We’ve heard from many readers responding to John’s post evaluating Sarah Palin as a presidential candidate. Here is one (slightly edited) message that captures some of the points made by our readers that are worthy of consideration:
I’m sure you mean well, but what you’re saying in “Palin for President? Forget it” is that slanderous attacks should be allowed to succeed. But don’t forget that, if they work with Palin, they’ll simply continue. It won’t just be Bush and Palin who get this treatment. It’ll be every conservative Republican who shows some promise of attracting the support of middle-America. The Republicans will be stuck with gosh-awful candidates like Romney, who offer no real alternative to the Democrats and hence no chance of winning.
Sigh! This running from a fight is why I consider myself an independent rather than a Republican. Republicans think like businessmen. “Ah, there’s some fierce competition in this market. Some unpleasantness. Perhaps we ought to place our investments elsewhere.” No, what you do is what I did in my copyright dispute with the Tolkien estate. You fight, you win and you leave the other side gun shy. It works. That’s what the NRA has done with gun control. There’s an unavoidable upside to these vicious attacks. They persuade some voters. You and I have the responsibility to make sure the downside is greater, that lies don’t win, that those who lie pay a painful cost.
You could, of course, argue that Palin isn’t qualified for the office, but the obvious response to that is “More qualified than who?” Than goofy Gore? Than spineless, no-one-ever-follows-me Kerry? Than posturing Obama? Palin’s brief but obvious executive talent as governor isn’t proof that she’ll make a good President. But it easily trumps anything the most recent three Democratic Presidential candidates have demonstrated. And yes, there are probably people with greater executive skills that Palin, but they seem to lack the heart to fight as well as her communication skills. Never forget how she manages to drive debates after losing for the VP slot, while Gore and Kerry, former senators and Presidential candidates have virtually no impact on today’s debates. In my mind, no one who’s thought Gore, Kerry and Obama qualified is credible saying that Palin isn’t.
I like to point out to people that every one of the more talented Republican Presidents from Eisenhower on has been attacked as a mental lightweight. Stevenson was regarded as “intelligent” in the same sense that Obama is today, perhaps with just as little justification. The Carter administration actually hoped they’d face Reagan in 1980. In actual fact, Eisenhower successfully led the largest multinational army in history and Reagan was an outstanding success in virtually every area he entered: life guard, union leader, governor, political commentator, and President, excepting perhaps only acting, where he was just so-so.
There is a sort of individual who seems most likely to abandon a fight just as events begin to turn in their favor. They some how envision themselves as always losing and find victory harder to cope with than defeat. With their attempts to blame Palin for the Arizona shootings, liberals blew away their credibility. Now is not the time to cut and run. Now is the time to redouble our attacks on their credibility.
When I wrote Chesterton on War and Peace, I was struck by the fact that the wrong people won the debates of the 1920s about WWI. Germany wasn’t unfairly punished at the end of the war. The Treaty of Versailles was far less harsh than that Germany imposed on the Soviet Union in Brest-Litovsk (early 1918) and far less brutal than the one Germany intended to impose on Belgium and France had they won the war.
The latter would have turned Belgium into little more than a colony of Germany, with its industry run to serve the interests of Germany. It was so unfair German industrialists opposed it. And yet with the exception of Chesterton, none of those who knew that said anything. They let the liars win and the result was appeasement and disaster. We’re doing the same thing.
And that, in turn reminds me of what armies traditionally have done when the other side uses non-combatants as human shields. They redoubled their efforts, defeated those committing war crimes, and then lined them against a wall and shot them. Whether Palin is the Republican candidate in 2012 is less important than that every one of her more vicious critics get targeted (yes, I’d use that word), defeated, and made to pay dearly for their lies. That’s not what poll-conscious people like you are doing.
The first principle for winning elections is displaying the courage to lead. If the Republicans let the slanders of Bush, Cheney, Palin and others stand, they don’t deserve to win in 2012.
Michael W. Perry, the author of this message, is the editor of Chesterton on War and Peace: Battling the Ideas and Movements that Led to Nazism and World War II.
JOHN responds: First of all, no one is “running from a fight.” It is well known that I do not run from anyone, ever.
Second, no one on this web site has failed to respond aggressively to the unfair–obscene, really–attacks on Sarah Palin by the Left. On the contrary, I have defended her as vigorously as any commentator, and will continue to do so.
Third, all of this is beside the point. The purpose of a political party is to win elections. For the Republicans to capture the Presidency in 2012, we need to run the strongest possible candidate. That, quite obviously, is not Sarah Palin. You point out that liberals also attacked Ronald Reagan. That is correct, but their attacks failed because Reagan was not just a great thinker but a great politician. If Reagan had had a 56 percent unfavorability rating among independents, he never would have been elected President, and today he would be an obscure footnote to history. It is precisely because Reagan appealed to independents and Palin does not that Reagan was a good candidate, while Palin would be a bad nominee.
Fourth, there is a reason why Palin is generally regarded as lightly qualified to be President. She is lightly qualified to be President. Yes, as of 2008 she had more executive experience than Barack Obama, but since when is that the standard? Palin has been elected to one significant public office, Governor of Alaska, and she resigned midway through her first term. At the time, I wrote that this marked the end of her Presidential aspirations. With hindsight, I was right. Most Americans simply don’t consider her qualified to be President. Sure, they were wrong about Obama–but that doesn’t mean they will make the same mistake with regard to Palin.
I would be delighted if next month, new polls come out indicating that independents have suddenly changed their minds about Sarah Palin, and she is now a viable Presidential candidate. But that isn’t going to happen. She has been exposed to the American public, if not overexposed. Pretty much everyone in the U.S. has an opinion about her, one way or another. So I have to think that the political verdict is in, and Palin is not a plausible Presidential candidate. Is that due, in part, to vicious and reprehensible attacks by liberals? Undoubtedly. But in politics as in war, people take hits. Palin is not the first Republican to be smeared, successfully, by the left. Why are we not talking about Dan Quayle as a Presidential candidate in 2012? I stuck up for Quayle, too, but he was not, and is not, a viable Presidential candidate. Nor is Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is a valuable member of the conservative movement, but she should not be–and will not be–the GOP’s Presidential nominee in 2012.
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