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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Can Sarah Palin be President?

"I come before you to report on the state of our Union, and I'm pleased to report that after four years of united effort, the American people have brought forth a nation renewed, stronger, freer, and more secure than before. Four years ago we began to change, forever I hope, our assumptions about government and its place in our lives. Out of that change has come great and robust growth -- in our confidence, our economy, and our role in the world. Tonight America is stronger because of the values that we hold dear. We believe faith and freedom must be our guiding stars, for they show us truth, they make us brave, give us hope, and leave us wiser than we were. Our progress began not in Washington, DC, but in the hearts of our families, communities, workplaces, and voluntary groups which, together, are unleashing the invincible spirit of one great nation under God. Four years ago we said we would invigorate our economy by giving people greater freedom and incentives to take risks and letting them keep more of what they earned. We did what we promised, and a great industrial giant is reborn." — Ronald Reagan, State of the Union Address, January, 1985

In Canada jokes about Newfoundlanders are similar to Polish jokes in the United States, i.e. How many Poles to change a light bulb — four, one to stand on a chair and hold the bulb and the other three to turn the chair.

Every nation has an ethnic group that they like to disparage through coarse humor and the Canadians are no different. For the sophisticates of Vancouver, Windsor, Ottawa, Toronto and Quebec it’s the hard working fishermen in Newfoundland or “Newfies” as they are called. One such joke about a Newfie and a mirror goes thusly:

After living in the remote wilderness of Newfoundland all his life, an old Newfie decided it was time to visit St. John’s. In one of the stores he picks up a mirror and looks in it. Not ever having seen one before, he remarked at the image staring back at him. 'How 'bout that!' he exclaims, 'Here's a picture of me Fadder.' He bought the mirror thinking it was a picture of his dad, but on the way home he remembered his wife didn't like his father, so he hung it in the shed, and every morning before leaving to go fishin', he would go there and look at it.

His wife began to get suspicious of these many trips to the shed. So, one day after her husband left, she went to the shed and found the mirror. As she looked into the glass, she fumed, 'So that's the ugly bitch he's runnin' around with.'

I use this example not to poke fun a people from Newfoundland, but to illustrate a point. The Newfie joke is a very simplified way of explaining Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. When people have closely held beliefs and these beliefs are challenged by reality or facts many people will cling to those closely held beliefs. In the Newfie joke both the fisherman and his wife believed the image in the mirror to be something it was not, in psychiatry this is called cognitive dissonance.

When it comes to electing a president of the United States we have some closely held beliefs. A few of those beliefs are; a woman cannot be president, a President must have an elite education or military background, a president must come from the anointed class, a class anointed by the media and political elites.

Some of our worst presidents came from this class; Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Barak Obama to name a few. Some of our better, such as Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan, did not.

In more recent memory Reagan is a prime example of how the American people choose a president who was not endorsed by the political elites or the media. Christopher Chantrill writes in the American Thinker; “Back in the 1970s, Ronald Reagan was a wild-eyed right-wing conservative who could never be elected president.  So a young conservative like me, already a devotee of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, went to my local precinct caucus in Washington State in early 1980 as a Bush supporter.  Bush was more electable, you see.”

“At the precinct caucus I discovered something that changed my mind.  In the Bush corner with me was a nice older couple.  But across the room were the unwashed folks in the Reagan corner.  They looked like technicians and construction guys, and they looked like they ought to be Democrats.  And there were a lot of them.  Ah ha, I thought.  Something is afoot in America. So I switched to the Reagan side in that caucus and lived happily ever after.”

Here we are in 2011, and nothing has changed. The popular, populist candidate of the ordinary working stiff is Sarah Palin, and the educated classes just can't get their wine glasses around the idea of a Sarah Palin as president.  Where's the experience, they wonder?  Where's the well-rounded education in political philosophy? Where's the record as a successful administrator?  Where's the Ivy League degree?

Today the media is filled with names of potential candidates for the GOP presidential nomination: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, James Bolton, Gary Johnson and even Donald Trump are names tossed about on the nightly talk shows. Some of these are media favorites, especially Gingrich, Romney and Huckabee. John McCain was also favored by the media, but not by the American voter.

Most presidents come from the ranks of state governors. This is probably because governors are in essence CEOs of states. The good ones are used to using staff to make policy while they focus on the bigger vision for their state. The Germans figured this out two hundred years ago when they created the General Staff for their armed forces, complete with staff colleges. What are our modern policy analysts in their think-tanks but the general staff of the nation's political forces?

The big idea of the general staff concept is to free the leader from the details so he can concentrate on the big picture and win the battle. In warfare, we have the commander and his chief of staff.  Already at the Battle of Waterloo the Prussian army was led by Blücher, with chief of staff Gneisenau to do all the brainiac stuff. To put it another way, Blücher, would win the battle while Gneisenau’s job was to win the war, and then the peace. In politics, we have the candidate up front and his consultant in the back room.

The name of the game is winning elections. This means that electoral politicians are like football players; they are the best they can be at what they do. They are professionals, experts in winning elections. As successful businessmen are experts at winning in the marketplace successful politicians are experts at winning votes.

In 2012, Republicans will be nominating for president a professional politician to win an election.  We cannot worry about administrative skills and legislative tactics and academic pedigrees.  That comes later, in 2013.  For now, what matters is the skills of the professional politician: framing issues, sensing the mood of the people, moving the center, and telling the people what they want to hear, and doing it again and again.

We already know that Sarah Palin is No.1 when it comes to framing issues.  Back in 2009, the summer of the "death panels," old warhorse Pat Buchanan expressed his appreciation of her skills when he wrote, "Of Sarah Palin it may be said, the lady knows how to frame an issue." No wonder. Palin has been a professional politician since 1992.

Like Lincoln and Reagan Palin has a vision for the United States. Lincoln was not an administrator with a solution for every problem. He believed in a union of states without slavery and when elected he left the conduct of the Civil War to his generals — even his disappointment in some of them. Regan, like Lincoln, had a vision and simple message that resonated with the electorate. That message was the destruction of the Soviet Union, small government and freedom for the individual. These men had clear and uncluttered visions for the nation. They did not clutter the scene with details for every possible issue. They stuck to the vision knowing they needed to get elected before they could do anything. Gingrich, Romney and Huckabee seem to have too many answers, but no real vision. Even Obama had a vision —albeit one the people are now rejecting.

In her first book, Going Rogue, Palin called herself a "common-sense conservative" and repeated the notion every second sentence as she traveled around the nation on her book tour.  Last fall, as she promoted her second book, and the leopard changed its spots — just a little.  Now Palin was a "common-sense constitutional conservative." Who wouldn't prefer that to an ideological rule-by-czar liberal?

It just so happens that Palin has a particular connection with the white working class, a large demographic that is up for grabs in 2012.

In the winter of 2011, President Obama is clearly tacking to the middle; he would be a fool not to. Already, his polls are improving. It will take the best politician, the best in America with a passion for their vision, to spoil his wind.

If there's a better conservative politician around than Sarah Palin, we'd better know his name by the summer of 2012.

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