A generation ago, liberals taught me to believe that Ronald Reagan was an extremist and a lightweight. Then I went to a Republican caucus in 1980 as a Bush supporter and met the Reagan supporters. I realized that they were the little people: mechanics, technicians, churchgoers...folks that used to be Democrats.
Now liberals are teaching us all to believe that Sarah Palin is a flake and a lightweight.
As the old saying goes: fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
The critics are right about Sarah Palin's memoir, Going Rogue. There's a lot of score-settling, although usually the culprits are nameless.
The critics will never like Palin. It is not just her hometown gushiness that galls them like nails on a blackboard. It is more like the cultural chasm between the Greek immigrants and the desiccated liberals in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Remember how embarrassed the heroine, Toula Portokalos, was about her chaotic Greek immigrant family? But the joke was really on the nice upscale parents of her WASPy romantic interest, Ian Miller. "Dry as toast" was the verdict of Toula's father, Gus, on Miller's parents.
That's my verdict on the snooty liberals that sneer at Sarah Palin: Dry as toast!
Modern Liberals are fortunate children. They emerged in the late 19th century as children of the wealthy. They were ashamed of their crude fathers, who came up from nothing. They wanted to be refined, unlike Father. They wanted to help the poor, but with other people's money. They wanted to give the poor an education, but with other people's money. They wanted to do creative work, and they wanted tenure.
Refined is something Sarah Palin has never been. Tenure is something she has never had. She worked through high school waitressing, cleaning offices, inventorying groceries. Then she got scholarships and worked to pay for college. Then she joined boyfriend Todd in Bristol Bay, Alaska, salmon-fishing and working slimy fish-processing jobs at the canneries. Off-season, Todd would work as a baggage-handler, and she would work at customer service and part-time reporting.
Picked by Wasilla mayor John Stein, Palin ran for city council and won in 1992. After two terms, she ran against Stein for mayor in 1996 and won. Then she ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2002 and lost. She upset incumbent Governor Murkowski in the primary and beat the Democrat in the general election to become Alaska's governor in 2006.
No wonder the liberals hate her. The whole point of public education, of business regulation, or rampant credentialism is to smother people like her before they have a chance to get anywhere.
No wonder the McCain campaign couldn't handle her. She's a force of nature. But what comes next?
We know from Palin's book tour that she has a base. You know who they are because you've seen them in line at the book stores. They are the aspiring white working/middle class, the same people that turned out for Reagan a generation ago: "Ray the Principal," "Jose the Hairdresser," "Peggy the Nurse," "Bob the Cop," "Joe the Plumber." Today's Democratic Party, once the party of the little people, has nothing to say to them.
The next question is, can Palin connect with moderates?
Fortunately, there is a simple answer to that question: We don't know. We might have an idea if she were a loyal Republican workhorse. But she isn't. She's a force of nature.
If Sarah Palin wants to lead the Republican Party in 2012, she'll have to make her own weather. The Republican establishment isn't going to help her, but that's OK. She once ran against the Republican establishment of Alaska and won.
If Sarah Palin runs for president in 2012, she'll be running against an incumbent: President Obama. But that's OK. She ran against an incumbent mayor and won. She ran against an incumbent governor and won.
But what about the issues? What does Sarah Palin know about economic policy or foreign policy? Good question. But let us put the question in context. What does President Obama know about economic and foreign policy after a year on the job that he doesn't need to unlearn (and fast)?
If you read Sarah Palin's book and listen to her interviews, you'll know that she is hammering away at one simple idea: commonsense conservatism. What does it mean? That will depend. But Palin's record tells us that when it's time to run for election, she knows how to win. When it comes time to master the details, she's done that, like with Alaskan energy policy. When it comes to selling the public on her program with speeches and town meetings, she's been there. When it comes to getting her agenda through the legislature, she's done it.
If only our incumbent president could say as much.