August 2, 2009
Palin and the Battle for the GOP's SoulBy J. Robert Smith
Lost mostly amid Sarah Palin's resignation hoopla was a declaration she made. The now ex-governor made the not newsworthy announcement that she'd campaign for likeminded Republicans and independents. But then she added something very telling. She'd stump for Democrats who "share her values on limited government, strong defense and ‘energy independence.'" At least in states or districts where Republicans aren't competitive.
The governor, one fully suspects, is playing for higher stakes than many may suppose. The presidency -- if she ever seeks it and wins it -- will simply be the capstone of a three and a half year effort to change the nation's political landscape.
That's heady stuff. But Palin already has a blueprint and track record to prove her bona fides, compliments of her stint as Alaska's Chief Executive.
Lest anyone forget, Palin challenged the GOP's old bulls to win the party's gubernatorial nomination. And, as warranted, she battled them as governor. She also wasn't shy about crossing party lines to push her agenda. Hers is a decidedly practical conservatism, based on principle, not profile.
Palin's new freelancing is sending a chill up the collective spine of the left. That same chill is making its way up the pliable spines of establishment Republicans and in-name-only conservatives. How do we know? By the vitriol they continue to spew at her, via the main stream media and their allies in the blogosphere. (Peggy Noonan, David Brooks and Kathleen Parker, raise your hands.)
After the hosing Palin has taken over many months from media elites, it's no surprise her approval ratings have sagged. But Palin unleashed now has the chance to go eyeball-to-eyeball with voters across the Republic. Americans will make up their own minds.
Palin has what one would say about nature: an elemental force. It is seen but not terribly well understood. Supporters admire it; her foes dread it and fight it. In politics, that elemental force translates into powerfully connecting with average citizens. Status doesn't count when it comes to the "force." Aristocrat cousins Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt had it. But so did plebeians Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
Commoner Sarah Palin has come along at the right time. Common Americans are increasingly disillusioned with, and alienated from, both major political parties.
They may well be growing doubly so with the Democrats, whose standard-bearer, the princely Barak Obama, sold voters his special brand of snake oil. The President claimed that he would bind up the wounds of a nation rife with partisan fighting. And with a miraculous wave of his hand, and a bright Pepsodent smile, translate a call for fluffy hope and change into hard policies that we all could embrace.
Elmer Gantry has nothing on Barack Obama.
Taking the nation on a leftwing bender, the President is succeeding only in loosening the newly formed attachments that a large bloc of voters made to his party. If you think the bender is bad, wait for the hangover.
Most Americans are natural conservatives; they're pragmatists who care little about ideology, especially of the leftwing sort. But that should be of little consolation and comfort to the recently discounted Republicans, who may well be lulled by polls showing voter movement in their direction.
The political scene is in flux. Voters are moving toward the GOP in the same way a family flees a burning house. They are escaping a fire and seeking shelter under the handiest roof. An assumption by establishment Republicans that they need only watch the Democrats' house burn to the ground to reap the rewards is dangerous. That's particularly true for the longer term. But, then, when do most politicians care about the longer term?
Republicans can't just oppose the President's statist gambits. They have to stand for something, a conservative something. Voters may dance an election or two with Republicans, but then they'll demand more than twirls across the ballroom floor.
Republican leaders, many of whom so cynically and foolishly fumbled away the capital amassed by Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey and John Kasich, are dubious champions of conservatism. They have the lingering stench of "New Think" Republicanism about them, which is nothing more than the old cave-in, go-along Rockefeller Republicanism.
If nothing else, Sarah Palin is a woman who knows where she's going -- and it isn't to A List cocktail parties in Georgetown or soirees on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, even if she is invited.
The good ex-governor intends to remake the GOP, first by reaffirming basic conservative principles, then by drawing distinct lines from those principles to the everyday lives of voters. She'll take whacks at more than a few liberal shibboleths, whether they involve taxes, foreign affairs, national defense, welfare or public education.
She will certainly go into a full court press against longstanding leftwing-inspired false dichotomies. She's done so already concerning an issue near and dear to her heart: energy.
Palin is an outdoors loving woman from an outdoors loving state. She sees no contradiction in protecting the environment and developing and extracting the nation's plentiful energy resources. Responsible stewardship of the earth doesn't mean that Americans need to be Bob Crachits, huddled near stoves counting out lumps of coal (clean burning, of course) from meager piles.
And if Palin is wise, she'll make her crusade about more than fixing the mess that President Obama and his Romper Room Democrats are making. She'll be a reform conservative. The fact is voters do crave meaningful reform. What liberals gave Americans in the 20th Century -Social Security, welfare, the public schools monopoly -- is nearly not working anymore. Voters see that more clearly than their myopic leaders do.
The President's numbers are collapsing precisely because voters don't believe he's making authentic reform, but making a rehash and expansion of every big government idea under the sun. The President may have given liberalism a spiffy new paint job, but it's the same old rust bucket underneath. Voters aren't fooled for very long.
Palin's aim is to cobble together a coalition of the willing, a majority coalition that may - just may -- give a rebirth to the Republican Party. But she can expect more than slings and arrows from the usual suspects on the left. There will be a cadre of establishment Republicans and quislings who will employ whatever subterfuges are necessary to derail the Palin Express.
For them, a big tent fundamentally means tiptoeing leftward. It is a form of comfortable surrender. For Palin, a big tent means fundamentally making conservatism sensible and inviting to a majority of voters. It is premised on a true grasp of the American nature.
Therein lays the irreconcilable difference. There is where the real battle for the soul of the Republican Party will be fought.