Palin vs. the Nattering Nabobs of Negativism

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Sep 29, 2008 8:20 AM

Last week, Kathleen Parker wrote that Sarah Palin is "out of her league".  Today, Fareed Zakaria suggests someone "put Sarah Palin out of her misery." 

Zakaria's comments are to be expected (after all, he writes for Newsweek), but Parker's comments appear to be more an example of opportunism run amok (her gambit paid off -- she's being talked about).  Either way, it is problematic that it has become popular for prognosticators -- even so-called conservatives who once sang her praises (it's amazing how fickle some of these folks are) -- to bash Palin.

It's tempting to turn down publicity.  Last week, a well-known political reporter asked me "how I feel about Palin."  My response was one word: "love".  His follow-up was a question over whether or not the Katie Couric interview changed my view of her.  When I said it hadn't, the emails ended.  My guess is that if I had bashed her -- the way Parker did -- I would have gotten some publicity out of it.  But the truth, though, is that it is premature to write-off the Palin pick.

Aside from the obvious caveat that Thursday's debate will tell us a lot more, following are a few thoughts on just why that is the case:

1.  The McCain campaign -- not Palin, herself -- is probably, at least, partially to blame for the way her rollout has gone.  In this regard, I agree with the calls to, "let Palin be Palin."

2.  It's still early, and pundits like Parker may spend the next eight (or sixteen) years eating humble pie.  Remember, Ronald Reagan was initially written-off as a light-weight actor who wasn't prepared to discuss serious issues like foreign polic (actually, he was written-off when he first ran for governor, first ran for president, and then again after his first debate performance in 1984). 

While it's always dangerous to compare anyone to the Great Communicator, the fact is that the same insiders and media elite wrote him off.  The reason, of course, is that these folks are looking for a fast-talking policy wonk candidate (like, say, Newt Gingrich).  But what the media admires is not necessarily what real Americans reward.  And my guess is that the bitter opposition to Palin has something to do with the fact that her enemies see her amazing potential. 

A good rule in politics is that if they are attacking you it's because what you are doing is working!  Based on crowd sizes, Palin is still demonstrably popular with average Americans (you know, the people who elect presidents).  So long as she has the support of average Americans, the talking heads don't matter.

3.  The criticism of Palin has been very "general", meaning people have generally criticized her for not being specific enough, etc.  However, you cannot really say she has made any major gaffes (depending how you feel about the "Bush doctrine" story).  In my estimation, it is impressive for a candidate to do three extended national interviews and not really say one thing that could be used against her running mate (granted, the media probably resents this fact) ...

4.  Lastly, Palin's interviews have occurred at a time when the major focus has been on other issues, including the economy.  If there was ever a time to have an off day, she picked it.  A decent performance on Thursday night will render her opening interviews as about as significant a predictor as the Redskins opening game against the Giants.  In a business where it's "what have you done for me lately," too many analysts are putting too much stock in what may be seen as act 2 of a very, very long performance ...

... We will know more on Thursday night.  But I would caution everyone to pay more attention to how average Americans respond to Sarah Palin -- and less attention to how pundits and critics rate her performance.