TEA PARTY POPULISM and THE PALIN PARADOX

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This article is a note of admiration for sudden charismatic leadership, unfairly attacked fro the wrong reasons, and a strong caution about the abrupt assumption of serious executive responsibilities.

The latter is the same caution that would have applied to Early Jimmie Carter, early Bill Clinton, Mr. Obama and several other POTUS candidates whose executive experience and initial staff depth was deficient at the very outset of their administrations.  Mrs. Clinton cautiously pointed this deficiency out during the primaries.  Governor Palin, an actual governor, was a better potential executive than the untried Junior Senator from Illinois.  But merely running a small state for one half a term does not constitute adequate pre-POTUS training.  I developed these themes in two realier posts that frame the context of this Palin piece.  Check http://jaygaskill.com/PRESIDENCYGAMBLE.htm

and http://www.jaygaskill.com/MQ.htm.

I have great admiration for Governor Palin, but – as of this writing – her POTUS resume needs some gravitas.  That said, she is one of those history-making figures who has a great deal more to contribute.  Anyone who dismisses her is making a mistake.

JBG

TEA PARTY POPULISM

&

THE PALIN PARADOX

After the smoke has settled and the new congress has begun its work, some of the early myths about the Tea Party movement can be dismissed.  It was not a ploy by the republican establishment or a cabal of conservative ideologues.  Nor was it stirred up by a single charismatic leader.  It was an authentic, quintessentially American populist gathering, very loosely coordinated, self funded and self motivated.

It would be far too simplistic to describe it as just another anti-government protest or as a libertarian uprising. But the Tea Party movement hardly fits the pattern of the earlier populist uprisings that demanded help from a heartless government.

It had more in common with the Jarvis tax revolt in California (1978) that led to the property tax reforms of Proposition 13, and to its namesake, the Boston Tea Party rebellion (1773) against British tariffs and trade restrictions that led to the American Revolution.

The Tea Party movement was a spontaneous, grass roots alliance of the productive regular citizens against the manipulative classes in Washington DC and Wall Street.  But it was historically unique.  With the brief exception of Ross Perot’s quixotic presidential campaigns of 1992 and 1996, there is no record of a major populist movement in our history that made fiscal responsibility a major tenet.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has been strongly associated with the Tea Party movement, particularly as she supported key, fiscally conservative GOP insurgents in the last election cycle.  But the Tea Party has remained spontaneous and grassroots…and remains essentially leaderless.

January 5:

“In addition to Speaker Pelosi relinquishing her gavel and becoming simply Congresswoman Pelosi again, 37 Congressional candidates and 6 Senatorial candidates endorsed by Governor Palin will be sworn in today. Joining these endorsees are 7 Governors, 2 Attorney Generals, and 1 Secretary of State endorsed by Governor Palin who have taken office or will soon take office at the state level.”

< http://www.freerepublic.com >

WHO IS AFRAID OF SARAH PALIN AND WHY?

Obama Benefits in Having Palin as His Foil

New York Times, January 19, 2011

“But as the new House majority begins its push this week to scale back the Obama agenda, it seems that the president now has, in Ms. Palin, something he badly needed after a punishing election season: the ideal political foil.”

….

“Next year, when Republicans settle on a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama will have an adversary chosen for him. But for now, he could clearly do worse than to have Ms. Palin overshadow the party’s more predictable leaders in Congress. With every controversial tweet or video, Ms. Palin makes Mr. Obama, who has often struggled to project the regality of the office, seem more like the post-partisan grownup he always intended to be.”

LINK

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/19/us/politics/19bai.html?_r=1&ref=sarahpalin

New York times, January 18, 2011

Exceptionalism, Faith and Freedom: Palin’s America

Professor Stanley Fish reviewed a Sarah Palin book in the New York Times on-line, America by Heart: Reflections on Faith, Family and Flag.

LINK http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/stanley-fish/

Before I approach the Stanley Fish review or the “Palin helps Obama” piece, please indulge an excursion into the history of political smear tactics.

FEAR & LOATHING ON THE LEFT

Start with the casual assumptions we tend to make about intelligence affect politics.  In the prevailing culture, the expectation of intelligence in the people we encounter, or the lack thereof, tends to color our experience, even trump it.  For several decades, US political liberals have managed to keep alive the notion that the entire liberal agenda is the product of “learning” and “enlightenment” to the exclusion of every other political point of view, especially conservatism.  In this mindset, conservatives are the retrograde products of a poor education.

The left got away with this silliness until the arrival of the “neo-cons”.  The neo-conservatives were former leftist intellectuals who had rejected communism, then turned against their former liberal colleagues who were communist apologists and defenders of authoritarian socialism.  Some, like Senator Joe Lieberman, remained liberal on most issues, but others became full-on free market conservatives. When the cold war ended, there was a vacuum in the Democratic Party, the spot formerly occupied by stalwart Churchillians like Harry Truman and Senator Henry Scoop Jackson.  As the post-Vietnam pacifist, anti-military left tightened its grip on the party machinery, that vacuum was filled by the cadre of disillusioned leftists who became the neo-cons.  The neo-cons gravitated to the GOP, as was the only port in a storm.

The effect on the left was galvanizing.  How dare the conservatives produce smart people! Suddenly there was a growing crop of conservative intellectuals!

It was only a matter of time until these men and women were savagely attacked. The opening presented itself when neo-cons prominently supported the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Flash forward to the end game in those wars, following success in Iraq and a liberal president committed to finish Afghanistan by defeating the Taliban.  Even now, as the military conflicts that the neo-cons (and many liberals) supported have faded away as a “wedge issue, “neo-con” is still used by the left as an epithet in liberal circles.  Why the energy and venom?  The intelligentsia is supposed to be a liberal, leftwing club.  People intelligent enough to belong to the club but reject the left orthodoxy are heretics.  When persuasive, heretics are dangerous.

The arch left still controls the Democratic Party – and I write this with special inside knowledge as a Blue Dog democrat.   The same mindset retains a firm grip on certain major media outlets.

Here’s how it is now: Whenever a new charismatic conservative leader emerges on the scene, efforts are made by the governing leftwing apparatchiks to nip the newbie (and all such blooming conservatives) in the bud as soon as the first clear opportunity for an assault presents itself.  Their attack playbook calls for a coordinated response, starting with revelations and whispers from the commentariat, then (by using the mirror effect) a chorus of negative chatter arises as if spontaneously.  At all times the game is to exploit all the negative conservative stereotypes, as in –conservatives are against social progress; they are against poor people; all the “nice” conservatives are stupid; and all the smart ones are mean spirited and dangerous.

The first slip of the tongue that plays into a negative stereotype is used to define the blooming conservative leader, hopefully forever.  Whenever the target fights back, we hear the accusations of incivility…or worse.  The other scandals tend to emerge later on in the game, typically when the target is in a tight election so the story can break too late for damage control.  {Bush W’s DUI is a classic example.}

Note: I do not suggest here that only one side uses these or similar tactics.  But the charge of stupidity (always muted and condescending), and of meanness (or callousness) remain unique to the left.  The right is usually content to use labels like “liberal” or (God forbid) socialist.

Just one thing is more frightening to the leftwing intelligentsia than a smart, charismatic conservative. It is a populist one.  This is because, by definition in the left-saturated mind, populists are supposed be for the downtrodden victims, hence the whole category belongs to the left as its intellectual property.

Governor Sarah Palin is a particularly galling threat to the left because she is a populist.  God forbid she should turn out to be intelligent, too.

PALIN AS POLITICAL THEOLOGIAN

Now back to the book review: The fact that the Times ran a review of a Palin book, even in one of its on-line blogs, is unremarkable.  But this is a favorable review, affirming her intelligence and perspective.  The surprise is that such a review ran in the New York Times at all.

America by Heart: Reflections on Faith, Family and Flag

‘“… we are not angels’, she says , [so] we require a system of government that acknowledges ‘the inevitable conflicts’ produced by our ‘imperfect passions’ and yet provides mechanisms — free speech, vigorous debate — that allow us to settle those conflicts without resorting to ‘dueling pistols.’ That, she declares, is the system the Founders designed, and it is part of ‘why America is exceptional,’ an assertion she makes twice.

“The combination of ‘imperfect passions’ and “unabashed patriotism is writ large in Palin’s recent book.” [Her thesis appears] “…first in the lengthy discussion of Capra’s Jefferson Smith [Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”] and then, at the end of the same chapter, in an equally lengthy discussion of Martin Luther King. These two men (one fictional, one real) are brought together when Palin says that King’s dream of an America that lived out ‘the true meaning of its creed’ would be, if it were realized, ‘the fulfillment of America’s exceptional destiny.’ A belief in that destiny and that exceptionalism is, she concludes, ‘a belief Senator Jefferson Smith would have agreed with.’

“In each of these [Capra] films the forces of statism, corporatism and mercantilism are routed by the spontaneous uprising of ordinary men who defeat the sophisticated machinations of their opponents by declaring, living and fighting for a simple basic creed of individualism, self-help, independence and freedom.

“Does that sound familiar? It should. It describes what we have come to know as the Tea Party, which famously has no leaders, no organization, no official platform, no funds from the public trough. Although she only mentions the Tea Party briefly in her book, Palin is busily elaborating its principles.”

[LINK: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/17/exceptionalism-faith-and-freedom-palins-america/?ref=opinion

PALIN AS POTUS?

SHIFTING OPINION

Gallup

April 4, 2010

“PRINCETON, NJ — Tea Party supporters skew right politically; but demographically, they are generally representative of the public at large. That’s the finding of a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted March 26-28, in which 28% of U.S. adults call themselves supporters of the Tea Party movement.

Gallup

April 8, 2010

“PRINCETON, NJ — Americans’ favorable rating of the Democratic Party dropped to 41% in a late March USA Today/Gallup poll, the lowest point in the 18-year history of this measure. Favorable impressions of the Republican Party are now at 42%, thus closing the gap between the two parties’ images that has prevailed for the past four years

Rasmussen:

January 17, 2011

“New Rasmussen Reports telephone polling finds that 46% of Likely U.S. Voters nationwide say they would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate, while 38% would choose the Democrat instead. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that “conservative” is still the most favored description. Forty-two percent (42%) of Likely U.S. Voters say they view it as a positive if a candidate is described as politically conservative. Twenty-one percent (21%) say it’s a negative description, and 36% rate it somewhere in between the two.  Conservative, in fact, is the only political label other than “moderate” that is a net plus for a candidate. Calling someone a Tea Party candidate is seen positively by 31%.”

UNCERTAIN READINESS

Palin, as a candidate running against an incumbent Obama, does yet not poll well because of her negatives.  That will change over time.  But the nervousness of GOP insiders is justified.  Hypothetically, if Governor Palin were to run for POTUS any time soon, she would surely be defeated.  When taking on an incumbent president, every negative hurts the challenger.  Can she outgrow the baggage?  I don’t pretend to know.

Consider the more pertinent question: Is she ready?

Whether we should consider Governor Palin a serious and viable candidate for POTUS, ready to take on a sitting president in 2012, is premature.

The threshold question is whether she is ready to govern.  That question will be answered over the coming months when it becomes clear whether she intends to assemble both a campaign team and (much more importantly) a team of policy experts and advisors, including several credible, cabinet-ready loyalists.

Palin has a number of political players spooked.  In fact, we are hearing a convergence of narratives, both from within the Obama camp and from some in the pre-Tea Party GOP establishment: The president needs Palin as a foil in order to get reelected. Forgive me if I remain a bit skeptical.

Immediately before the catastrophic credit meltdown that sank the McCain campaign, the performance of Governor Palin had put the GOP ticket on an up course (several polls picked up on that trend-line at the time), and would probably have defeated the Obama.

We will never know, or course.

But if Mr. Obama faces the voters in 2012 with a jobless, anemic recovery still an open question, a Palin-led ticket could win.  Both the members of the Obama camp and the older GOP establishment are nervous for the same reason.  Both are worried that Governor Palin will win.

A FORCE OF NATURE

In the meantime, no one on the right or left should underestimate the former Alaska governor.  As one well-read conservative lawyer-friend recently put it to me, “She could be America’s Margaret Thatcher.”

Leave the merits of the day aside for a moment, and suspend judgment about the former Alaska governor’s suitability for leader of the free world.

Sarah Palin is the most significant political player to emerge from comparative obscurity in a generation. She, and her world view, will be more consequential the overwhelming majority of current office holders realize, win or lose, run or not run.

Stay tuned.

JBG

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