Despite faults, Sarah Palin still shows presidential potential
“Sarah Palin has lowered public discourse with her linguistic (to say nothing of moral) incoherence.” – lit prof.
This comment, left on a NYTimes.com blog, seems a little harsh on Palin. She may not be able to explain policy or even construct complex sentences, but that doesn’t mean she is “linguistically incoherent.” Maybe she just gets nervous speaking in public. I know I do.
I also know I would be pissed if some holier-than-thou literature professor called me linguistically incoherent, which makes me relate to Palin, even if I don’t agree with her politics.
Palin relates to others as well, as 45 percent of people surveyed in a June 2009 Pew Research poll had a favorable opinion of her, including 48 percent of people without a college education and 70 percent of Republicans. This makes lit professor seem out of touch with mainstream America, perhaps unaware that most people don’t speak like a lit professor.
Palin has started to exploit this popularity, her biggest – and only – strength, as her Political Action Committee raised over $700,000 in the first half of 2009. This isn’t that impressive (Mitt Romney raised twice as much over the same time), but 60 percent of Palin’s donations were under $200, according to the political analysis website FiveThirtyEight.com.
For perspective, only nine percent of contributions to Romney’s 2008 campaign were under $200, indicating that Palin has a significant amount of grassroots support, essential to be a viable candidate for any political office.
Grassroots support is important, but money is the largest factor in politics, as exemplified by Barack Obama – he outspent John McCain by $397 million, which helped him win 53 percent of the vote to McCain’s 46 percent. Today, what politicians say isn’t as important as how many times people hear them say it.
If Palin combined her popularity with enough money, she could be a viable presidential candidate, which is scary considering she based her foreign policy experience on being close to Russia, and recently claimed heath care reform would create death panels to euthanize the elderly.
Pandering to ignorance and misconceptions could again be successful for Palin like it was in the 2008 campaign, as many people believed her when she claimed Obama was a socialist who threatened their savings, job and cultural heritage. Credit Obama, he took the high road and refrained from calling Palin a fascist, which would have been justified under the circumstances.
With enough money, Palin could construct any storyline, including that she represents working class Americans, even though she made triple figures as governor, or that she is a fiscal conservative who vociferously opposes wasting any money, even though she was an early supporter of “the bridge to nowhere.”
Even if Palin is able to raise massive amount of funds, Derek Khanna, President of the University of Massachusetts Republican Club, noted that money doesn’t necessarily result in electoral success.
“For someone who has already defined themselves in a negative light to a large segment of the population, its hard to change that even with a lot of money,” he said, and offered former Senator Edward Kennedy as an example. Kennedy was widely considered to be a prime presidential candidate until he drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, near Martha’s Vineyard, causing his passenger, one of his brother Robert’s campaign staff, to drown.
Khanna believes Palin did comparable damage to her political ambitions during last year’s campaign.
“I think to a lot of independents she exacerbates the negative stereotypes often associated with Republicans, manifested most prominently by the Bush administration,” Khanna said.
Palin’s future is currently impossible to predict. She is probably the most popular politician after Obama and has clear fundraising potential, but she may be too divisive to succeed on the national stage.
The same poll that said 45 percent of respondents viewed her favorably also reported that 44 percent had an unfavorable impression of the former Governor. Only time will tell whether Palin will resemble Richard Nixon, who famously claimed his political career was over after losing the 1962 California gubernatorial race only to be elected President in 1968, or Kennedy, who was doomed to leave his political ambitions unrealized.
Chris Russell is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.