Face It, Conservatives: She's No Ronald Reagan

July 07, 2009|By Matt Patterson

Sarah Palin makes it hard to be her fan.

There is much to admire about the Alaska governor, who announced Friday she would be stepping down effective July 26. Her verve and charm; her impressive rise from PTA mom to would-be vice president; her range of talents, from athletics to politics; her apparent success at keeping a large and growing family intact wile pursuing a high-stakes, high-stress career.

All of this speaks well of the governor and her mettle. And so it is no wonder that, from the moment she strode with preternatural confidence to the stage at the 2008 Republican National Convention, she ignited hope among conservatives that she may be a new Ronald Reagan - someone who could lead the GOP out of its current political wilderness.

Which is why Ms. Palin's stumbles have been so painful to watch. Why her weaknesses - brought into harsh relief by the incandescent glare of the national spotlight - have proved so disheartening.

I have been a fan of Governor Palin's. I want to continue to be a fan. I want to believe that she can be the leader that the party so desperately needs. But her withdrawal announcement, and especially the manner of its delivery, was not encouraging. She took shots at the media and her political enemies for filing countless frivolous ethics complaints. Does she think those things would go away were she to assume a national leadership role? On the contrary, they would only get worse. And as president, it would not just be the domestic press and Democratic operatives looking to take her down, but every international thug and dictator, from Caracas to Tehran.

The withdrawal speech itself was oddly disjointed in thought and delivery, suggesting it was either hastily or sloppily prepared. Can a politician who puts so little thought into so major a decision be expected to act with prudence in the midst of an international crisis? And there is no escaping the bottom line of Friday's drama, which was this: She quit. The Alaskan people hired her to do a job, and she gave up.

Not that anyone could blame her. Who would want to be dragged through the mud, as she has been? Worse, who would want to see their family made into some grotesque national joke? One can only imagine the pain that has caused, the strains it has put them all under. If, in the end, concern for her family was the motivating factor behind her retirement, it would be more than understandable.

But Sarah Palin is hinting she may not be done with us. On her Facebook page over the weekend, she wrote, "I am now looking ahead and how we can advance this country together with our values of less government intervention, greater energy independence, stronger national security, and much-needed fiscal restraint." For now, at least, it seems she clearly intends to make a run for some future national office. Sadly, her decision to quit the Alaskan governorship, and the method and manner which she chose to deliver that news, call into question her capacity to do so.

It is time for conservatives to accept: Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan. As Charles Kesler pointed out in a private speech in Washington last week, Mr. Reagan immersed himself in political thought and conservative philosophy; he socialized with William F. Buckley and the leading intellectuals of the conservative movement. He spent decades honing his arguments in newspaper columns, speeches and radio addresses. Mr. Reagan prepared himself to be the kind of leader that his party, and his country, needed.

For all her talents, there is no sign that Sarah Palin is inclined toward or capable of such preparation. If the GOP accepts her as its national leader, they do so at their party's - and the country's - peril.

Matt Patterson is a National Review Institute Washington Fellow and the author of "Union of Hearts: The Abraham Lincoln & Ann Rutledge Story." His e-mail is mpatterson.column@gmail.com.

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