I'm sure I would like Sarah Palin if I got the chance to meet her. We share many things in common. She is still married to her first spouse, as am I. She has a Down syndrome son. I have a brother with Down syndrome. We share the same faith and we both like the outdoors. She is conservative on economic and social issues, and so am I.
In her new book, "Going Rogue," Palin complains about her running mate's handlers, whom she says kept her from being herself. I have similar complaints. Those handlers also kept me from interviewing her. The handlers are long gone, of course, but still I cannot get close to her.
I could either play the victim, or move on. I choose to move on. But before I do, the Palin phenomenon -- for that is what it is because her celebrity flows singularly from John McCain's choice of her as a running mate -- offers an opportunity for conservatives to choose their path to the future. Will it be a path of the angry and disenfranchised outsider, or will it be something of substance that produces triumphs in both politics and policy?
The victim thing is getting old. Conservatives have a significant presence in virtually every venue they like to denounce. That includes government (though not this one) and especially the media. Talk radio rules and the rulers are conservatives. Fox News Channel dominates the ratings. The conservative presence in academia lags, but there are universities that do not revise American history and mock religious values. Movies? There are some with solid conservative principles, such as Sandra Bullock's latest film, "The Blind Side." Will conservatives go see it, or are they more comfortable denouncing "Hollywood"? How about reinforcements for those conservatives already "making it" in the mainstream media?
In her interview with Oprah Winfrey, the queen of talk asked the queen of politics about the famous Katie Couric interview. I thought Couric gave her ample opportunity to reveal herself and to let viewers see if there was substance behind Palin's attractive exterior. Couric legitimately tried to find out what shapes Palin's worldview and what she reads. Palin couldn't name a single publication. Oprah gave her another chance, but she never followed up to ask about books or a newspaper from which she gets information, ideas and inspiration.
It is true that conservatives are often asked questions that are never asked of liberals and in ways that seem condescending and superficial. But that is an opportunity to give an answer that can skewer the questioner while making the point you wish to make.
Do I wish Palin had more intellectual depth like Jeane Kirkpatrick, Ronald Reagan's United Nations U.S. ambassador? Of course. But that can be developed if she gets serious about it. Because of her notoriety she can surely command the best and the brightest tutors.
Still, if she is as bad as her detractors say, why are they wasting so much time dumping on her? One might think they would be cheering the prospect of her becoming the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, thus guaranteeing in their mind a second term for President Obama.
Victimization plays well with the conservative base and that's a problem. If conservatives don't rise from the muck of feeling excluded, disrespected, ignored and mocked, they will continue to suffer all of these things. There is nothing like proving the worth of your ideas to put the mockers in their place. Victimization can raise money, sell books and get one face time on TV, but it doesn't advance the ball.
Sarah Palin is a force the Republican establishment must reckon with. She has energized a sizable portion of the GOP base. If the party ignores that base and nominates another candidate in 2012 who is part of the inside-the-beltway crowd, it could lose. And that would be a double tragedy -- for the GOP and the country -- as President Obama keeps giving Republicans issues that make a conservative agenda far more attractive than the hard-left one he is attempting to impose on the country.
Palin's optimism is refreshing. If she can sharpen her intellect, in three years she won't be mocked; she will be feared.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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