Friday, November 7, 2008

Does Sarah Palin have a future?

Adam B at Daily Kos has a good post warning Dems not to be complacent about Sarah Palin. His example is Richard Nixon, who ran for governor of California in 1962, after being VP under Eisenhower, lost, and then gave a famous press conference claiming that he wasn't running for office ever again. Adam also notes that Roosevelt was the losing VP candidate in 1920, but came back to win in '32.

I don't buy it. I think the better analogy is with Dan Quayle, whose reputation never recovered from the initial impression that he was an intellectual lightweight. Quayle was coming right after Reagan, who also had a reputation as being a few fries short of a Happy Meal. But the difference between Quayle and Palin is that Reagan was a successful president (even if I didn't want to admit it at the time), so the American electorate, while not impressed with Quayle, wasn't worried about it enough to vote against George H. W. Bush.

Even if she doesn't run until 2016, Palin is running in the shadow of George W. Bush. We have paid a catastrophic price for his lack of intelligence and intellectual curiosity. We now know that being smart is important for being president. Assuming that Obama does a good job over two terms, those qualities will be even more important. Which will present an even more powerful contrast with Palin.

Many Republicans, particularly moderate ones, were appalled at the choice of Sarah Palin. Nixon lost in 1960 and 1962, but when he made his comeback, he had already been vice president for two terms.

Sarah Palin is already governor of Alaska. Assuming she serves two terms, she will be able to claim that she has been governor of a state, and that gives her experience. Perhaps. But she already has the burden of the Charles Gibson and Katie Couric interviews to live down. She would have to do something damn impressive as governor to overcome the impression most Americans have of her as not really being all that with it on policy. Even if she becomes a senator, she'll still have that baggage.

The biggest impediment to Sarah Palin's political future, however, is not questions about how smart she is, or her experience. It's her political beliefs. She is on the far right of the Republican party, which is why the far right adores her. This is a woman who is opposed to all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. That is too extreme for most Americans.

The other highly polarizing woman in national politics is, of course, Hillary. But even her most vocal critics are willing to admit that she works hard, is brilliant, and has an extraordinary command of policy and detail. Hillary went to Yale Law School. Sarah Palin has a degree in sports journalism from the University of Idaho.

Sarah Palin clearly has an interesting future in the Republican party, and we have not heard the last from her (assuming that she wins reelection as governor). But as for her potential to be president, I don't think she has a prayer.

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