The appeal of Sarah Palin

I admit it, I was a fan of Sarah Palin during last fall’s presidential election. I found her personal story interesting, but more importantly, I saw her as someone who would be willing to shake up the Republican party nationally as she did in Alaska. The day after she was announced as John McCain’s running mate, I donated to his campaign for the first time.

Alas, history was not on the side of the Republican ticket last year so even though Sarah Palin probably gave John McCain his best chance of winning, McCain’s fate was probably sealed long before he ever picked Palin. In addition, his public statements and erratic reaction once the “financial crisis” went into full gear (at one point “suspending” his campaign like that would make any difference) probably clinched the election for Obama.

But back to Palin. The problem with the hope that she would shake up the national party is that she was running for Vice President. As the vice presidential candidate, you don’t do any shaking up, you advocate for the guy at the top of the ticket. The other part that is interesting about the vice presidential candidate is that while the media (and the small portion of the public who are political junkies) had nearly two years to vet all of the presidential candidates (and many more years than that if you count all the years the candidates in the primaries had been in the national spotlight), they only had less than two months to vet Sarah Palin. So the narrative that emerged on Sarah Palin the politician necessarily emerged not only hastily, but in the midst of a highly contentious presidential election. To me this means that the “story” of Sarah Palin is far from complete and that she still has plenty of time to emerge as a serious political candidate in the future (see Matthew Continetti’s article in the Wall Street Journal for a good look at Palin’s political prospects).

Having said that (thanks Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld for making that phrase stick in my head), there is certainly a fair amount of anti-Palin sentiment (what’s an antonym for appeal?) which I think is understandable. In her appeal to “common sense”, she tends to snub “elites” and appears to harbor a certain anti-intellectual bias. This is not a positive trait when you are interested in winning a war of ideas. If you are interested in getting elected to national office, it might get you very far, even all the way to an election victory, but it does not help your supporters determine what kinds of policies they can expect you to support. Knowing that Sarah Palin is a “hockey mom” has a certain amount of folksy appeal to some, but that doesn’t do me any good in determining what her position on the nuclear situation in Iran would be, for example.

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