Monday, February 15, 2010

Sarah Palin as Warrior Messiah

I watched Ronald Reagan’s progress back in the seventies and eighties and remember full well how the press labeled him as a lightweight and a has-been actor throughout.  They tried in every way to diminish him.

Sarah Palin can do one thing that we all know for sure.  She can give an inspiring speech even if you do not agree with the content.  That is a powerful talent.  My next question is who is writing her stuff?  I did not begin to understand Ronald Reagan until I read his own notes and commentaries in his papers.  It then became clear that his speeches were always adapted to his own voice.  Does Sarah Palin do the same?

I am not convinced that Obama actually writes his own material too often, or I am at least suspicious, partly because it has been questioned.  We will simply not know for the present.  The type of copy Sarah uses is tailored to a specific audience that will certainly love her evangelical allusions.  She could well be as untouched by these particular teachings as most in that same audience.  They are simply nice stories after all.

This speaker could crack open the telephone book and get a standing ovation.

Her real challenge will be to temper the ambitions of her most ardent supporters.  Obama has the same problems with his true believers from the far left who also rightly believe they put him there.  Obama got elected with a fine delivery and a rather clean slate in terms of policies and ideas.  My fear at the time was that the slate was in fact empty.  It takes years of thought and hands on experience to formalize you own agenda.

Sarah’s slate is almost as clean, except that she has acted as governor and certainly appeared effective and achieved rising popularity as her term progressed which is no mean feat.  Stepping down mid term was purely an effect of her abrupt entry into national politics which made her governorship untenable.  Unless you think it is possible to govern a small state in a spotlight and a basket full of harassing lawsuits brought on by political enemies. 

Remember that the Democrats have no illusions regarding which inspiring candidate they will be facing over the next two decades.  They are sparing no expense right now to end that threat.

Also understand that she has kept the brand alive over the past twelve months.  She has not exited the stage.

Should she go on a campaign to educate the American people on what can be done to repair the US mortgage system and do that with a sensible program that folks can see through to restoring the financial health of the middle class, she would become an effective political force with a widening based.

The economy is the one issue that Obama is vulnerable on, mostly because he is at best economically incompetent and likely ill advised.  Unfortunately, so is she.  However, Ronald Reagan found his Laffer and completely reversed a decade of economic decline and produced four decades of growth.  Sarah needs her economic muse.  Everything else is applied common sense and needs simply competent advisors.

Fear Palin, a warrior messiah on a mission

Sarah Palin’s speech last weekend revealed a woman driven by a sense of divine destiny

Andrew Sullivan

So does tomorrow truly belong to her? I refer, of course, to the former governor of Alaska, who quit when she was barely past the middle of her first term because, as she explained, she was not a quitter. I refer to the first vice-presidential nominee in modern times to run for office without holding a single press conference.

I refer to a person who had no idea why there was a South Korea and a North Korea; who had trouble understanding that Africa is a continent, not a country; who believes that the first amendment guarantees the right of politicians not to be criticised too harshly; who thinks climate change is “snake-oil science”; who thinks gays can — and should be — cured; and who last weekend electrified a small gathering of Tea party supporters in Nashville, Tennessee, with a speech deemed so important that it was broadcast live on a Saturday night on every cable news station.

The answer, I am sorry to report, is: possibly. I watched Sarah Palin’s speech live and, if you leave any consideration of substance out of it, it was the most talented and effective performance of any Republican politician since Ronald Reagan. She has astonishing levels of charisma and a profound connection to her constituency: white, rural, evangelical, fundamentalist voters now roiled into ever greater levels of populist ire, with a president called Barack Hussein Obama who does nuance pretty well. She is also prepared to go where other, more — shall we say — responsible conservatives usually don’t.

Two lines stood out for me. The first was a sign that she believes and her followers believe that she has some kind of divine destiny. She has repeatedly written and said that everything is in God’s hands and that her future is simply to obey his will. In her question-and-answer session she explicitly called for “divine intervention” to save America from its current president, while openly declaring that she could well run for president in 2012.

Last week she cast herself in the mould of the biblical figure of Queen Esther, a story deeply embraced by the religious right. There was also her Eva Peron moment on Saturday in Nashville: “I will live, I will die for the people of America.”
This is not the rhetoric of a politician. You cannot imagine even a late-stage Margaret Thatcher saying such a thing without being laughed off the stage. It has the apocalyptic tones of the leader of a movement.

The second line was more ominous, and about the sitting president of the United States, leading forces in combat across the globe: “We need a commander-in-chief, not a professor of law.”

At every event she attends she begins by asking every service member to raise their hands for praise. She constantly invokes her son Track, who is serving in the military. And she constantly insinuates that Obama is not supporting the troops, is befriending the enemies of the United States and alienating allies. She is particularly irked that Obama treated Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, by arresting him in the civilian justice system, as George W Bush did with Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber”, and as hundreds of terror suspects have been under Bush, Dick Cheney and Obama and every president before.

It was striking that the first third of her speech was about national security, impugning Obama for being too weak. She defined her strategy for defusing Islamism, tackling Al-Qaeda, withdrawing from Iraq, fighting Afghanistan and Pakistan as: “We win. They lose.” She also said that one way that Obama could regain the requisite image of “toughness” was by launching a pre-emptive war against Iran.

These two potent messages — delegitimising Obama as “the other” and as a weak-kneed near traitor to the troops and casting herself as the avatar of the real America, ready to die for its survival — are political gold for the core of the Republican base. But she adds something else to this equation.

She was widely mocked for scribbling some notes on her hand to guide her through the Q&A. But this endears her to those who form her strongest supporters — whites without college education who feel condescended to by liberal elites. She has found an almost perfect cycle: the more she is attacked and criticised, the deeper her base identifies with her, the more convinced they are that she is being persecuted the way that Christians, in their view, are constantly persecuted.

As her church demonstrates, she is a believer in the end-times. In the old days, rural, white America was anti-Semitic, isolationist. Under the influence of the new evangelicalism, which treats the Book of Revelation very seriously, there is a wide belief that the state of Israel represents the in-gathering of Jews necessary for the end of the world. Hence her recent statement: “I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don’t think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand.”

This has serious foreign policy consequences and goes further than even those who sympathise with Binyamin Netanyahu’s government’s difficulties in reining in the settlements. What it reveals is her enormous sub-rational appeal as a female war leader for those bewildered by the events of the past decade. It would be foolish to underestimate the appeal of a beautiful, divinely chosen warrior-mother as a military leader in a global religious war. She is more radical than Cheney and a good deal more charismatic.

Could any of this happen? Could this person become president? The odds remain against it. A poll last week revealed that Palin’s favourability ratings have dropped to a new low of 37%; 70% of Americans believe she is unqualified to be president, up from 60% last November. Even among conservative Republicans her ratings have slid: 45% now view her as qualified for the presidency — 66% said so last autumn.

That poll was Valium to the soul. She has had a massive PR blitz wth her book and has a platform on Fox News to broadcast her views directly to her base. Her speech was a tour de force, yet fewer and fewer take her seriously while her supporters love her more and more. Even Michael Savage, the far-right radio host banned from Britain because of his hate speech, said last week: “If you want Obama for a second term, just make sure Sarah Palin is the Republican nominee ... She is not electable as president.”

There are two unknowns, it seems to me. The first is: who else have the Republicans got? No one out there equals her grip on the base or her charisma. In the primaries she has a solid phalanx of devoted supporters who are exactly the kind of voters who show up come rain or shine. If the Republican establishment tries to counter her with a blander candidate, she could easily run as a Tea party candidate — a George Wallace-style option and one that might well guarantee Obama a landslide.

The second unknown is the economy and the war. Both could get worse. A slide back into recession or a terror attack could give the sub-rational forces that Palin channels so well a real chance to break through. This is a country of deep and dark populist moments and she is seeking hers.

I have to say I fear her. Or, rather, I fear a country that has allowed such a person to come so close to power and to dominate its discourse quite so powerfully. It is a sign that all is not well. And the world needs an America which is more stable and more calm than the one Palin represents.


Ed-M said...

If she wins in 2012, that's it. I'm outta here. Why should I stay in a country whose Pretzeldunce thinks I should be "cured" and would try to force said "cure" down my throat with the fist of the central government?

arclein said...

I find it hard to believe she will win anything any time soon, yet she has exposed herself pretty fully and has all the time needed to add polish and content.

The country has elected a president with polish and invisible content whose administrative talent is visibly weak. It is never enough to be smart, it is also necessary to be well informed in order to make good decisions. I presently see little sign of that at all.

Our political system often elects odd players to the presidency who are not part of the political mainstream. It is often surprising what the result is.

Think about something. Dick Cheny took charge of Bush's entire agenda. Bush had to sell the result. Palin could sell mortgage reform. She could sell Bank reform
She could also sell health reform she believed in.

She just could not create them.

right now, Obama is failing on all three fronts. I even think he wants to fix things but nothing is happening except more meetings.