David Broder likes a lot of things. He likes growing old and getting paid. He likes bipartisanship, civil cocktail parties inside the Beltway and timidity in the legislative process. He likes it when nothing ever has to change, sure, but what he loves even more than any of this is being utterly vapid and oblivious. And so, for today, David Broder likes Sarah Palin.
The snows that obliterated Washington in the past week interfered with many scheduled meetings, but they did not prevent the delivery of one important political message: Take Sarah Palin seriously.
I hate to tell David Broder this, but I actually do not think anyone actually got this message.
Her lengthy Saturday night keynote address to the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville and her debut on the Sunday morning talk show circuit with Fox News' Chris Wallace showed off a public figure at the top of her game -- a politician who knows who she is and how to sell herself, even with notes on her palm.
The top of what game? At the Tea Party convention, Palin more or less read the participants' protest signs back to them in her lilting "Aw, shucks" dialect, and took all of their money with her upon her departure. Then she made an appearance on a Sunday morning chat show about a year and a half after it would have mattered. This isn't what I'd call gamesmanship.
This was not the first time that Palin has impressed me. I gave her high marks for her vice presidential acceptance speech in St. Paul. But then, and always throughout that campaign, she was laboring to do more than establish her own place. She was selling a ticket headed by John McCain against formidable Democratic opposition and burdened by the legacy of the Bush administration.
Except she wasn't "always and throughout" the campaign "laboring to do more than establish her own place" and "selling a ticket headed by John McCain against formidable Democratic opposition." She actually gave up on the McCain campaign, weeks short of Election Day, and shifted her concentration to her own political fortunes. Did Broder miss all this? There was even a term attributed to her doing so: GOING ROGUE.
Blessed with an enthusiastic audience of conservative activists, Palin used the Tea Party gathering and coverage on the cable networks to display the full repertoire she possesses, touching on national security, economics, fiscal and social policy, and every other area where she could draw a contrast with Barack Obama and point up what Republicans see as vulnerabilities in Washington.
Right, we've seen the "full repertoire." It was energy,
budget cuts, tax, lift American spirits, and later some stuff about how Obama can save his presidency if stamps out the nascent Iranian uprising by dropping bombs all over the country.
What stood out in the eyes of TV-watching pols of both parties was the skill with which she drew a self-portrait that fit not just the wishes of the immediate audience but the mood of a significant slice of the broader electorate.
Know what stands out in the eyes of people who have paid attention to the aftermath of the Tea Party Convention and Sarah Palin's appearance on "Fox News Sunday"? She's the one thing from that weekend that didn't get a poll bounce. ABC News reported that "the Tea Party movement has the potential for significant political clout, but with challenges: high negatives, a fuzzy image and broader-than-ever skepticism about one of its most prominent backers, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin."
They go on: "Palin's own ratings are weaker, apparently hurt rather than helped by her return to the spotlight. Fifty-five percent of Americans see her unfavorably, the most basic measure of a public figure's popularity, and 71 percent believe she's not qualified to serve as president, a position she said Sunday she'll consider seeking. Both negatives are at new highs."
This was a very well-timed piece, Mr. Broder!
Freed of the responsibilities she carried as governor of Alaska, devoid of any official title but armed with regular gigs on Fox News Channel and more speaking invitations than she can fulfill, Palin is perhaps the most visible Republican in the land.
"Freed of the responsibilities?" "Devoid of any official title?" Broder makes it sound like the beneficent forces of the universe intervened to make this happen! In fact, there's another way of describing what happened: SHE QUIT HER JOB. SO SHE CAN GET PAID SOME TALL DOLLARS FOR A CHANGE. Also, a lot of those "too many to fulfill" speaking gigs are ones she just bails on. And the "most visible Republican in the land" won't be speaking at the most visible Republican speaking gig in the land -- the CPAC conference -- because they won't be paying her. She's got a bowling expo lined up, though!
More important, she has locked herself firmly in the populist embrace that every skillful outsider candidate from George Wallace to Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton has utilized when running against "the political establishment."
What's particularly amusing about this paragraph is that if you read enough David Broder, you'd know he doesn't like populism and he doesn't like "outsiders." He loves him some political establishment. In fact, the thing he probably loves best about Palin's Tea Party convention effort is the way she's trying to bring about a merger of the ragtag, outsider movement and the conventional GOP establishment.
Palin's final answer to Wallace showed how perfectly she has come to inhabit that part. When he asked her what role she wants to play in the country's future, she said:
"First and foremost, I want to be a good mom, and I want to raise happy, healthy, independent children. And I want them to be good citizens of this great country.
"And then I do want to be a voice for some common-sense solutions. I'm never going to pretend like I know more than the next person. I'm not going to pretend to be an elitist. In fact, I'm going to fight the elitist, because for too often and for too long now, I think the elitists have tried to make people like me and people in the heartland of America feel like we just don't get it, and big government's just going to have to take care of us.
David Broder, when Sarah Palin talks about "fighting elitists," she's talking about you, brah. And this would be a good time to point out that Sarah Palin does pretend to know more than the next person. There are literally huge swaths of this country that Palin believes are not "real America."
This is a pitch-perfect recital of the populist message that has worked in campaigns past. There are times when the American people are looking for something more: for an Eisenhower, who liberated Europe; an FDR or a Kennedy or a Bush, all unashamed aristocrats; or an Obama, with eloquence and brains.
But in the present mood of the country, Palin is by all odds a threat to the more uptight Republican aspirants such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty -- and potentially, to Obama as well.
Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty might be worried about Sarah Palin, but at the moment, they're in much better shape. They have better teams in place. They can play the role of the outsider just well enough to pass. They've got a clearer path to the nomination. As Alex Pareene points out, Palin's fortunes will ride heavily on her ability to earn "fluke victories and lucky breaks."
Hell, if you're Mitt Romney, you probably feel pretty good about things. Not only do you come to the party having finished second the last go-round, you're looking at the path of electability paved by the Romney-esque Scott Brown, and thinking, "I can do that. Hell, I invented that." And Brown won by keeping the Tea Party people at arms length, staying calm, making no campaign errors, and waiting until his acceptance speech to say something insane about his daughters. That's not a path the Sarah Palin we all know and love will follow.
Did Broder miss all this stuff?
Palin did not wear well in the last campaign, especially in the suburbs where populism has a limited appeal. But when Wallace asked her about resigning the governorship with 17 months left in her term and whether she let her opponents drive her from office, she said, "Hell, no."
What? No, no. She said, explicitly, that she let her opponents drive her from office! She told Wallace: "Political operatives descended on Alaska last August, digging for dirt. The ethics law I championed became their weapon of choice. Over the past nine months I've been accused of all sorts of frivolous ethics violations -- such as holding a fish in a photograph, wearing a jacket with a logo on it, and answering reporters' questions."
Those who want to stop her will need more ammunition than deriding her habit of writing on her hand. The lady is good.
Lord. I've got to let David Broder in on a little secret here: The people who want to "stop" Sarah Palin are other Republican hopefuls. You can see this in the way that every time a top GOP official appears on a Sunday morning political show and is asked, "DO you think Sarah Palin will be your Presidential nominee?" they all immediately start hemming and hawing and saying things like, "Sarah Palin has good energy," or "Sarah Palin is an exciting figure," and then immediately pivot to promoting the presidential aspirations of people like Haley Barbour.
By contrast, Democrats...they aren't worried about Sarah Palin at all. They would dearly, deeply, love her to win the GOP nomination for President. In fact, if there's one thing that the "lady" is "good" at, it's boosting President Obama's re-election fortunes.