I used to be a fan of Sarah Palin, but even I can see that the best thing for her to do now is to step aside.
When Sarah Palin first exploded on the scene at the 2008 Republican convention as John McCain’s running-mate, I was enthralled. Yes, I admit, I thought she was terrific. Here was this attractive, confident governor from a state as far away from the Washington D.C. beltway as one could hope for.
She came to breathe new life into what was already a tired campaign. Finally, we had a vibrant GOP candidate who was not of the older white male variety to balance the ticket with the older white male. Her convention speech was rousing, feisty, roll-up-your sleeve populism come to prime time. And here was a woman who practiced what she preached on the social side of the ledger — which really got under the established feminists’ skin. She presented herself as a happily married woman who had welcomed into her world with open arms a Downs Syndrome baby while her son was being shipped off to war to serve his country.
What a story!
But that was then. They say familiarity breeds contempt, and for me it has been a long and reluctant decline from genuine enthusiasm for this (if I may) ‘rogue’ breed of Republican to dismay, and then irritation. I am not sure when exactly Sarah Palin lost me as a serious White House contender. It was not the Katie Couric hatchet job, or Charlie Gibson’s condescending Q&A. Having been in front of the camera myself under much less pressure than she, I understand that gaffes happen. Plus, their desire to discredit the candidate with ‘gotchas’ at the outset was pretty transparent. It wasn’t the satirizing by Tina Fey on SNL either. Although I got a chuckle, I felt it somewhat unfair that many Americans came to view Fey’s caricature and the real Sarah Palin as one in the same, interchangeable as Lego pieces. (The real Sarah never said “I can see Russia from my house” for example.) If anything, her being targeted so hard by the far left, their faux feminism aside, made her a-okay in my book.
So what was it then? For me, there was no cathartic moment. Rather, it was more gradual. I pay attention to how people answer questions without the benefit of warning. I think it says much about one’s command of the issues. And I have found her wanting in this respect. I noticed that she often answered serious questions by reciting what sounded like hollow and rehearsed platitudes. It seemed that when she was asked what she would do as president, instead of substantive responses replete with policy initiatives, or even just a general underscoring of her overall economic and foreign policy philosophies, we got what amounted to a Chatty Cathy doll emitting the same rehearsed tag-lines, about which I have been so critical of the teleprompter-addicted Barack Obama: “Well ya know, we need to go down there to Washington and quit kowtowing to the fat cats and special interests and, gosh darn it, roll up our sleeves and get big government out of our lives to help, ya know, the job creators.”
Okay, maybe I just pulled a Tina Fey here as she’s never said that exactly, but she has sounded like this in one form or another enough for me to finally, reluctantly, come to the conclusion that there was nothing there. Just last week, when asked by Jake Tapper what she would do as president right now to stimulate the economy, this is what she had to say:
“I’d eliminate the uncertainty in the economy and let our job creators know that number one we’ll cut taxes, we’ll cut corporate taxes, every tax that congress would allow…”
These sound-bite answers to substantive questions have been her forte since 2008. I was patient at first since, in all fairness, she was a relatively unknown governor from the hinterland suddenly thrust front and center into the bewildering arena of a national election and thus she had to get her political sea legs. But she’s been in said arena for over three years now. This is ample time for her to demonstrate that she can put forth coherent arguments that do not sound like they’re ripped from a handbook of pithy Tea Party slogans. After so much time, my patience with fluff answers from someone demanding to be taken seriously as a potential occupant of the highest office in the land has run out.
So I must conclude that Sarah Palin has become a side-show who still clings to center stage. While rolling around in her tour bus crashing GOP events (while not a declared candidate for dog-catcher) she seems to be craving relevance that her fans in the media on both sides (the right loves her and the left loves to hate her) are more than happy to provide. Sarah sells. That cannot be denied.
Her entertainment value aside, I cannot help but wonder if she is starting to do some damage to the GOP brand now that the hats are flying through the ring. Why was she in Iowa, for example, other than to steal the legitimate candidates’ thunder and continue to alienate the 58 percent of Americans who, according to Quinnipiac, would never vote for her under any circumstances — and thus reject the Republican ticket were she the nominee? Her Ames party crash has been labeled by some in the media as a “surprise trip to the Iowa state fair” (According to the Christian Science Monitor). A surprise to who exactly? The big unexpected would be if she turned down this chance to scoop up yet more of the limelight.
If Mrs. Palin is not running for president (and as she’s smart enough to know she would lose a general election) then I think, if it hasn’t happened already, someone in the GOP needs to sit down with her and say most earnestly and respectfully: “Look, we know you’re selling a book and even more than that, a brand—yourself—and making gazillions, and that’s fine. It’s a free country. And we’re grateful for all you’ve done in galvanizing a segment of this party that was disenchanted before your arrival. But you’re now becoming Barack Obama’s best friend by marginalizing our stable of candidates in your tireless drive to be noticed.”
Sarah Palin has done admirable things and in many ways I believe (though not in enough ways for me) she was more qualified than candidate Obama, with his postage stamp-sized resume and zero executive experience, to be president. But her shot at grabbing a set of White House keys, even through the back door of VP, has come and gone. She remains relevant because the press corps makes her so and the 15 percent hardcore Sarahnauts will continue to support her and dutifully run interference in the hopes of seeing her attain something that can never be … her election as president.
I am a concerned conservative who believes the White House and Senate are in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats who maintain a fundamentally different vision as to what kind of nation we were meant to be and ought to be. The crucial election is fifteen months away and as such it is time for the GOP to get serious. There are important issues facing this nation and Sarah Palin — popular, telegenic, representing some values to which I hold true while exposing the lie that feminism is the exclusive property of the left — can still do her part. She can surrender the stage so that proper focus can be placed on those within the Republican Party who can win the general election and not just galvanize a spirited minority within the conservative movement. Right now she is doing one of the political parties a huge favor by staying in the limelight but, unfortunately, that party isn’t the GOP.