It’s been quite a ride. But what has she learned? From our April issue.
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This illustrates a lack of self-awareness, or at least a lack of introspection. Indeed, this deficiency might be the most troubling part of Palin’s persona. She gives not even a shred of evidence, for instance, that she even wondered, when McCain chose her, if she were ready yet to be a heartbeat from the presidency. There is of course something winsome and also admirable about what the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder describes as Palin’s “aspirational” conservatism. Again and again in Going Rogue, she writes of her convictions about “Alaska’s potential to contribute to America’s future.” And she clearly revels in the quintessential belief of the American striver that one can accomplish just about anything one sets one’s mind to do, and that no horizon is beyond the reach of talent married to determination.
Which is all well and good, but did it never occur to her that less than two years as a big-spending governor of an unpopulous but wealthy state might not be adequate training for dealing with al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Red China? Plenty of smart people did indeed conclude that she was up to the task, but even the most avid fan would be dishonest if he denied it was at best a close call. Palin, though, merely described the idea as “comfortable…like a natural progression.”
Natural? Heavens, no. Her ascension was no more “natural” than it would be for an amateur city tennis champion to think she could immediately conquer Wimbledon. This is the attitude of innocence undimmed by adequate perspective. Perhaps, just perhaps, Sarah Palin might be that rare bird who can handle any new and higher league without missing a beat. Even if she were, she should still understand just how unusual — how much of an unnatural progression — it really would be.
(Requests to interview Palin for this article, specifically about her experiences in the 2008 campaign, were turned down. Her former communications aide Meghan Stapleton explained that “with her Fox exclusivity, we are denying requests for articles and stories right now.”)
As it was, her move to the big leagues was anything but smooth. And some of her mistakes were rookie mistakes — the sort that makes one think that if she couldn’t handle big-league campaigning, there is good reason to doubt she is ready for governing under a national microscope.
Take the infamous interview with Katie Couric. “I couldn’t have known it then,” she wrote, “but what transpired during the series of interviews and what CBS actually aired were two different breeds of cat….Editing footage is nothing new, of course…[b]ut responsible editing means you keep substance and context, and trim out fat.” CBS, she complained, “had sought out the bad moments, and systematically sliced out material that would convey my message.”
To be surprised by those practices of CBS, though, is to be naïve beyond belief. Any Capitol Hill press secretary — not to mention any congressman with half a brain-learns after no more than a year that what the major networks videotape and what they finally air is likely to be not just two breeds of cat, but two entire genuses of animal, like a wombat and a gorilla. Again, at issue is the importance of experience: if experience didn’t prepare Palin for Katie Couric, how could she be prepared for the next Comrade Castro?
ALL OF WHICH IS NOT TO SAY that Sarah Palin lacks the right stuff — the right values, the right determination, the right gumption, the right toughness — to serve our nation in high office. She certainly has abundant and admirable amounts and quality of all those virtues, no matter how viciously the left tries to smear her.
Another political advantage is Palin’s preternatural ability to turn a pithy phrase to convey powerful messages. Perhaps this is partly a function of her training as a TV journalist — and a sports reporter at that. Far more than print journalists, TV scribes learn and learn and work and work to hone their reports to short, well-turned phrases. Sports especially, as an entertainment medium, provides a milieu for memorable verbiage.
Hence Palin’s brilliant ad-lib (she truthfully says it was not part of the written text) in her national convention speech about a hockey mom being a pit bull with lipstick. Hence her incredibly potent warning against “death panels” — a warning based just enough on the substance of health care rationing, as detailed by the Washington Times, that it stopped just short of demagoguery. (Again, though, this skill only serves to further highlight the difference that relevant experience can make for the better — or, by logical extension, that a lack of experience can make for the worse. Discimus agere agendo, indeed.)
Similarly, while it’s hard to know how much credit to give Palin versus how much to give ghost-writer Lynn Vincent, the forward-looking Chapter Six of Going Rogue is full of decent (if less pithy) turns of phrase that also carry truths conservatives hold dear. “The role of government is not to perfect us but to protect us — to protect our inalienable rights,” she writes. And: “Government cannot force financial institutions to give loans to people who can’t afford to pay them back and then expect that somehow things will all magically work out. Sooner or later, reality catches up with us.” And, straightforwardly: “The new debt, which will burden future generations, is immoral.”
The undeniable fact for conservatives is that when it comes to broad principles, Sarah Palin “gets it.” And when it comes to pluck, she’s overflowing. But with, at this writing, 71 percent of the country thinking she is unqualified for the presidency, she arguably should be working on her deficiencies of policy and political experience. Instead, she’s further burnishing her “media personality” proclivities, staying within her comfort zone rather than expanding it, playing for headlines rather than improving her expertise.
By historical standards, Sarah Palin is extremely young to be considered for president. In 2024, a full 14 years from now, she will be still be four years younger than the elder George Bush was when he became president in 1988.
The problem with Palin is that she’s not ready for the presidency. The promise of Palin is that she has plenty of time to prepare — if, that is, she and her fans will both accept the prudential virtue of patience. Sometimes progress requires a pause. And the perspicacity to use it productively.
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It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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