October 24, 2008
Betting Against the Elites on Sarah PalinBy J. Robert Smith
When it comes to politics, it's often smart to bet against the elites -- on the left and right. Bet against them about Sarah Palin.
Palin is the latest in a long line politicians who have been discounted by those comfortably ensconced in positions of power and privilege. Since, at least, the early 1800s, the chattering classes, especially, have managed to bet against men who went on to notable, if not historic, presidencies. They disparaged Andrew Jackson and ridiculed Abe Lincoln. In recent times, elites turned noses up at Truman and Eisenhower. And, of course, they disdained Ronald Reagan as a second rate actor and corporate huckster.
Palin isn't seeking the presidency -- not this go-round. Yet the very same elites who are uneasy about a rookie being a heartbeat away from the presidency aren't quite as fussed about a rookie United States senator winning the presidency.
The surprising and unfortunate thing is that some prominent conservative establishmentarians have joined with the usual suspects on the left to question Palin's fitness. David Brooks, David Frum, Charles Krauthammer, George Will and Peggy Noonan, most conspicuously, have taken turns criticizing McCain's choice of Palin.
In apples-to-oranges comparisons, they've commented that the callow Barack Obama is better ready to be president than Sarah Palin is to be vice president. Or at least implied it:
In one strikingly odd take, David Frum said:
So, if in comparison to Palin, Barack Obama looks like George C. Marshall, then when compared to the man he's actually running against, John McCain, might McCain resemble George Washington or U.S. Grant?
What about Obama's tissue-thin record on foreign policy and national security matters? The Illinoisan was only elected to the United States Senate in 2004. Much of his time in the senate has been spent running for president.
And no small point here, what about Obama's naïve, if not downright daffy and dangerous, positions on critical foreign policy and national security issues?
Anyone heard Sarah Palin calling for unconditional talks with Fidel Castro's pal Hugo Chavez or that exemplar of moderation and reason, Iranian President Ahmadinejad? Has Palin twisted herself in a pretzel avoiding admitting that the Surge worked? Or is she pushing for violating an unstable and nuclear-armed Pakistan's territory to root out bad guys?
Certainly, no one is suggesting that otherwise sensible conservative commentators should flak for McCain or Palin, but one wonders about their perspectives and priorities in this instance. Wouldn't any conservative sleep better knowing that a President McCain will pick up the red phone at three a.m., rather than the callow Barack Obama? That is the critical question. Biden and Palin are secondary considerations.
Not all, but some of the slings and arrows aimed by the elites at Palin are simply because she's an outsider. By their standards, Palin isn't pedigreed. A sheepskin from the University of Idaho might as well be a GED to them. Unlike Obama, she's not part of their network, even indirectly. She's a practicing fundamentalist Christian, while many of the elites are secularists. She can use a gun and hunt moose. Many elites revile the 2nd Amendment and their hunting consists of finding the free-range chicken at Whole Foods.
For elites, Palin is too plain-spoken and colloquial. Her gal next door demeanor grates. Her winks are cheesy. She's a hockey mom, not a soccer mom. Hockey's just too violent.
But for all the reasons and more that elites are dismissing Palin, voters are finding her appealing. They're neither offended by her conservatism nor her person. In fact, they see a lot of themselves in her. Her rallies overflow. She attracts a crowd walking down the street. She gave Saturday Night Live its best ratings in fourteen years. She has a common sense, practical approach, which is very much what everyday Americans are about.
Sarah Palin is typically who Americans want to elect to high office - or any office. They want someone who's right on the issues, good at the business of politics and governance, but who is fundamentally simpatico.
Once again, history teaches. Andrew Jackson was an up-from-the-bootstraps frontiersman in a nation ever pushing west. He was a fighter, who not only won the Battle of New Orleans, but as a politician, fought the vested interests that he and voters believed were ruining the country.
Lincoln -- who doesn't know how he was run into the ground as an unschooled backwoodsman? He was ridiculed for his informality and colloquialisms. Initially, his own cabinet thought they were his betters.
Truman had a high school education and spent most his life in rural, small-town Missouri. His business ventures failed. There was no polish or elegance to the man, and he had a temper, which he exercised famously when a newspaper critic lambasted his daughter Margret's recital.
The unassuming Eisenhower was renowned for his generalship, but as president, he was forever branded an inarticulate middlebrow.
Ronald Reagan was the "amiable dunce." He chopped brush at this ranch and enjoyed a dinner of macaroni and cheese.
But what each of these men had was the allegiance of the American people. The elites couldn't figure it out then, and they're missing the mark again about Sarah Palin. If history is any guide, the smart money goes on Palin.