Ronald Reagan connected with ordinary Americans in a similar way. Yet Ronald Reagan was considerably different than Sarah Palin. He worked the political world for over 20 years before becoming President. He gave the keynote speech at the 1964 Republican convention – sixteen years before being elected President. He ran the largest state in the union for eight years, working extensively through the legislative process. He travelled the country speaking to audiences and creating political allegiances that benefited him during his Presidency.
Ronald Reagan was accused of being a political lightweight, much like Ms. Palin has been characterized. That was a political fable. He had developed his political philosophies for a generation, and, after he lost to Gerald Ford in the 1976 primaries, he spent even more time further refining his political agenda and preparing for his run in 1980. In 2001, Reagan, In His Own Hand was published, revealing how much he controlled his own thinking and political philosophy. The book clearly showed that President Reagan had given considerable thought to the major issues of his day, and spent extensive time evaluating appropriate policies and solutions.
As attractive as Ms. Palin may be as a political personality, she does not have any of these elements of a political resume. She may have done an extraordinary job as Alaskan Governor, but she did that for only two and one-half years. She may have electrified a portion of the electorate, but she has few political allegiances to call on if she becomes President. Most importantly, she has not spent the amount of time needed to work on the issues of the day. By her own admission, she has had to expand the scope of her political universe since resigning as Governor. She has started to receive daily updates on her Blackberry, but that is not the same as Reagan’s detailed policy statements in his own hand.
Americans like the idea of electing an outsider as President – one not beholden to the Washington scene. Yet the ones devoid of national allegiances gained through years of relationships have been failures – Carter and Obama so far. The outsiders who had long-term relationships, like Reagan and Clinton, were much more successful. They may have been outsiders, but they had plenty of friends in Washington.
Sarah Palin may turn out to be an excellent candidate and an excellent President. She has certain innate abilities that cannot be molded into a political figure. She just needs to spend a lot more time enveloping herself in the political process and understanding the issues and possible solutions facing our country. This will not ruin her – it did not ruin Reagan.
The American people succeeded in electing a neophyte as President and we are suffering for it. We should not make that mistake a second time in 2012.