December 2, 2009
The Palin BrandBy Ted Belman
Could British politics teach us something about Sarah Palin's political future? David Frum -- not my favorite conservative -- recently published What the Tories Have to Teach Us in Commentary Magazine. In it, he notes that the Conservative Party in the U.K., after suffering a massive defeat twelve years ago, has turned its fortunes around and is now expected to return to power next year.
The turning point for Britain's Conservative party may have been a single slide in a PowerPoint presentation delivered at the party conference after the 2005 election defeat. Party chairman Francis Maude showed attendees the results of an opinion survey on immigration. When the Conservative position on immigration was described to a sample group, almost two-thirds approved. But when that same position was presented to a new sample group as the position of the Conservative party, support dropped by half. Perfectly good policy ideas were fatally tainted by association with a despised political organization. So British Conservatives set out to "detoxify" themselves-to put a more appealing face on their ideas and message. [...]
In one important case in point, Frum notes how the Tories have forever been against the National Health Care System but never did anything about. So why attack it when the public supports it? The Tories switched gears, embraced it, and declared themselves "the party of the NHS." So successful were they that the electorate now looks to them, not Labour, to protect the NHS.
Thus, "Labour's most decisive advantage had been snatched away -- and the way was fully cleared for Tories to return to government."
The lesson according to Frum: "Volunteer to do what you will be forced by political necessity to do anyway."
Next, it is important to pick a new leader: "The leader you want is someone who appeals to the voters you need to gain, not the voters you already have."
So what can the GOP learn from this? It must rebrand itself by lowering the priority for issues such as abortion, guns, and gay marriage and by emphasizing values that most people care about without sacrificing its principles. Then pick a leader the Independents will vote for. Since no such leader will be formerly selected until the primaries in 2012, the GOP should be emulating Palin in the meantime.
There is always resistance to change within a party. It is viewed as abandoning your principles for expediency. But why shoot yourself in the foot?
After resigning as Governor of Alaska, Palin announced her intention to campaign "on behalf of candidates who believe in the right things, regardless of their party label or affiliation." No surprise there. In Alaska she had a reputation of being issues-oriented. She often made alliances with Democrats. She also took on the Republican "old boys' network."
The GOP has been trying to decide whether to be more moderate (liberal) or more conservative. This debate took real form in the congressional election in a district in upstate New York. The GOP selected as its candidate the very liberal Scozzafava over conservative Hoffman. Hoffman entered the race as an Independent. True to her words, Sarah Palin came out in support of the conservative rather than the Republican, and she was joined by conservatives from all over the country. As a result, he almost got elected.
Chris Stirewall, political editor for the Washington Examiner, writes in Conservative revolt good news for Republicans that Hoffman "offered an authentic, passionate vision of his party's core principles and did it in a way that didn't make moderates uncomfortable."
The good news, according to Stirewall, is that the conservatives are likely to take over the party.
Sarah Palin represents commonsense values that Independents can rally to. She eschews the party and its brand and embraces the people and their values.
So what are these values?
1. Energy: "Drill, baby, drill"; "Exploit all the above."
2. Economy: "Stop digging the hole deeper" and unleash the private sector.
3. Health care: She favors competition, tort reform, and waste reduction.
4. Environment: She rejects cap-and-trade. She favors environmentally sensitive development.
5. Security: Support the armed services and let them do their job. Don't lower your guard. Specifically, stand by your allies, win in Afghanistan, and treat terrorists as terrorists, not citizens.
6. Israel: Build, baby, build. She supports the right of Jews to build in Judea and Samaria. She rejects Obama's racist policy of telling the Jews where they cannot live. She is a harsh critic of Ahmedinejad and his government and faults Obama for not supporting the Iranian opposition.
7. Patriotism: Patriotism is good, not bad. America is good, not bad. The Constitution must be protected and upheld.
8. Social issues: She supports life (not "death panels"), the weak (including challenged children and the elderly), hard work (not entitlement), and private-sector charity (rather then government handouts).
9. Ethics: Accountability over cronyism.
Not only do these values appeal to Palin's base, but they also appeal to Middle America, to Independents, and even to Democrats. On all these issues, Obama and the Democrats have set themselves up for a fall. Palin is on the right side of these issues and everyone knows it.
The Left in America doesn't so much reject these values as they rejects Palin herself. In fact, they ignore her message and set up straw-man values for her that they can attack. The Left is struggling to brand Palin as a Christian fundamentalist, God forbid -- an idiot, a know-nothing, a racist, and anything else with a negative connotation.
Palin is effectively galvanizing and rebranding the Conservative movement and making it her own. Who better to lead it than she? The GOP will ultimately adopt her brand and her as leader.
Ted Belman edits Israpundit.