Palin's Fatal 2012 Flaw
Sure, she was good on Oprah, and her book will sell. But she's still not boning up on global issues. Conor Friedersdorf on the hole in the Alaskan's resume that will come back to haunt her.
I don't typically watch Oprah. But I wouldn't miss Monday's interview with Sarah Palin. In advance of its airing, The Persecution of Sarah Palin author Matthew Continetti said that "nothing less than her future in American politics—and a possible run for the White House in 2012—hangs in the balance." So I tuned in before compliance personnel removed the rogue clips from YouTube.
Ms. Palin has two problems: the first is that her most prolific defender in the conservative movement says her prospects for higher office are so tenuous that they hinge on how she fares during daytime TV spots with an avowed Barack Obama acolyte. The second is that even were she to repeat her likable Oprah performance on The Daily Show, The View, and the History Channel Retrospective on William Jennings Bryan, she'd still suffer from a flaw that America's national security requires us to acknowledge: an unprecedented lack of foreign policy qualifications.
The conservative base has instead seized upon a quixotic candidate from Alaska, invested itself in her dubious incorruptibility, and persuaded itself that if only someone as pure were elected, everything would be different.
Isn't that a curious omission from all the analysis of Ms. Palin's prospects in 2012? It is one thing for her stable of friendly boosters to hold their noses while mucking around in horse race analysis. Ideological journalism is rife with practitioners unashamedly eager to map out winning electoral strategies for presently unqualified candidates. That unseemly practice doesn't damage the republic as much as one might imagine--whether self-appointed advisers care about qualifications or merely electoral chances, the admonition is usually for the candidate to address his or her actual weaknesses.
But in appearing on Oprah, pointing out instances when the media mistreated her, showing herself off as a protective mother, and reaffirming her genuine commitment to certain causes, Ms. Palin merely redressed prior interviews where she articulated her several strengths less well.
"She needs to adopt a market-friendly populist agenda to strengthen her policy credentials and make her seem less partisan to independent voters," Mr. Continetti writes in The Wall Street Journal, advising Ms. Palin to address how she is perceived. Several days prior, writing in The Weekly Standard, he recommends that she embrace Andrew Jackson's legacy of "rule by the people, of competitive commercial markets, of entrepreneurial individuals lighting out to the territories." On CNN.com, he marvels at Ms. Palin's use of social media, musing, "It would be ironic if Sarah Palin defeated Barack Obama in 2012 using the same tools that Obama used to defeat John McCain in 2008."
• Vanessa Friedman: What Palin’s Clothes Reveal • Lloyd Grove: The All-New Sarah Palin Were I reviewing the tools Barack Obama used to secure victory, I'd note that long before he ran for president, he gave serious foreign policy speeches articulating specific critiques. And despite demonstrating knowledge of the world commensurate with Senator Clinton, an older hand, he still found himself justifiably criticized on the right for a lack of foreign affairs bona fides. As a talented writer at The Weekly Standard once put it, reflecting on The Surge in Iraq, and the 2008 choice between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, "Contrary to conventional wisdom, experience cannot be separated from judgment. Experience matters," Mr. Continetti wrote. "It was a lifetime of service and involvement in national security issues that gave McCain the perspective and insight to urge a change in strategy as early as 2003."
• Watch the 7 Best Moments of Palin’s Oprah Interview • More Daily Beast contributors on Palin’s book tour. Like candidate Obama, Ms. Palin could conceivably find her popularity rising, despite her thin resume: the American citizenry is increasingly fed up with its governing elites. A healthy response might be to advocate systemic reforms so that elected officials are less often incentivized to sell out regular citizens. But the conservative base has instead seized upon a quixotic candidate from Alaska, invested itself in her dubious incorruptibility, and persuaded itself that if only someone as pure were elected, everything would be different. It's a bandwagon I'll never join, having concluded long ago that investing in any politician being different is the toxic asset of our democracy.
Cynical as that sounds, even I lack the ability to imagine a presidential election that Ms. Palin could win. Americans demand that viable candidates speak knowledgeably about foreign policy.
Perhaps Ms. Palin understands all this, and isn't even pondering a run in 2012. If so, her Oprah appearance should be viewed as a minor corrective to her image, and an overall success. Regardless, it is strange that the advice being offered Ms. Palin, should she decide to launch a presidential bid, basically ignores the most important aspect of actually being president of the United States.
Conor Friedersdorf, a Daily Beast columnist, also writes for The American Scene and The Atlantic Online's ideas blog.