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10.15.08

Resolved: Sarah Palin Is Not Andrew Jackson

Bill Kristol's comparison of the Alaskan governor to Old Hickory doesn't fly.

First, a stipulation: I like and respect Bill Kristol. There is, as you might expect, a “but” coming.

This morning in Maureen Dowd’s column in The New York Times, Bill compared Sarah Palin to Andrew Jackson. I have just finished five years of work on a Jackson biography, and am therefore particularly sensitive on this topic, and I have written about my reservations about Governor Palin in Newsweek. So Bill’s remark resonated with me on several levels.

The chief problem with the Palin-Jackson analogy is that Jackson was, by the time he came to the White House in 1829, a senior figure in American life. He had defeated the British at New Orleans and added millions upon millions of acres of land to the United States through his Indian campaigns. He served as a judge, a senator, a general, and, in 1824, won a plurality of the votes for president, only to lose the election to John Quincy Adams in the House of Representatives. He was much more than a mayor and a governor of two years’ standing.

For Palin admirers, there is much to like in a Jackson analogy. He was largely unlettered, ran as a champion of the people versus elites, and consistently surprised political observers and prognosticators with success upon success. But Jackson was an experienced hand at public affairs, and his populism, while genuinely felt, was not unthinking or unreflective. Perhaps Palin’s vision of the world is more complex than we know. If it is, she has 19 days to prove it.