President Palin?

“Take Sarah Palin seriously,” David Broder writes in the Washington Post. ”In the present mood of the country, Palin is by all odds a threat to the more uptight Republican aspirants such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty – and potentially, to Obama as well.” Palin’s own Captain Ahab, Andrew Sullivan, wrings his hands that she’s the “leader of the opposition” and a real threat to be president. Time’s Joe Klein goes even further: “Is Sarah Palin the favorite to win the Republican nomination and therefore someone to be taken absolutely seriously? You betcha.”

Yes, well, I’m old enough to remember that Newsweek prepared six covers for the week of the 1968 election (I was very precocious), and one of them proclaimed “President-elect George Wallace.” Wasn’t gonna happen. Nor is this. As for those who compare Palin to Ronald Reagan, yes, there are some similarities. They both lived in the West, they’re both “conservative” in some sense, and they were both dismissed by effete East Coast intellectuals. But I see just a few differences:

  1. Reagan served eight years as governor of a very large state; he didn’t quit after half a term.
  2. Reagan had spent a long time developing a real political philosophy, one that had changed a great deal during his adult life. In his time as president of the actors’ union, 1947-52, he was known as a liberal, anti-communist Democrat. A long life of watching the world, paying taxes, and reading moved him to the libertarian right. Palin couldn’t name any newspapers she reads. Reagan told Rowland Evans in an interview, “I’ve always been a voracious reader – I have read the economic views of von Mises and Hayek, and … Bastiat…. I know about Cobden and Bright in England – and the elimination of the corn laws and so forth, the great burst of economy or prosperity for England that followed.” Reagan thought a lot about what he believed, and his deep understanding of a set of political principles was perhaps his most notable characteristic when he emerged on the political stage.
  3. Reagan was smart and could articulate his views on public policy. One of the standard defenses of Palin is “liberals said Reagan was dumb.” Yes, they did, even after he out-debated Bobby Kennedy in an internationally televised debate just months after he became governor. Democratic mandarin Clark Clifford, who didn’t realize that the bank he chaired was run by actual criminals, famously called Reagan an “amiable dunce.” But now that Reagan’s hand-written radio commentary scripts have been published, no one really makes this claim any more. Read Reagan in His Own Hand, read the commentaries he wrote on yellow pads while being driven from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, and ask yourself: Could Sarah Palin do that?

Sarah Palin can be a dazzling performer. But she’s still capable of saying that Obama could improve his chances for reelection if he ”played the war card … decided to declare war on Iran.” Her articulation of political ideas remains remarkably thin. The Republican bench may be weak, but I don’t think it’s that weak.