The Right Stuff

Never thought I would be linking to the American Conservative, but Daniel Larison has some sharp thoughts on Palin which deserve an airing:

I don’t think I ever feared that she would run for President in 2012. If she ran, she would lose the nomination to someone else, and if she didn’t she would have gone off into the sunset with all of the other losing VP candidates. Palin was never as threatening to the left nor as wonderful for the right as both sides imagined. Her resignation will prove to be a good thing for her, her family and Alaska. Her tenure as governor has been so lackluster that it might be fair to say that Palin never demonstrated her worthiness for the office so much as in her departing from it.

There’s certainly something to be said for that. I recall being very nervous in the first week or so, perhaps even longer — I think it ended definitively when she said “In what respect, Charlie?” — but coming to the realization that Palin wasn’t going anywhere.  Then, she and McCain botched the last few weeks of the campaign, lost the election, and I really didn’t lose any sleep over her.  In the same way I think it’s ridiculous for people to make statements about Hillary Clinton having the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination in her pocket, it was silly to believe that Palin would walk away with the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.  There’s too much ambition among presidential contenders to allow one person — particularly one who had already been called a “whack job” by her own campaign staff — to glide effortlessly to the top of the presidential ticket.

As Larison points out, she hasn’t really shone as governor of Alaska; I’d bet that if McCain hadn’t put her on the ticket in 2008, some future event would have ended her political career anyway.  She doesn’t seem cut out for the national political limelight.  And that’s where I sort-of start to disagree with Larison, who blames her supporters most of all:

Never has a major political candidate been so poorly served by her own supporters. To quote that Russian proverb again, “The yes-man is your enemy, but your friend will argue with you.” Palin was surrounded and cheered on by almost nothing but yes-men, because once anyone tried to offer any kind of criticism that person seemed to become persona non grata in her circle and in the wider conservative world pretty quickly. That is why a reasonable column offering advice and encouragement to Palin could be met by so much insane fury from so many of her supporters. It will be very difficult to explain to later generations what it was that the Palinites saw in her that made them so fervent and enthusiastic.


After the first week or so, likeability became much less important once we started finding out something about her record. What came to be so annoying about her was not so much that she performed poorly in interviews, had no policy knowledge outside of issues related to oil, and had an unremarkable record as governor (except when she was jacking up windfall profits taxes to redistribute liberate the money from oil corporations), but it was that her supporters seemed intent on never acknowledging her errors, refused to hold her accountable when she made misleading statements and began making virtues out of her weaknesses. Whether or not Palin could have become a much better candidate, there was no way that things could work out well for her or the country with supporters like this.

I don’t entirely disagree.  Indeed I think what hurt Palin, and at times made her so irritating to lots of independents and liberals, was this notion that she couldn’t be legitimately criticized.  Say what you will about people having a love affair with Barack Obama, but a great many of his fervent supporters (myself included) have been able to criticize him.  Not to mention that the reasons Obama caused such a stir was because he seemed to herald and new, hopeful, diverse age, while Palin seemed to be doing everything she could to call up old divisions of class and upbringing.

But — I think Larison is far too generous in supposing that Palin had the intellect and the cojones to go all the way.  I’m hard pressed to believe she would ever have been capable of mastering the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy that a true contender for the presidency needs to know.  Handlers have attested to her lack of desire to prepare in any meaningful way for the debates or for interviews — a fact which was evidenced early on in the VP debate when she basically told Gwen Ifill that she wouldn’t be answering questions that night; instead she would be saying what she had memorized, “straight to the American people” or whatever it was.

And I guess this is where I take a heavy dose of satisfaction when it comes to the career of Sarah Palin.  The plain fact of the matter is, it isn’t easy to be a politician, whether on the local, state, or national level.  It’s not the cakewalk lots of would-be candidates and armchair pundits make it out to be.  That doesn’t mean that to be a good national figure you need an Ivy League pedigree or a famous last name.  But it does mean that not every ambitious person who managed to get elected mayor of their hometown and, by a good stroke of luck, governor (a sparsely populated and easy to govern state at that) will end up being able to take the heat at a higher level.

Being a Senator or a Congressperson is a grueling job; you’re away from your family, traveling constantly, pressed by gotcha-anchors and reporters on camera and off, managing offices, boning up on policy, shaking hands, holding hearings, etc. etc.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  It’s not fun.  And it’s certainly not for everyone.

Whenever I hear about people saying we need to throw the bums out of office, clamoring for more regular-guys running the country, I get steaming mad.  Not because I don’t think there are plenty of ineffective and corrupt people currently holding office, or because I don’t believe there are good and decent people outside of government who could manage the job.  But because it’s simply ridiculous to think that every Sarah Heath is going to make it.  They don’t.  Think of all the people who’ve held office in this country, who even made it to the pinnacle of elected office — governor, Senator, what have you — and found themselves wanting.

I keep thinking of that anecdote, I believe relayed by Noam Scheiber of the New Republic, from Sarah Palin’s first campaign manager .  The woman recalled telling Palin that she could be governor of Alaska one day, and Palin responded by saying she wanted to be president.

News flash: a lot of folks have said that before.  And so far, only 44 have gotten there yet.  A good deal more have had the chance to run, but many never made it even that far.  I don’t know what it takes — a unique blend of a million different attributes, not least of which is your ability to explain, if not fully understand, the policy implications of what you’re saying — but I’m pretty sure Sarah Palin never really had it.


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