“Every generation needs a new revolution.”
-Thomas Jefferson

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
-Martin Luther King Jr.

Staceyann Chin, National Equality March 10/10/09 photo: Ed Needham

Monday, February 8, 2010

What is the Deal with Sarah Palin? Why she is good for the Democratic Party. [and it's not why you think]

The woman is a phenomenon. I think everyone can pretty much agree on that. The majority of the country believes she should never, ever, be in the same room as the nuclear "football." In the months following John McCain's ill-fated announcement that the freshman Alaskan Governor was to be his running mate for the 2008 Presidential election, the more Americans heard from her, the less they thought of her. Some of the more glaring examples were those prominent Republicans who, in those 10 long weeks between her arrival on the scene and the election, broke Pres. Reagan's Eleventh Commandment, "Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican." These included noted conservatives like George Will, David Broder, Kathleen Parker, Charles Krauthammer, Ross Douthat and former Bush speechwriter, David Frum, who noted in the New York Times, "How serious can [McCain] be," Frum wrote even before Palin appeared at the GOP convention, "if he would place such a neophyte second in line to the presidency?"

So Sarah Palin is good for the Democrats because, by comparison, she makes them look like God's gift to good Government? No. Not even she could pull off that sort of miracle these days. No, Sarah Palin is good for the Democrats because she gathers all the crazies under one roof. This, in the long run, will be good for the Republicans, and, in turn, a good deal for the Dems, too. Stay with me.

The recent Brown/Coakley election in MA has somewhat obscured an even more telling election in NY last fall when Palin (along with MN Gov. Tim Pawlenty, fmr. Majority Leader Dick Army and right-wing talk radio) endorsed conservative outsider Doug Hoffman over local GOP nominee Dierdre Scozzafava. This was a very visible display of a Tea Party/GOP rift that has continued to foment since the 2008 elections. Those familiar with the race for US Senate in Florida know this is already the next visible street fight between these two forces. Gov. Charlie Crist started out with a very healthy lead last year but has given up all that ground to fmr. FL House Speaker, Marc Rubio. A lengthy article on the race and Rubio (linked below) in the NYT last month was entitled "The First Senator from the Tea Party."

In what may the most ironic display of political identification of our time, the figure most heralded by both Teabaggers and their GOP counterparts is fmr. Pres. Ronald Reagan, the man whose 11th. Commandment they run roughshod over.  Reagan was notably committed to the idea of a Republican big tent. That philosophy contributed to two solid elections and a party re-energized for the first time following Watergate. Yet, Palin and her Partiers are about to bring down the tent in Florida.

If, on August 23rd, Rubio goes on to defeat Crist in Florida's US Senate election and Ms. Palin has all but made her 2012 run for the Presidency official, it is powerful good news for the Democrats. But not for the reason you think.  Yes, a healthy Tea Party movement involved in the 2010 midterm elections is great news for democratic candidates during a time when, at least to date, there is little to no great news. Nor should there be. Save for a few Congressman/Congresswomen and even fewer Senators, there really isn't much reason to vote Democratic this year except for the fact that they are not Republicans. Though some do come exceedingly close by definition. And a strong Sarah Palin run for the Presidency in 2012 is one of the exceedingly few scenarios that would clinch a second term for Mr. Obama. While both these developments mean great short term gains for the Democratic Party, a long term, more ellusive benefit is also moved into play.

Politics is like tennis. Your game can only improve when you play with someone your equal or better.  Leadership issues aside, the democrats are currently flailing, in large part, because the GOP is an awful mess. Since the '08 elections there has been not a scintilla of cohesion in the party. Sure, members of congress still step before microphones and repeat mantras of "lower taxes" and "cut spending" but this is a planetary distance from a strategy, let alone a uniting raison dĂȘtre. By default, the GOP has become the party of "no." As it turns out, this hasn't been good for the Dems, the GOP or, most importantly, American citizens. Instead of Democratic initiatives being challenged by Republican initiatives and then put through the fire of constructive debate with an outcome that may disappoint some on both sides but come closer to the goals both sought, Democratic initiatives have been met with obstinance and procedural gridlock. It should not be a surprise that this lesser strategy from the GOP has inflicted damage on the Dems. It is very difficult for the Dems to rise to the occasion when they are wrestling in the gutter. A certain amount of leadership is required to rise above this sophomoric fray and return to the ideas that were supposedly ushered to the steps of Capitol Hill in '08. Neither the legislative nor the executive branch is offering anything of the sort so far. But this is a topic for a different article.

To be at it's best, the Democratic Majority must have a healthy opposition party. Why do minority parties occasionally meld into a significant force (ie. Gingrich and the "Contract for America")? Because they must. Just as the arts gorge in meaning and talent during oppressive regimes or political movements galvanize when forced underground, desperation is a powerful motivator for the underrepresented. Presently, the GOP desperately lacks a voice, a mission, a raison dĂȘtre (much more so than the Dems who seem to have stepped away from theirs temporarily). Sarah Palin can save the party.

The former Governor of Alaska's success will accelerate a 'coming to Jesus' moment for the party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. A recent National Review poll of over a hundred GOP leaders found Sarah Palin in 5th place (after MS Governor Haley Barbour) as the most likely to get the nomination in 2012. Compare that with the reception Ms. Palin received this week at the Tea Party Convention and at most all of her public appearances, and anyone can see a storm brewing on the horizon. Fortunately for everyone, this has little to do with Ms. Palin herself and much more to do with the angry and vocal political vein she has tapped. She brings a fresh face and attractive demeanor to the table. But that's about it. She is riding a disgruntled, populist, culturally isolated and near jingoistic wave of folks who don't place much stock in experience or book learnin' and are pleased as punch with the former beauty queen as their spokesperson. Even if she isn't politically in alignment with much of the Tea Party precepts, no one seems to mind on either side.

As the primaries for 2010 continue and the presidential primary for 2012 draws closer, lines will begin to form and sides taken. Where and how the showdown happens, one can't be sure. Will it wait till the Republican Convention (either Tampa, Phoenix or Salt Lake City)? Or will races such the Senate race in FL bring this pot to a boil well before then?  Either way, between now and the 2012 general elections the GOP is going to be forced to into a crisis of identity. And that will be good for them, good for the Dems, and, especially, good for the people.

Read more about the Crist/Rubio race for US Senate in FL:

The First Senator from the Tea Party?
by Mark Leibovich
NYT 1/6/10

No comments: