I have to admit that Sarah Palin gave an impressive performance last night when accepting the Republican nomination for the vice presidency. And that's not because I had low expectations (although after Rudy Giuliani's abysmally bad, ill-delivered, smirky talk, anything would have looked good). Rather it's because more so than any figure in the GOP, she seems to have captured the essence of Ronald Reagan.
In her speech, Palin compared herself to Harry S Truman. Bad comparison. And a bit creepy, considering how Truman ascended to the Oval Office. Others, including my fellow Rustbelt Intellectual Steve Conn, have compared her to Dan Quayle. But she was no deer in the headlights last night.
Palin can best be described as Reaganesque. She projected a sunny optimism, romantically evoked the "values" of small-town America, conveyed some of that aw shucks faux humility that made Reagan so charming, and positioned herself as a true, authentic Washington outsider.
But like Reagan, Palin put a cheerful face on a harsh right-wing agenda. Her mix of Christian conservatism, meddling family values politics (which ought to be softened by her own experience), anti-environmentalism, jingoism, and corporate coddling is a toxic brew which has brought us the mess that we're in. But like Reagan, she wraps them in the mantle of reform and common sense. In our system of personality-driven politics, this is no mean feat.
The Republican Party is devoid of new ideas. Palin offered nothing other than nostrums about change: the substance of her policy proposals (what few there were) sound like a reprise of the last eight years. Her criticism of Barack Obama was also devoid of detail. But if she can survive the rigors of the election, whether she is elected or not, she has a future in the Republican Party. And it scares me.
PS: My colleagues at the Edge of the American West have run a series of excellent posts on Palin and Alaska. And they are in a position to know.