Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Underestimating Sarah Palin

Just as they did with Ronald Reagan, those of Democratic/Liberal/Progressive leanings are underestimating Sarah Palin. No, I am not predicting a McCain/Palin victory, though that is not out of the question by any means. But if you think an Obama victory will rid the world of Palin, you are mistaken. Educated people have had a field day making fun of her tortured syntax, her fem-bot-like delivery of sound-bites, her obvious cluelessness about almost anything requiring actual thought. Just as many dismissed Reagan as an amiable dunce, too many dismiss Palin as nothing more than Caribou Barbie.

Here is a prediction: Sarah Palin, win or lose in November, will become face and the standard-bearer of the GOP. She is the closest thing to a transformative figure the Republicans have had since Reagan. She is nowhere near being in Reagan's class as a thinker or politician, but the times are different. Reagan was part of a very deep generation of conservative politicians, especially in the day when the Republicans actually had a diversity of viewpoints and philosophies. Palin stands almost alone, after eight years in which the party has been systematically purged of diversity and stripped of any philosophical trappings. Who else is left? Huckabee? He has been exposed as Palin-lite. Romney? Even Republicans see through him. The younger generation, epitomized by Rick Santorum, have fallen by the wayside, at least for now, in part because they were one-note wonders. And none of them represented a divergence from the social conservatism that is far more ably represented by Palin. In other words, had they survived they would still be eclipsed by her.

The question is, what will this mean, and should we be afraid? If you are a moderate or libertarian-leaning Republican, you should be afraid. The Palin era will bring with it the culmination of the purge which began at least as early as 1992: all vestiges of considered and rational deliberation, all receptiveness to diversity or to internationalism, will be excised from the Party. It will devolve into a purely and openly fundamentalist lobby. The Faustian bargain that the old Republican elite made, to bargain for the votes of Joe Sixpack, will come home to roost, with the Wall Street crowd completely losing any voice they once had.

The moderates and libertarians will have to consider forming a new party, perhaps inviting centrist Democrats to join them (although, in the afterglow of a winning election cycle, few are likely to jump ship). There might after all be a chance for a viable third party, though it remains unlikely.

There has been talk of Karl Rove's notion of a permanent majority being turned on its head. Democrats are talking about a long-term reversal of fortunes. It is almost too bad that they will not have had to suffer through a few more years in the wilderness. I say "almost", because that would also have meant more years of Republican rule, which would be unaccepable and even suicidal. But the Democrats have returned to their worst instincts, demonizing rich people (by their definition of "rich", most rich people are contributing to them, not to the Republicans), openly defending Big Government, and so on. The Democrats could ensure a "permanent" mandate if they would make fiscal conservatism part of their DNA, even while standing up for the environment, equal rights, equal opportunity, healthcare reform, education and an enlightened foreign policy. But they won't do it.

Still, as long as the Republicans have to deal with the Palinization of the Party and all of its consequences, the Democrats will have a window of opportunity to get some things right. We can only hope that Obama is in fact as thoughtful and balanced as he has appeared on the campaign trail.

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