Thursday, September 4, 2008


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.


davenoon said...

Hey, thanks for the EotAW props (this is davenoon here). Coming from Alaska, I would have found it hard to see Palin as Reaganesque until this week, but I think you've identified precisely what makes her so dangerous. And Palin -- like Reagan -- is genuinely uninterested in policy details, choosing instead to farm out most of those executive responsibilities to staffers and commission heads.

But unlike Reagan, she's also a petty and vicious character who takes offense when her views are challenged and -- as we see in the Monagan case as well as her mayoral experience in Wasilla -- is willing to use public office to settle personal scores.

I only hope we can wrap up the investigation before the election, and I hope the results are as damaging (and conclusive) as I suspect they should be...

MSS said...

I thought the emerging consensus was that she was Nixon.

But if she is both Nixon and Reagan, then it is only more accurate to say she has a future in the Republican Party. And to be scared.

Tom S said...

Great comments both. In her speech, Palin sang the praises of small-town politics, but in my historical research and in my on the ground experience, local politics are often petty and vindictive (and the stories of Palin's days in Wasilla certainly suggest that pettiness and vindictiveness are a crucial part of her political biography). She has a future and I can just hope that it's not a national one.

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