Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One Conservative’s Take on Sarah Palin: Her Political Significance and the Insincerity of her Supporters and Detractors

--Richard E. Vatz, Ph.D.

Governor Sarah Palin, as you non-cave-dwellers know, is publicizing her new book, Going Rogue: An American Life. The title is reminiscent of -- and consistent with -- the self-obsessed “maverick” self-anointing of which Sen. John McCain and she were so embarrassingly proud. Could you imagine President Ronald Reagan, widely touted as an unusually sincere politician, having labeled himself as “Mr. Sincerity?” You let others bestow flattering images on you; you don’t do it yourself.

Gov. Palin has been all over the media, with the expected debates over how she is treated (including Newsweek’s use on its cover of Palin’s Runner’s World fetching photo) and treated relative to her sex and ideological and party opposition.

The seemingly permanent Palin drama is rife with insincerity, insincerity from strong supporters, strong detractors and media of all stripes. I detest insincerity, largely because when it is not recognized, it appears to be stupidity or ignorance or both. Insincerity is political strategy, bad political strategy..

No intelligent person believes that Gov. Palin should or could become president of the United States. Lots of intelligent people believe that Gov. Palin has generally good ostensible values, even if her behavior does not always comport with those values. To leave the governorship of Alaska 18 months before her first term was over violated the conservative values of responsibility and dependability and crippled permanently whatever chance she had to be a Republican nominee, much less winner, for president or vice-president of the United States.

Many Democrats are trying to keep hope alive for her future candidacy because they think that such rhetorical efforts make such a candidacy possible, but that Gov. Palin would not win. This is not only insincere strategy, it is irresponsible citizenship.

Palin kerfuffles are mostly little casino. There is the fight over what McCain’s handlers let her do, said to her, and how they dealt with her generally. There are the fights about whether Katie Couric ambushed her in the famous “gotcha” interview. There is the irritatingly self-concerned father of Gov. Palin’s daughter’s child. Gov. Palin is the Entertainment Tonight Personality of the Year.

But most troubling is her lack of gravitas -- clichéd, but true. Some Republicans try to argue that Gov. Palin’s ineptitude in answering substantive political questions appears as such only because the media go after her more than they do, say, Joe “I’m Proud of My Gaffes” Biden.

It is indisputable that the media do not meticulously examine Joe Biden’s error-prone rhetoric, or even President Barack Obama’s. This does not gainsay the fact that Gov. Palin’s substantiveness is simply insufficient in serious political debate. More disqualifying: she has the guts, but lacks the judgment.

John McCain whisked Gov. Palin from obscurity and made her a salient figure. What a predictable act by a man who takes such inexplicable pride in sticking it to his Republican supporters and opposition. He could have won – yes, he could have — if he had picked Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Governor Mitt Romney or any number of other vice presidential possibilities. Add Gov. Palin’s beauty, mystery and unpredictability – not a good quality in a chief executive, but a perfect match to Sen. McCain – and you have a national star, a continuing star, the rhetorical well that keeps on giving.

Yet, despite all of this, Gov. Sarah Palin is a genuinely conservative politician with consistently good values, even, again, if they are not always followed punctiliously. She is not a bad person, but an individual who tries to be honorably conservative in her family choices.

She will not be a presidential or vice presidential candidate for the Republican party. Let go of that idea, insincere Democrats and insincere Republicans. Sometimes bad candidates are also treated poorly and unfairly by their opponents and mainstream media. That is also indisputably true in the case of Gov. Sarah Palin.

11/19/09 addendum

I request of critics of this post, and you are more legion than I anticipated, not to infer that I prefer Barack Obama as president. Anyone who has read my posts or seen or heard me on radio or television knows that I believe President Obama to be an utterly dangerous failure as president in both domestic and foreign policy, as well as being consistently dishonest in his representation of issues to the American people.

Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University


Dave said...

Y'know Vatz, about 80% of the time your stuff is spot on, about 20% of the time you fall into either momentarily stupid or cranky old man territory. That's not a bad ratio, but this article is most definitely one that falls on the 20% side of the ledger.

Now, I'm not a Palin fanatic, although I do like her and find her refreshing. I'll be the first to tell you that she's not ready to be a serious candidate for President today, but to make the claim: "No intelligent person believes that Gov. Palin should or could become president of the United States."? That's just an absurd statement. It is, in fact, a statement that would be far less controversial if it was uttered 4 years ago and applied to the Jr. Senator from Illinois. We all know how that turned out.

Palin has a lot of work to do if she wants to be taken seriously as a potential candidate. She does need to work on her depth of knowledge in international affairs and big issues, most importantly she needs to become comfortable expressing those ideas clearly and coherently to the media. That's no small thing, but it's also not that big a thing for someone with the demonstrated tenacity of a Sarah Palin. Is she ready yet? No. Would I vote for her today? Probably not, but I'd take her, today, lack of "gravitas" and all, over the current occupant of the oval office (and really, try convincing me that he's demonstrated any "gravitas" in the last 10 months. Betcha you can't do it with a straight face) Palin reminds me a little of Reagan in '76-running against a sitting incumbent, failing to get the nomination because he was "insubstantial", his folksy, down home, conservative, value based message was too far right for the Rockerfeller, country club wing of the Republican party that held sway at the time. When Ford clinched the nomination there were sighs of relief up and down the hallowed halls of the establishment Republican organization. "Whew, dodged a bullet there. Thank God we got rid of that cowboy." Hmmmm (Hey, I may be wrong on this, my History and Poly Sci degrees don't come from the ivy league, I got them at the same cow college where you teach. :p )

Finally, your contention that McCain could have won with a Hutchison or Romney or Huckabee or other more "established" Veep candidate.....that's not just wrong, that's an aggressively stupid position to hold. McCain was finished the second he, coming off the Palin bounce, which put him slightly ahead in the polls for the first time, if you recall, went back to Washington to work to get TARP I passed. That killed him, absolutely killed him, and it wouldn't have mattered if he had Jesus Christ down from Calvary as a running mate, as soon as he did that he was done, dead meat, stick a fork in him, he's toast. If he'd chosen any of those other career pols, he wouldn't have even had the bounce to get his hopes up before he shot himself in the foot. The only way McCain wins last year if he goes back to DC and fights tooth and nail against TARP, actually being the maverick he claimed to be rather than the Bush administration pawn he wound up being. 90% of America opposed that bailout, if he'd fought against it and used Palin intelligently-in a series of short speeches, in heartland America, no heavy lifting but something she was eminently capable of excelling at-connecting with real Americans delivering a message of fiscal conservatism she believes in her heart (she's better that even Obama charisma-wise in that kind of setting),while she was being briefed night and day to bring her up to speed on deeper issues for the future, if he'd have done that while hammering home the same fiscal responsibility message in DC and bashing Obama for his support of TARP......well, what-might-have-beens are pretty pointless, aren't they? Still, that's the ONLY even remotely realistic scenario I can come up with that results in a McCain victory. Hutchison? Romney? You have to be freaking kidding me. They couldn't even beat MCCAIN!

retgroclk said...

Sarah Palins future is not the White House- it is the rebuilding of the conscience of America.

She would be more powerful traveling this great country and reminding people what America is all about.
She can stir a passion in the American public that may very well reverse the direction of the past
bob fustero.

Greg Kline said...

"No intelligent person believes that Gov. Palin should or could become president of the United States."

That is quite an indictment Professor. While I share some of the concerns regarding her "gravitas" to claim that anyone who thinks she even could be elected President is not "intelligent" is base hyperbole.

If she chooses to run and can survive the trials of a primary to be the nominee she absolutely can be elected President. At the risk of being labeled "unintelligent" I would not count her out.

You might want to think about talking to more Republican voters and fewer of your colleagues in the faculty lounge before making such broad pronouncements.

streiff said...

Dr. Vatz,

This kind of rather sophomoric analysis really calls into question your political acuity rather than Palin's.

Gov. Palin is not my first choice for the nomination in 2012 but "gravitas", for better or for worse, is a metric defined by voters and not academics.

If "gravitas" were truly dispositive of anything other than someone's nose being firmly in the air then the current president, the lightest of lightweights, the least qualified presidential candidate since Wendell Wilkie, would not be in the White House.

Those on our side of the political spectrum should be encouraged both by the excitement Gov Palin is able to generate in the base and among independent voters and the loathing she generates among the editorial boards of several major newspapers. We shouldn't be joining her enemies which are also our opponents.

Chester Peake said...

If this image of Palin being a lightweight is due to the never-ending jeers from the left and the left-leaning media... be advised that they will stop at nothing to ridicule and put down any conservative that picks up the mantle. Look at how they piled it on to GWB, and he was less conservative than many of us want. She can win, but it will take a lot of work and a lot of people ignoring the rants of the left and looking at the real issues. I'd love to find an inspiring conservative that can ignite the right and the middle, and win the day. But even if/when that person emerges, they will be vilified and attacked just as severely as she has been.