In my column for The Week I discuss the lessons that Republicans must learn for 2012 and beyond, so they don’t repeat the same mistakes they made with Sarah Palin:
The people who promoted and celebrated the Palin pick have disavowed — or at least abandoned — their former enthusiasm. They no longer accuse those who objected to the pick of “elitism” or “snobbishness” or “misogyny.” It’s now considered very bad form among Republicans even to remember what the people said and wrote about Palin three years ago.
But before the episode is consigned to forgetfulness, there are some lessons to be learned of urgent value for 2012 and beyond.
More respect for brains as a qualification for the presidency.
Within days of the announcement of Palin as GOP running mate, it became obvious to everybody that she could not pronounce two coherent consecutive sentences on any aspect of national policy, foreign or domestic. A lot of effort went into arguing that this ignorance did not matter, or even that it represented a weird kind of plus factor.
Three years later, we no longer hear such excuses for Palin. But it remains true even now that Republicans do not take intelligence or expertise very seriously as qualifications for the presidency. Mitt Romney’s smarts do him surprisingly little good; Rick Perry’s non-smarts do him disturbingly little harm; and Michele Bachmann’s out-beyond-the-Orion-belt substitutions for familiarity with life here on Earth only intensify the admiration of her fan base.
Quit treating consumption patterns as substitutes for character.
It’s very important that politicians understand the everyday lives of Americans. It’s important that politicians champion the ordinary person and not pay undue heed to the wishes of the rich and powerful. It’s important that politicians be people of integrity, not hirelings of industry lobbies. These are issues of character, and character counts.
But the choice of cowboy boots over loafers — enjoyment of hunting rather than bicycling — a preference for ketchup over mustard — these tell us precisely nothing about a candidate’s character.