By Linda Killian, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Sarah Palin did her best to try to channel Ronald Reagan in her speech to the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville this weekend. She may believe that adopting his conservative rhetoric and following his example will take her to the White House, but let’s face it--she’s no Reagan.
She began her speech by wishing Reagan a “Happy Birthday”--it would have been his 99th--and one can’t help wondering what he would have made of the speech. She hit all of Reagan’s favorite issues and combined them with the populist anger manifested by the tea party movement. She derided the bank bailout and conveniently forgot to mention it happened during the Bush administration. She warned of the attempted government takeover of healthcare, out-of-control spending and huge national debt, and of course, called for lower taxes. “The government that governs least, governs best … only limited government can expand prosperity and opportunity for all,” she declared.
“These enduring truths have been passed down from Washington to Lincoln to Reagan”--to, presumably, Palin.
She threw in Reagan’s shining city on a hill reference and closed by declaring, “There is nothing wrong with America that together we can’t fix as Americans,” which comes alarmingly close to a famous Bill Clinton speech quote.
She also channeled Reagan in talking about national security issues and America’s place in the world, but when she dismissed Barack Obama’s efforts at fighting terrorism by saying, “We need a commander in chief, not a professor of law,” she diverged sharply from the Reagan script. Reagan effectively used humor, but did so disarmingly and with a warm smile. Even his political opponents ended up laughing along. Palin’s jokes are caustic and angry,
This is what above all else distinguishes a Sarah Palin speech--the snide put-down and the snarky remark delivered with a broad, sneering smile and spitfire demeanor. She doesn’t seem to think a speech is complete if she hasn’t winked and name-called her way through it. It’s not a coincidence that her nickname as co-captain of her high school women’s basketball team was “Sarah Barracuda.” She probably wasn’t afraid to throw a few elbows then and she certainly isn’t now.
It must take an awful lot of self-confidence, or maybe just bad judgment, to refer to the president as a “charismatic guy with a teleprompter” when you have crib notes scribbled on your hand.
If her implication was that Obama is an empty suit, she couldn’t be farther off the mark. As illustrated by his recent meeting with Republicans, he is supremely intelligent and has an impressive command of facts and public policy issues--something even her most ardent supporters would have trouble claiming about Palin with a straight face.
There’s nothing wrong with questioning the Obama administration’s policies or its effectiveness, but why not leave it at that? Why does Palin feel compelled to ask those who supported Obama, “How’s that hopey, changey stuff working out for you?”
Because, to turn the phrase made famous by George W. Bush on its head--she’s a divider, not a uniter. And that, along with a host of other reasons too numerous to mention, is why she will never be president.
But it is also why she draws a crowd. She speaks to the angry, populist voters who love her so. It’s performance art. Toward the end of the 2008 campaign, her events were drawing many times the number of people as were John McCain’s rallies.
And for much of the media, one of the most irritating things about Palin is that she revels in the politics of personal destruction at the same time that she believes she should be off limits. Should the Eastern, liberal media establishment call her out on her more egregious gaffes or lack of knowledge, they are taking sides, picking on her, and being unfair, according to Palin and her supporters.
Members of the Republican Party establishment can’t stand her. Privately, they are all too happy to tell you they don’t think she works hard or knows her stuff and they certainly don’t think she’s paid her dues. But they have come to the realization that they have to take her seriously.
Palin made a not-so-veiled reference to this when she talked both in her speech and in her Sunday Fox interview with Chris Wallace about how great hard-fought primary battles are for the system. “Contested primaries aren’t civil war--they are democracy at work and that’s beautiful,” she said.
Watch out, Mitt Romney. Should Palin decide she wants to run for president in 2012, you’ll be fighting “Sarah Barracuda.”