Sarah Palin may be the most electrifying political personality in a lifetime. Barack Obama came from nowhere to win the Presidency, but no one has quite fascinated the American public as the former Governor of Alaska.
There is considerable speculation that Ms. Palin will run for President in 2012. She did not discourage anyone from that viewpoint in her recent interview on Fox News Sunday, and it appears that she will run if drafted. I would suggest that she may make a capable President in the future, but 2012 is not the right time.
If anyone needs proof that a little-experienced candidate does not make a good President, all you have to do is relive the first year of the Obama Presidency. Even as the media incessantly pressured us to believe that he was the present-day version of John F. Kennedy, a few thoughtful observers noticed that the comparison didn’t really add up. After all, Jack Kennedy had spent 14 years in Congress before being elected President – eight of those in the Senate. He campaigned across the country for other candidates and worked through the legislative process in both houses. He had long-term relationships and actual national experience. Even with that, his ticket needed the addition of a political enemy, Lyndon Johnson, to secure an electoral victory.
Mr. Obama has none of that. When he speaks of his old friends in Congress, most of those relationships are barely five years old. He had never campaigned for another candidate – only himself – and he neither had any true political allegiances nor any national legislative experience. So it’s no surprise that his accomplishments with the Congress are meager, even with substantial political majorities. His executive experience is also non-existent. Is it really any wonder that his first year was a near total disaster, and that the American people have begun to recognize his lack of ability and are starting to turn against him?
In much the same way, Ms. Palin has been compared to another recent President of her party – Ronald Reagan. She has a fabulous ability to connect with a considerable portion of the American people. While many elected officials seem both tone deaf and disdainful of their voters – especially those who have voted for the Obama Health Care scheme despite massive opposition from their own constituents – Ms. Palin speaks to people in terms they understand. Many Americans feel she is one of them and actually experiences their day-to-day challenges in a way Harvard-trained attorneys do not and cannot seem to do.
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.