Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was on the Today show last week, and she did very well. It was an enjoyable show, and she handled the occasional barbs against her with class. But don't mention that in mixed company (liberals and conservatives), or anywhere online.
Palin's appearance on Today was met with an avalanche of criticism from the left. Websites like Democratic Underground and Huffington Post stewed in their hatred for Gov. Palin. Lefty mocker Jon Stewart ridiculed her. Former Today host Bryant Gumbel even said he was "embarrassed by Palin's appearance on the show," and he complained that she lacked the capability of reporting or interviewing, or having "a degree of gravitas."
In these people's attacks against Gov. Palin, the familiar refrain is that she is stupid, but that doesn't sound quite right. When liberals criticize Sarah Palin is being stupid, they have a real anger in their voice or urgency in their blog posts.
If the commentariat were really concerned about a public figure who is stupid, they would focus on Vice President Joe Biden. To those who pay attention to the news, if they are honest, they would agree that Vice President Joe Biden is a real buffoon. This recent rambling explanation regarding gasoline prices was yet another proof of Biden's foolishness.
But it is Sarah Palin for whom liberals have a special hatred when they assert that she is stupid. Why is this?
The last time the left in this country had such a full-throated denunciation of someone as stupid, it was of Ronald Reagan. I remember it so well because I too was a liberal during Reagan's first term as president. It was very frustrating to denounce someone as stupid even as he was winning two landslide elections.
Even more frustrating, Reagan didn't seem to care when he was called an idiot. He just kept doing what he saw as his mandate: unleashing the American economy and defeating the thugs of the Soviet Union. At the time, I remember feeling guilty in admiring the self-confidence of someone repeatedly called stupid but not seeming to care. It almost seemed a privilege to Reagan to be called stupid by liberals.
Sure, President Reagan did not exactly sound intellectual, but he did his job well. When he spoke directly to the people about a certain issue, he connected and persuaded.
Same for Sarah Palin. She got a bachelor's degree from University of Idaho after spending a lot of time in junior college. Yet when she discusses the issues, she has a certain connection with the people, and she persuades.
The formal education argument is a common one. "Why should we listen to someone who barely has any formal education?" liberals ask. It all feels so nouveau-intellectual because it is usually asked by someone with a wall full of college and post-graduate degrees, implying that that person should be listened to simply by virtue of his own formal education.
Smart people should take Gov. Sarah Palin seriously, just as one smart person took Ronald Reagan seriously. I recently bought a DVD of the William F. Buckley's "Firing Line" interview with Ronald Reagan in 1980. Now, there is a guy who had some high-brow credentials: William F. Buckley, Jr. graduated from Yale, used words that people had never heard before in conversation, started National Review, and even had some kind of impressive accent that no one could really place.
Buckley took Ronald Reagan seriously because he knew that Reagan was a real conservative who could persuade the country to follow conservative principles. If Buckley had any intellectual insecurity, he easily could have sided with the better-educated but hapless Jimmy Carter.
And this shows the important part of the job of president or political leader, whether it was Reagan back in the 1980s or Sarah Palin today. We aren't choosing someone to be philosopher- or pontificator-in-chief. We are choosing someone who will advance the cause of freedom and opportunity. The issue is, do they believe in the American people, and do they have conservative values that they can advance?
I realize that Sarah Palin isn't perfect. She resigned as Alaska governor before the end of her only term, giving conservatives false hope that she would run for president this year. And although it wasn't her fault, I was greatly disappointed in 2008 when we were introduced to her, and, despite her name, she appeared not to be related to Michael Palin, my favorite member of Monty Python. That would have been nice.
But her appearance on the Today show was good not only for ratings; it was also very good for the conservative ideas that are so rarely promoted in the mainstream media. If NBC had any programming brains -- which is not a given -- they would invite Sarah Palin back as co-host the Today show again and again. NBC and the country both would definitely be better for it.