Sarah Palin in Iowa

The Des Moines Register reports that Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) will visit the state later this month to appear at Iowa Republicans’ annual Reagan Day dinner. Drudge screams the headline: LOOK WHO’S GOING TO IOWA!

Obviously, Palin has been considered a potential contender in 2012 ever since at least the end of the 2008 campaign. I’ve got to say, however, that some of her moves have suggested to me that she’s not serious about being a candidate. Resigning as governor, becoming a tv commentator, and the general, well, un-presidentialness of her overall routine. On the other hand, she’s also come out with a book and been making candidate endorsements, exactly the type of thing a contender would do.

Whether or not Palin runs, the Iowa trip guarantees her one thing, and that is publicity. Buzz. No one ever became president, sold a book or propelled a movement without it. It keeps her in the game, keeps her viable, whether she wants to run, or thinks she may want to run, or doesn’t want to run but simply wants to stay in the game.

Here’s the thing. Palin continues to be a lightening rod. A kind of cultural Rorschach test. She’s going to generate controversy, and I don’t think she particularly minds that. Indeed, sometimes she seems to welcome it. Critics have attempted, at times rather cheaply or unfairly, to make her into a controversial figure, but so it always is in politics.

Through the tremors and aftershocks of the last presidential election, Sarah Palin has revealed social faultlines of the American electorate, and may soon fully reverberate into the nominating base of the Republican Party. My caution to my party is that we must now brace ourselves and be prepared. We will need to do so if we’re to remain a house united, fixed on firm foundations, standing strong now and for the future.

This means we need to actually be thoughtful about who Sarah Palin is, and what she means. Why she has struck a chord. Actually, understanding Sarah Palin and her significance to the GOP requires asking the same five questions in any story: Who, Why, What, Where, and When? I won’t try to answer all of those at the moment, but my guess is that each of them would tell us something interesting.

What I’d simply like to get out there right now is that we’ll need to be mindful of these things as we discuss our nomination process moving forward. With any figure like Sarah Palin, it becomes too easy simply to love her or hate her. To become a fanatic or regard her supporters with contempt. And we need to not do that. We need to be civil and reasonable and producive.

The fact is, even though I’m not a Sarah Palin fan – that is, I don’t favor her for the Republican Party presidential nomination – I recognize what she’s got going for her, and I can understand and empathize with those who support her. That includes a sense of genuine respect for Palin and her supporters. I’ve mentioned before on this blog a few of the things I like about Palin: she is devoted to family, as a wife to her husband and a mother to her five children; she is an energetic and ambitious person, savvy enough to become governor of a consequential state in the union; she clearly has charisma and an outgoing personality that tends toward good cheer and optimism; she also has some sensible positions on some of the political issues of the day, and has been honest, open and resolute in relating those positions to the public.

However, I’ll say again that I do not, under any current circumstance, believe that Sarah Palin is by any means the best qualifed person to lead either the Republican Party or the United States of America. She simply lacks the sort of intellectual formation that I would want to see in a partisan and national leader. I’m not saying she’s unintelligent, but I don’t see a good grasp of the issues or the policy process, or a well cultivated political philosophy. I also simply don’t think she relates well to the broader electorate, and along with some other commentators (Bill Maher, I’m thinking?), I have a problem with some of her rural/small town = “real America” rhetoric (just like I had a problem with John Edwards‘ “two America” thesis).

Again, though, the point right now is that we need to understand this potential candidate and why she may resonate with some voters. Many people simply like Sarah Palin. They relate to her. They can identify with her. She connects with them. She’s one of them. And she is an embodying expression of their values and way of life, or at least a way of life that they can understand and appreciate.  She sticks to her guns on many of the issues that are important to them, which happen to include, well, guns. What else do you hope for in a politician?

Anyway. I’ve gone on too long. But my hope is truly that within the GOP, if Sarah Palin continues to look like a candidate, that we can have a reasonable discussion and not tear each other into shreds over this one personage. People always ask me what I think about Sarah Palin. I always say roughly the same thing: Great woman, not likely a great president. I think at their most honest, both supporters and detractors would have to acknowledge that there’s something to this. Maybe in that sense, Sarah Palin can bring us all together.

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Filed under 2012 Presidential Election, Conservative Movement, Republican Party

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