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Breaking: Sarah Palin Will Not Seek Re-Election as Governor Ľ
July 03, 2009

Jonah Goldberg to Sarah Palin: Do Your Job and Do Your Homework

Hmmmm... I think maybe there's absolutely no point to this post at all, given recent events in Juneau.

Awesome column which pretty much says everything I think. Goldberg notes he was one of Palin's earliest and biggest cheerleaders; I can't claim earliest or biggest, but I was definitely on the bandwagon before the nomination.

I'm not on it at the moment. Could get back on it. Would like to get back on it. But not on it at the moment.

This post has a necessary follow-up, which I'll do later. The follow-up may be more important. Conservatives have developed a bad habit of condemning opinions they don't want to hear but which, I believe, they secretly suspect might have a lot of truth in them; the more truth the fear might be contained in an unwelcome critique, the more withering the response, in an effort to shut that line of critique down before it "gains traction" in the media.

I'll get to that later. Suffice to say -- well, I've said it before. Not only is the idea that conservatives, of all people, can control what the liberal media reports simply by scrubbing anything "useful" to the liberal media out of our comments, it's also highly questionable that such a thing is healthy for a political movement, even if it could be achieved.

On to Goldberg for now. Seriously, I almost wrote this, more or less, last night, before deciding I'd rather watch The Office and old DVDs of The Prisoner.



But while McCainís strategists do not cover themselves in glory for scapegoating you, you are not without blame either. You do seem to think the best advice is for you to stay just the way you are. Leaders listen to the advice they donít necessarily want to hear.

For starters, every time I see you on TV, youíre whining about unfair press coverage. Donít get me wrong: Much of it is unfair, and some of it deserves a response. But itís not presidential. Itís not even gubernatorial. You are constantly taking the bait, taking up the fights your biggest fans want you to take up.

But hereís the thing: Donít listen to your biggest fans. Donít alienate them either, but donít think that because the Palin4Pres crowd cheers, youíre making progress. Politics is ultimately about persuasion, and you seem entirely uninterested in that, preferring instead to play the victim. Well, victims donít get elected president. Ronald Reagan was a laughingstock for liberals and despised by the press. But he didnít whine or take the bait.


I have said this about Palin's tendency to only make news when the news is about she herself -- an insult, unfair news coverage, etc. -- rather than doing what Mitt Romney (for example) does, which is to comment on news not about Mitt Romney. Such as criticizing Barack Obama once or twice a week.

Now Mitt Romney can easily avoid making the news about himself, because he is simply not a charismatic figure. He is, for better or worse, kinda boring. Sarah Palin is naturally interesting and blazingly charismatic, and so there is always the temptation, for both her supporters and detractors, to make the story about her, which will always, due to her magnetism, be a more interesting story than any story about what she might be saying about this or that issue.

Issues are more interesting than Mitt Romney. Sarah Palin is more interesting than any issue. Thus the temptation.

But while this is a temptation, Sarah Palin should not fall into this trap. Yes, she is such a dynamic figure that we all really want to talk about her rather than, say, Obama's grudging half-a-surge in Afghanistan. Those who love her want to talk about her; those who hate her want to talk about her.

But that's the mark of a celebrity, not a statesman. And Sarah Palin has to fight the media's -- and now, alas, her supporters' -- impulse to taboidize her, to cover her primarily as a personality and only secondarily, if at all, as a policymaker.

Palin does not need to stoke the fires of passion for her. That is always there, always will be there. She has to do the exact opposite: Push her ideas and programs first, last, and always, and attempt, however futile the effort might be, to push Palin the Personality into the deep background.

She will not lose a single supporter doing this, of course. Quite the opposite. She can't really be un-interesting even if she tries, but it is critical that she does try, tries to fashion herself into not simply a white-hot personality, but a bland, gray policy wonk.

Again: She will not be successful in this. Sarah Palin doesn't do "gray." But the effort will be noted, and respected. And it will stop her detractors from endlessly debating her, at least to some extent, and force them to respond to the points she makes.

My problem is less that she is, as a person and personality, the focus of stories about her, and more that she allows herself to be the story to exclusion of making other more important issues the story.

It is inarguable that it's important for a candidate to connect emotionally with her supporters. And Palin has, quite obviously, accomplished this. But it's almost as important (people like to say it's more important, but they're lying; but it is still important) to make a rational, intellectual pitch

Palin is building on her strengths, to the point of diminishing returns (if not at the point of counterproductivity) while refusing to address her weaknesses. It's easy to play to one's strengths. They are, after all, your strengths. It is difficult to correct one's weaknesses.

But so far I do not see Palin making any obvious attempt to correct her weaknesses. Perhaps there's a lot of this going on under the waterline. Maybe she's boning up at home. Maybe she's avoiding giving a substantive address or the like until she feels ready, or until she thinks the time is right.

But I don't think so. She has a big megaphone and does not appear entirely reluctant to use it; but mostly it seems to be used for "issues" which are, quite frankly, perfectly trivial.

And if she's pushing trivial issues, she's reinforcing the meme that she is a trivial person.

She can't afford that.

Back to Goldberg:

Second, peddling a few platitudes and truisms about free markets and limited government is no substitute for really knowing what youíre talking about. Yes, you can talk well about the stuff you know ó oil drilling, energy, etc. ó but beyond your comfort zone, you fall back on bumper-sticker language that sounds fine to the people who already agree with you but is useless in winning over skeptics.

President Bush had the same problem you do, which is why thereís a hunger for Republicans who can effectively articulate and sell our policies and philosophy. Thatís why the wonks have the upper hand. Mitt Romney, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and other hands-on types are what the party wants and, frankly, needs.

Hereís the good news: You have time. Hereís the better news: You have something no one else in the party has ó charisma. And I donít mean you have the most charisma like itís a consolation prize for not being elected prom queen. If money could buy what you have, Romney would have bought it all by now. Good politicians can learn how to win over audiences, but the great ones are born with the ability. Reagan had it. Clinton had it. Obama has it. You have it. You are the ďIt GirlĒ of the GOP.

Someone said of Palin, "What she doesn't know can be learned, but what she does know can't be taught." That is to say, her strengths -- blazing charisma and in-the-bones authenticity, and caginess, and innate understanding of how politics works at a gut level -- are largely innate and can never be learned. Michael Dukakis and John Kerry and Hillary Clinton certainly would have loved to learn what Sarah Palin knows intuitively; they would have paid any amount of money you can name to learn her gift.

But it can't be learned. As they say in sports, "You can't teach speed."

On the other hand, her deficits can be corrected. It's simple to correct them -- not easy, perhaps, but simple. You just start getting briefed (and briefing yourself) five times a week, and start writing Op-Eds for newspapers.

I think the big division in the conservative movement over Sarah Palin is actually a fairly small one. On one side are people who think she is the most important political figure since Reagan.

On the other side -- the side I now have fallen into -- are those who think she is potentially the most important political figure since Reagan.

The split, then, is whether she is or whether she could be, if she takes certain steps.

I don't really understand the ferocity of her supporters who attack any suggestion that Palin could stand some improvement in some areas. I will not parodize their view as believing she's "perfect" as is, I don't believe they think she's perfect, and I don't think they say she's "perfect" as is, either.

But they do seem to imply that, rather strongly. Palin's strongest supporters will allow, vaguely, that she might be flawed in some unspecified way, but when a conservative levels a specific criticism at her, or suggests she needs to improve in a specific way, they argue she shouldn't. Since I'm not aware of any specific areas in which Palin's strong supporters concede she might need specific improvement, I'm left with the implication that she's perfect as is.

Among the excuses made for her -- and yes, I do think they are excuses -- are the following:

Well, we don't want her campaigning for President 3 1/2 years before an election, anyway.

Bollocks we don't. First of all, appearing frequently to critique or rebut Obama and the Democrats isn't necessarily "campaigning" for President. Dick Cheney is not campaigning for anything -- would Palin's supporters deny they didn't want or appreciate Dick Cheney making a strong case for conservativism?

We conservatives both want and need all of our top-shelf political talent speaking out on as many issues as possible. If you believe, as I do, that Sarah Palin is one of our top political talents (if not the top), why on earth would you argue we don't want Sarah Palin out there giving interviews on Obama's policies as Cheney does? Are you really of the belief that it's better that John Boehner handle this duty?

Mitt Romney seems to be able to do this -- and Sarah Palin is incandescent compared to Romney.

Thus, I think it's pure excuse-making to claim "Oh, we don't want her out there strongly championing our cause anyway." Pure nonsense. Of course that's what we want. That's exactly what we want. Anyone claiming otherwise is just making excuses to explain away the fact that she isn't.

Sarah Palin's strengths are her authenticity and ability to connect with average people and getting all wonky would only diminish that. Untrue. Sarah Palin will have that ability whether she's speaking in platitudes or if she's speaking in specifics; the difference is that if she's speaking in specifics, she's making an intellectual appeal along with a gut one. Seeming to be on top of the facts helps her; how can anyone with a straight face argue it hurts her to appear to be scholarly or bright?

And yeah, I really have heard this excuse before, on this blog, in fact.

To go back to sports: This is like a Randy Moss fan claiming (in his old selfish days) that there's no need for him to run strong routes even when the ball isn't going to him or block vigorously for other receivers or running backs. His strength, his fans might say, was running deep routes for touchdowns.

Yes, that was and is his main strength. But is pure excuse-making to suggest he wouldn't be a better player if he added other strengths (or at least basic competencies) to his game. It's not as if Randy Moss loses his ability to catch touchdowns suddenly if he blocks for another player.

Those who argue she not only doesn't need to add a bit of wonkery to appeal are making pretty much the same argument -- If Sarah Palin gets all super-smart and in-command on us, well, gee! Suddenly many of us might not like her so much.

Untrue. People may resent those with gifts they don't have but they always respect them. I don't think there's a person in the country who wouldn't prefer a genius over a non-genius as president. (Note well: A genius is not necessarily, and not even frequently, of the typical posturing intellectual stripe; indeed, it's those who have doubts about the fineness of their intellects who most frequently wear the mantle of the typical posturing intellectual.)

One doesn't forget how to speak English if one learns how to speak French. Indeed, learning another language is one of the best ways to learn your own. Strength adds to strength. Strength never subtracts from strength.

She has plenty of time. Yes, she does, but as they say: No time like the present. If someone's going to quit smoking, there's no terribly strong reason they should wait to quit. If someone's going to lose weight, there's no good reason to delay.

Delay is often a sign of a lack of commitment. Delay usually means it's not going to happen at all.

And she doesn't have as much time as people claim. Running for president now takes at least two years. Two years. So basically she has until November 2010 to start running. I, for one, would like her to hit the ground running at that point, and not be learning statecraft as she runs.

She's a fighter; that's why we love her. This excuse is offered when it's suggested she should refrain from spats with the like of David Lettermen.

There is truth in this: We conservatives are sick to death of conservatives who ball up into the fetal position while liberals kick them in the spine. We do like fighters. And I love Sarah Palin's willingness -- nay, eagerness -- to fight.

However.

There are fights that we more need her to fight, and fights she more needs to fight, than these personal, celebrity-feud type deals.

Some say "we like her pointing out media bias." Yes, I do too -- but wouldn't it be more effective for conservatives, as well as more helpful for her own gravitas, if she pointed out media bias in situations having nothing at all to do, directly, with Sarah Palin herself?

That would be a double-win: She would be helping the cause and helping herself tremendously as well, because she would start to earn the reputation of a general political thinker.

If media bias is her thing -- and since it's my thing, I can't hold that against her -- why not address it in the context of, say, health care "reporting"? Anything to get her out of the trap of tabloidization and into the habit of pushing herself a major policy guru.

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posted by Ace at 03:33 PM

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