publicist, backed McCain for the GOP nomination in 2000 and 2008. Although Lieberman was Kristol’s first choice for vice president, he proposed Governor Palin as a possibility prior to her selection. Once she was on board, he and The Weekly Standard did everything they could to ingratiate themselves with her. Did Kristol take notice of Palin because she was a committed advocate of armed imperialism? No. The more likely explanation is that he viewed her as co-optable. Neocons are unpopular to the core—a small group of east-coast intellectuals with an ideology reeking of elitism. Several of the important founders began as socialists of one sort or another and then moved into the Democratic Party during the 1940s because it was a more promising venue for their views. By the early 1980s, many of them were Republicans, having moved like parasites from one unlucky host to another.
The strategy of elitists using more-popular fronts for their own purposes is nothing new in American politics. Learning from the failure of the openly elitist Federalists, the Whigs nominated war heroes in the 1840s and waged folksy “log cabin and hard cider” campaigns. It’s a small step from there to the country first and hockey mom campaign. In the case of Palin, Bill Kristol wants to be a kingmaker . . . or queenmaker. He is trying to replicate what he did with Dan Quayle, which means using an ambitious and undefined, yet attractive, candidate to climb to power and influence. Put another way, Kristol wants to play Edgar Bergen to a politician having the appeal of Charlie McCarthy but the brain of Mortimer Snerd. Sarah Palin is no dummy yet she allows such hangers-on to remain. Matthew Continetti, associate editor of TWS, is the author of a new book entitled The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star. And so it goes.
In September, Palin signed a flattering neocon-penned public letter to President Obama urging him to further escalate the war in Afghanistan. The leading GOP hawks are as respectful of Obama’s foreign policies as they are hysterical—and two-faced—about his domestic policies. Palin is more one-faced but she joins them in their crusade to export capitalism and “democracy” through the barrel of a gun. Along with a slew of pragmatic and neocon Republicans, Palin praised Obama’s hawkish Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Commentators observed that the Obama Doctrine is basically the same thing Bush had been saying for eight years. Eamon Javers of Politico.com summed it up: “a notion that foreign policy is a struggle of good and evil, that American exceptionalism has blunted the force of tyranny in the world, and that U.S. military can be a force for good and even harnessed to humanitarian ends.” So change has come? Was Bush a liberal Democrat or is Obama a neoconservative Republican? It gets to be like the closing scene of Animal Farm, with the pigs and farmers indistinguishable from one another.
Traditional conservatives would be more willing to forgive Palin’s jingoism if we thought it was a deeply-held philosophical belief. Palin’s strident pro-war comments seem artificial, as though grafted on to someone who would more naturally take a patriotic but libertarian, Jeffersonian stance. Christopher Manion comes from a consistently conservative family. His father was associated with the Taft movement of nationalism and constitutionalism, and he coined the title Conscience of a Conservative for Goldwater’s bestselling book. His brother was appointed by Reagan to be a federal judge. Christopher himself is a former staffer for Jesse Helms. Writing at LewRockwell.com, about “Palin’s Paradox,” he comments, “What an irony that, in her new book, she complains about the McCain staff, but appears to have swallowed everything they spoon-fed her. Schlafly saw the fatal flaw when Palin cancelled her meeting with pro-lifers at the GOP convention and met all day behind locked doors with AIPAC instead. The fix was in.”
She and Todd are rugged outdoorspeople, thus tapping into the Paul Bunyan ethos. (“Drill Baby Drill” instead of “Chop Babe Chop”?). Todd is part Yup’ik, thereby contributing some multicultural Native / Eskimo flavor to the Palins. Sarah’s “You betcha” colloquialisms and Fargo accent provide a touch of the exotic yet are also rooted in the American tradition. By the way, the best explanation as to why the Idaho-born, Alaska-raised Palin speaks with a Minnesota-North Dakota accent is that the portion of Alaska to which her parents moved when she was an infant had been settled by Minnesotans who emigrated to work on the railroad. They brought their Norwegian-American accent with them and young Sarah picked it up.
Palin’s biggest political asset is her populism. Elections are about getting as many votes as possible. People vote. Populism is popular. In 2008, all of the Republican candidates for president posed as populists. There was McCain the Maverick, Huckabee the Southern Baptist, Thompson the New Reagan, Giuliani as America’s Mayor, and Romney as the Social Conservative. But McCain was awash in corporate cash, Huckabee an ex-preacher who reminded people of Clinton, Thompson a protégé of Howard Baker not Ronald Reagan, Giuliani a Rockefeller Republican who enriched himself by exploiting 9/11, and Romney a Rockefeller Republican who famously flip-flopped. Of the leading candidates, only Ron Paul was a genuine populist but he could not win the nomination.
When selected for the vice presidential nomination, Governor Palin had claims of genuine populism as well. It’s why the choice initially buoyed Paul-style Republicans. She was a reputed Pat Buchanan supporter in the 1990s. Pat himself went on television and claimed Sarah as one of his own, a veteran of the Buchanan Brigade of 1996, calling her “a rebel reformer.” The McCain camp immediately threw cold water on that notion. Oh no, Palin was never a Buchanan radical! She may have been photographed in July 1999 wearing a Buchanan button when Pat was in Wasilla, but that was only as a courtesy to welcome a visiting candidate. She ended up supporting Steve Forbes for the 2000 nomination, but by the time she endorsed him, Buchanan was on the verge of leaving the GOP for the Reform Party. At the very least, we can say that Palin was not hostile to Buchanan if she was willing to appear in public sporting his button.
The frontier character of Alaska has given Palin political opportunities that would not have been possible in more stratified and established states, such as Connecticut, Illinois, or Alabama. Not only is it less settled and more independent than most states, but it is friendly territory for Christian populists. The Alaska presidential caucuses were won by Pat Robertson in 1988 and Pat Buchanan in 1996. In some ways, Governor Palin has followed in their footsteps. Leading Republicans and Democrats in the state had been in the pocket of Big Oil for years. Palin upset the apple cart. As governor, she took on ExxonMobil and the other two giant oil companies. With the help of reform Democrats, Palin was successful in enacting legislation that curbed the power and exploitative position of crony capitalism. Ethics reform was another Palin accomplishment. Combined with her personal charisma, her efforts on behalf of the common good led to her being one of the most popular governors in the nation when McCain chose her in the autumn of 2008.
It is easy for populists to romanticize the common people. Most average Americans have populist instincts and would do a better job of ruling than the class that largely occupies the seats of power. Unfortunately, the average American also has a short attention span, an aversion to facing unpleasant realities, and a tendency to be distracted by bread and circuses. He or she knows little about the political process and pays undue deference to authority figures. Elitists and misanthropes such as H.L. Mencken could not reconcile popular sovereignty with popular stupidity. This frustration is understandable, but minority rule—the alternative to majority rule—is even worse. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” Madison wrote, in recommending a strong central government. Ah, yes, Jefferson responded, but the rulers are not angels either so it is safest to disperse power as widely as possible.
Part of the problem with shallow populism is a movement issue, rather than a personal issue. The Religious Right has a certain naivete when it comes to politics. The older, predominately Catholic portion of the GOP moralistic wing is rooted in Augustine and Aquinas, Burke and Kirk. By those standards, evangelicals are johnnies-come-lately. Their switch from being Democratic to Republican was based on a narrow range of issues rather than on deeper ideological grounds. When Pat Robertson and millions of other pentecostals, fundamentalists, and neoevangelicals moved from Carter in 1976 to Reagan in 1980, they mainly did so because they opposed abortion, illegal drugs, homosexuality, secularism in public life, and appeasement of communist regimes. It was not because they opposed big government or liberal globaloney, or because they had an understanding of the conservative movement since the 1930s.
A century ago, William Jennings Bryan was also a populist whose literal Christianity and appeal to the hinterland was scorned by urban elites. But if you read Bryan’s writings and speeches, the first thing that strikes you is that he was not the ignorant buffoon portrayed in Inherit the Wind. He was certainly provincial in some ways, but he was obviously intelligent and well-informed. He was enough of a thinker to recognize the genius of Leo Tolstoy, not just as a novelist but as a social philosopher, and to converse with him for twelve straight hours during his visit to Russia. Bryan was a great orator, who could evoke emotion as he spoke, but his speeches were full of reason. He named names and set forth logical arguments. The decline is precipitous from Bryan’s editorials in The Commoner to Palin’s musings on Facebook.
Libertarianism is another virtue some have found in Palin, although its depth and purity are questionable. She took on Senator Ted Stevens in opposing the Bridge to Nowhere. Or did she? She initially favored it. Last spring, Palin turned down 30 percent of the economic stimulus money that the federal government offered Alaska. Her husband Todd was registered with the Alaskan Independence Party from 1995 to 2002. Yet again trying to extinguish the tiniest hope that Palin was something other than a typical Republican hack, the McCain campaign squelched rumors that Sarah herself had ever been a member of AIP. She did record a welcome message for the party’s convention at least once. Although the Independence Party is affiliated nationally with the paleoconservative Constitution Party, its emphasis on secession, states’ rights, and minimal government also place it near the Libertarian Party.
In February 2008, Governor Palin was interviewed by MTV News about Super Tuesday. When asked about libertarian GOP candidate Ron Paul, she praised him: “He’s cool. He’s a good guy. He’s so independent. He’s independent of the party machine. I’m like, ‘Right on, so am I.’” More recently, when giving her economics speech in Hong Kong, the news media reported that she sounded like Paul in her criticism of the Federal Reserve: “How can we discuss reform without addressing the government policies at the root of the problems? The root of the collapse? And how can we think that setting up the Fed as the monitor of systemic risk in the financial sector will result in meaningful reform? The words ‘fox’ and ‘henhouse’ come to mind. The Fed’s decisions helped create the bubble.” Probably not her own words, but hopefully her own thoughts.
With typical lack of nuance, Sarah caused a stir when she accused Obama health care reform as paving the way for “death panels” which might pass judgment on imperfect babies and ill grandparents. Libertarians welcome opposition to big government power over the individual patient, but populists wonder why the lack of outrage at the existing power of big business over the individual consumer? Even Ron Paul, M.D., recognizes the sorry state of managed care foisted upon us by HMOs and insurance companies, with government facilitating the deal.
Although most liberals see Sarah Palin’s opposition to abortion as a vice, most conservatives understand it to be one of her biggest virtues. It is consistent and thoroughgoing. It is logical: no to destruction of the unborn baby even in cases of rape and incest. It is personal: she did not abort her own baby after learning that she was a pregnant governor at 44, or, later, when she learned that he had Down syndrome. When she spoke at a right-to-life banquet in Indiana, in April 2009, Palin’s talk was “surprisingly confessional,” according to the wire story. She twice faced the temptation to “make the ‘problem’ go away” before anyone knew about it and this has allowed her to understand how other women and girls can make that choice under similar circumstances of fear, embarrassment, and desperation. It did not change her belief that abortion should be illegal, but it did allow her to see the other of the story, as did the pregnancy of her unmarried, teenage daughter.
Palin has apparently never been motivated by religious dogma or self-righteousness on the abortion issue. She is a member of Feminists for Life of America, which moves beyond condemnation to providing alternatives to abortion and alleviating social pressures which encourage abortion. Her book is especially poignant when speaking about her son Trig and her two earlier miscarriages. Anyone who has gone through similar experiences will understand and be moved by her words. Crunchy cons like the fact that Palin breastfeeds her babies instead of using formula.
Does the laundry list of criticisms, mostly from the Left but a bit from the Right, account for the bitter hostility toward Palin? What is the motivation for so much hatred? Some of it might be generation envy—being irritated that someone younger or the same age as themselves has become an overnight political powerhouse without commensurate abilities or experience. You see some of that with Obama also. That produces annoyance, but hate? Lew Rockwell chalks it up to Democrats who “hate her looks and her refusal to have an abortion, not to speak of her decision to have five children or to shoot moose.” He also suspects they fear she is “the one Republican who could beat Obama in 2012.”
Another possibility is related to gender and sexuality in a different way. Sarah is a strong woman and Todd helps with the children yet there is nothing androgynous about them. The Palins are inconveniently attractive symbols of heterosexual normality. They have a large family, which goes against the grain in our day of individualism and materialism. They are Christians yet are good looking and exude sexual energy in a healthy way. These things may disturb a lot of folks on an unconscious level.
Ron Paul may run for president in 2012, as may Jesse Ventura or Lou Dobbs, but none have the personal magnetism or national spotlight of Palin. There is so much potential but she would have to be willing to go even more rogue, to leave behind the national Republican establishment as she did at the state level on her way to power in Alaska. The GOP establishment is not just elected leaders and RNC officials. It is also the media personalities and policy advisors who play such a prominent role in today’s wide-but-shallow conservative movement.
The saying is sure: Bad company corrupts good morals. Instead of listening to people like Bill Kristol, Randy Scheunemann, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh, Governor Palin would be better off listening to Bill Kauffman, Laurence Vance, Andrew Bacevich, and Barry Goldwater Jr. It’s the difference between synthetic opportunism and authentic conservatism.