Why Palin gets piled-on
I haven’t posted in a while. And with Sarah Palin’s book Going Rogue coming out this week, there is certainly plenty for political pundits to analyze and discuss.
Via one of my fellow bloggers, I read a column by Andrew Malcolm in the Los Angeles Times that ponders the question of why Sarah Palin inspires so much hatred on the part of her opponents. Is it simply her beliefs themselves? Is it sheer snobishness? Do her opponents, especially her female opponents, somehow feel threatened by her?
Those probably have something to do with it. But I think most of the issue is not Sarah Palin’s beliefs themselves, but the way she conveys them. The Sarah Palin we’ve seen since John McCain tabbed her to be his running mate 15 months ago, the one some of whose fans have tabbed “the female Ronald Reagan,” has been very Un-Reagan-like in her style.
Simply put, she’s been a divider, not a uniter.
Much like Nancy Pelosi and (to an extent) Hillary Clinton on the left, Sarah Palin is very in-your-face with her beliefs and values, in many ways demonizing those who don’t march in lockstep with her. This attitude gets under her opponents’ skin, so when she has a moment of vulnerability (the Couric interview, etc.), they’re more than happy to exploit it.
Reagan espoused his values in a more genteel, welcoming way. Reagan understood that everybody wasn’t going to agree with him on every part of his ideology. But he based his message on a few key non-divisive issues that unified Americans of many persuasions. That’s how he won over the Reagan Democrats (of course, Jimmy Carter being the worst President of the last 60 years helped his cause).
Sarah Palin, however, went on the campaign trail last year talking about “Real Americans” and questioning people’s patriotism and belief in their country’s values. The implication was that anyone who didn’t believe in her brand of conservatism was somehow less of an American. Maybe that wasn’t her intent. But between her campaign style and some of the words that she said and some of the things that happened at her rallies, that’s how it came across. And while it fired up her party’s base, it equally galvanized her opponent’s base against her.
I don’t recall Reagan inspiring that kind of divisiveness. I don’t recall him questioning Jimmy Carter’s patriotism or accusing Walter Mondale of palling around with terrorists. The closest I can recall Reagan coming to that was his “Welfare Queen” remark during his failed 1976 primary campaign. Reagan unified.
If Sarah Palin or any other Republican wants to win next year or in 2012, they need to run the type of campaign that Reagan did, and that Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell did this year. Espouse conservative principles, but do so based on the issues of the day in your constituency. Present a clear alternative to your opponent, but don’t be a jerk about it. And don’t focus simply on pandering to your base with culture war rhetoric. Reagan, Christie and McDonnell didn’t win because of their stances on abortion, gay marriage and gun rights.
This is how Sarah Palin took down Frank Murkowski and the Republican establishment in Alaska to become Governor in 2006. It’s how she had approval ratings of close to 90% before McCain came calling. And it’s what she’ll have to get back to if she’s going to have any chance of overcoming her very sudden and clumsy resignation this past summer and having a political future.