The Palin Fantasy

November 7th, 2009 at 10:21 pm David Frum | 60 Comments |

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Matthew Continetti has a piece in this weekend’s Weekly Standard hailing Sarah Palin as the ideal leader of a new populist uprising. One obvious objection to his thesis: The populist Sarah is in fact one of the most unpopular figures in American life.

According to Gallup, 63% of Americans say they would never consider voting for her. By a margin of 62%-31% Americans rate Palin “unqualified” to serve as president – by far the worst score for any leading Republican.

In comparison, only 51% of Americans say they would never consider voting for Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee – and a plurality of Americans rate the two as “qualified”: 50-36 say Huckabee is qualified, 49-39 say Romney is qualified.

Palin supporters have constructed an alternative reality in which their heroine is wildly cheered by the American yeomanry, and despised only by a small coterie of sherry-drinking snobs. No contrary evidence, no matter how overwhelming and uncontradicted, can alter this view: not the collapse in Palin’s support in just 5 weeks in 2008, not the statistical studies that show her as the only vice presidential nominee in history to have hurt her ticket, not her rampant unpopularity with American women, not her own flinching from a second encounter with the Alaskan electorate.

In this regard, Continentti’s comparison of Palin to William Jennings Bryan begins to look not only apt, but ominous.

Like Palin, Bryan had some good ideas. He was right about free trade, and he was right too about the gold standard. (Even if his alternative would have been unworkable in its own way.) But he made himself so culturally obnoxious to the American majority that he dragged even his good ideas down to defeat with him. Everybody knows Bryan’s famous line about the “cross of gold.” Not so well remembered are the lines that killed his candidacy in 1896:

Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.

This was not the way to talk to a rapidly urbanizing nation.

Bryan ran for president three times. He lost every time, and by dwindling margins: 46.7% of the vote in 1896, 45.5% in 1900, and 43% in 1908. Yet not all was lost for him. After four consecutive defeats, the country finally did turn to the Democrats in 1912. Many of the important reforms Bryan had urged over his unsuccessful career were enacted into law. Of course in the interval, Bryan’s party had turned to a new leader: a former president of Princeton University and author of an outstanding work of political science.

The professor won what had eluded the preacher, in part because unlike the preacher, he did not look obviously unequal to the job.

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60 Comments so far ↓

  • gojirademonstah

    I call it ” Addie’s Rule”: the intelligence of a post is inversely proportionate to the number of exclamation points it contains.

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  • jakester

    Palin is the creation of the dumbed down and crude talk radio universe, which by default speaks for all conservatives as well as for the GOP, given the stooge who supposedly heads the GOP now. Any sensitive intelligent person, not the total crackpots or brainwashed fundamentalists who dominate that medium, is appalled at her crude, stupid crass populism. Blaming the media, MSM, for her reputation is the crassest and most contemptible excuse for her lack of insight and intelligence that I’ve heard in decades. But she is merely the tail end of a trend when you let the least qualified and least trustworthy members of a movement decide on a general course. After all, Rush Limbaugh himself declared that Palin’s critics are God’ enemies. If that is the way the GOP wants to play ball they will lose, since thanks to the crass enrollment of God and Religion into personal and political aggrandizement of the last 20 years, people are now becoming less faithful and less concerned what the Elmer Gantrys have to say.
    Palin is an idiot, and her fellow idiotarians seem to believe that the negative reaction she elicits from all but the deluded is proof of her validity because annoying “liberals” is the ultimate validation of their nonsensical nonthinking in their little world.

  • jakester

    you act as if lies about death panels is something positive. But I guess integrity and wisdom aren’t prized virtues in your little town. Maybe if people opposed to this monster bill had kept the debate centered in reality, they might have gone further than whipping up a bunch of yobs to march and sob with “Obama = Hitler” signs.

  • jakester

    Palin Doctrine
    you need to get out more and talk to other people so you can get some feedback that is based in reality, not your wishful thinking and childish “hero” worship,

  • CarbonDate

    PalinDoctrine said: “Obama says we’re not a Christian nation, despite 85% of the country that would call themselves at least marginally Christian.”

    It’s actually 76%. It was 86% in 1990. Obama is acknowledging a demographic reality: we are becoming an increasingly diverse nation. It would behoove the Republican party to acknowledge that as well, or they risk becoming increasingly marginalized in each subsequent election. They can’t win being the party for white Christians, anymore.

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