Not What the Party Needs
People keep telling me I'm a voice for conservatism. I've always thought I was more of a rational centrist with a fixation on fiscal sanity. Who knows? I suppose we are what we are perceived to be.
That said, I may lose all conservative credibility when I say I just don't get Sarah Palin.
What is the big appeal? She came from nowhere with as short a resume as Barack Obama, floundered through a failed campaign, quit her day job in an obvious attempt to make money, and either refuses or is unable to comment intelligibly on substantive issues.
She has a degree of charm in a flighty sort of way, and she has had the good fortune to step into a near vacuum of Republican leadership. How does all this make her a potential president? Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln - Palin? You've got to be kidding.
As a symbol of unhappiness with the status quo, however, it's great to see Ms. Palin out there. Anybody who can fire up an anti-Washington movement like the Tea Party is to be congratulated. If she can help send the message that dissatisfaction stalks the land, she will be worth every penny she can milk from book sales, speaking fees and Fox News.
Republican establishment types have no idea how to deal with the Alaskan diva. If they criticize her, they risk alienating a big part of the party base, or even launching a divisive third-party candidacy. If they adopt her, they may well have to accept her as a national candidate, which by all -indications would portend an electoral disaster.
In some ways, the election of 2012 is shaping up like the Bull Moose -campaign of a century earlier. Except, in this case, instead of two viable -candidates in Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft, the potentially split Republicans, so far, have none.
If they are to capitalize on the -growing and genuine antipathy to the politics of corruption and waste, the Republicans need to adopt the fiscal conservatism of Ms. Palin and the Tea Party, and somehow sidestep the fanatical anti-Obama element of that coalition. Denying Obama's citizenship or calling him a communist may stir up the far right, but it is not the way to win an election, as was demonstrated in 2008.
The Republicans need to find a smart, qualified, telegenic spokesperson to lead them from the wilderness, and they need to do it soon. Fortunately for them, there is no old warhorse like Bob Dole or John McCain waiting in line for his turn, nor is there a legacy like George W. in sight. There is presently a clean slate, with only Ms. Palin skittering on the edge.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota is sometimes mentioned, and he seems to fill the bill in a laid-back sort of way. But laid-back may not do the trick, and South Dakota doesn't have many electoral votes.
Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia is the Republican whip and is very vocal, if perhaps a bit outspoken. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is very sharp, very young, and very articulate.
Of course, all three are Washington hands, not a good thing these days. There's Mitt Romney: something of a Ken doll, but at least not of D.C.
Or someone may appear tantalizingly from the blue, as did the president; perhaps Scott Brown has suddenly inflated ambitions. As long as Sarah keeps making headlines, and there is no end in sight, and no one with more gravitas steps up to dominate the stage, she is going to be positioned by the media as the default spokesperson for the GOP. This will do wonders for her net worth, but not much for the party.
In today's world, where politicians, TV commentators and celebrities have blended into some awful dissonant triad, it is not surprising to see a Sarah Palin, a Scott Brown or a Barack Obama emerge like a shooting star. They are beneficiaries of a closed, self-reinforcing cycle.
The problem with shooting stars is that they burn out quickly, leaving behind a trail of smoke in otherwise empty space.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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