I am a fan of Sarah Palin. I think she is well qualified and that she would be a fantastic president if elected. But I think she would serve the conservative movement best if she didn’t run for president. Not in 2012. Maybe never.
This isn’t about Palin’s qualifications. Even before stepping into the Alaska governor’s office, her tenure as mayor of Wasilla had provided her with more government executive experience than Barack Obama has midway through his presidency. As governor, she demonstrated leadership by bucking the establishment of her own party, exposing corruption and replacing it with honest, responsive government. She stood up to oil giant Exxon and other powerful special interests and devised a creative plan that responsibly developed Alaska’s oil reserves while sharing the profits with the people. She produced a plan for renewable energy resource use and for construction of an ambitious trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline, while cutting government waste and eliminating federal pork projects. Qualified? You betcha!
Nor does this reflect concern that Palin is too polarizing to win the general election. Well, duh, anyone who steadfastly advocates the conservative policies that our country needs is the polar opposite of President Obama, and is therefore “polarizing” by definition. I wouldn’t want a nominee who wasn’t. I was reminded recently that exactly the same charge was leveled against Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan’s poll numbers at this point in the 1980 campaign were as bad or worse than Palin’s are now. Reagan fiercely defended his principles and communicated them in a way that ordinary people understood, once he had their attention. And that’s what ultimately enabled him to unseat an incumbent president. The parallels between Reagan and Palin are undeniable.
Even so, I believe Palin could best serve conservative interests (and therefore the national interest) by refraining from seeking the presidency, while still developing creative conservative solutions to national problems, continuing to connect with ordinary people with her plainspoken common sense explanation of conservative policy, inspiring and motivating the conservative base, and running interference for whichever conservative candidate the Republican Party nominates. As demonstrated as recently as the aftermath of the Arizona shooting tragedy, Palin is a lightning rod for criticism from Democrats and the mainstream media (forgive the redundancy). She could take much of the flak, leaving the actual candidate unscathed (or at least minimizing the damage). Not being the candidate would free her up to be an inspirational high-profile role model raising her children, and to do things a candidate or federal officeholder could not, like continuing to serve as a Fox News contributor (an excellent forum for communicating conservative values) and earning speaking fees and other family income. It takes a strong person to do such a thing and persevere. A strong person like Sarah Palin.
This has been done before, but not as purposely as I have outlined here. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) performed that function for the Democrats after his failed intra-party challenge to President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Kennedy was the originator of copious amounts of liberal legislation, much of which unfortunately became law. He inspired his party’s base and drew millions of loyalists to fundraising events for his party and its candidates. Perhaps most important, he served as the lightning rod that drew Republican fire, diverting much of it from his party’s real candidates. Ted Kennedy served his party well and will be among the most revered of his generation, without ever having been its presidential nominee. He will be remembered long after actual Democratic nominees like Michael Dukakis and John Kerry are as forgotten as James Cox and John Davis.
An exception to this plan would be if no other satisfactory electable Republican candidate emerges. Taking the veto pen out of Obama’s hand next election is the only way that the damage that he and the Pelosi-Reid congress caused in the first half of his administration can be undone in time to prevent permanent harm to the republic. If Palin’s Reaganesque candidacy is the only thing that can save us, then she has to do it, and I’ll support her. But at this time, I believe a suitable alternative will emerge and catch fire. (Note to liberals: That’s a metaphor. I am neither predicting nor advocating the burning of any candidate.) Let’s see how the political landscape looks a year from now.
I am not saying that Palin should not otherwise serve again in public office, though doing so would put an end to her Fox News gig and reduce her personal income-producing capacity. Kennedy was elected to the U. S. Senate eight times, and used that office to turn his ideas into policy and law. The seat of accidental Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) comes up in 2014, and that might well prove to be the perfect perch from which to launch the Palin magic.
I won’t insult Palin by denominating her “the Republican Ted Kennedy” (that’s a bridge I won’t cross, so to speak), but she could do for conservatives and Republicans what Kennedy did for liberals and Democrats. And that’s a lot!