In a recent edition, The Economist talks about the emerging electoral struggle between Labor Party head Gordon Brown and Conservative (“Tory”) leader David Cameron. The publication says, “Mr. Cameron and Mr. Brown are embarked on a battle for Middle England” – the upwardly mobile middle class that Tony Blair appealed to – “a legendary land that is hard to find and harder still to talk to.”
In America, Ronald Reagan, The Great Communicator, famously knew how to “talk to” that group, including the conservative Democrats who supported him in such great numbers. Bill Clinton also had a knack for appealing to Middle America, including the people Nixon called “The Silent Majority.” Most Americans really didn’t want Clinton hanging around their 20-something daughters, but they didn’t mind his extended presence as President.
One reason so many us – see the rapidly growing “4 Palin” blogroll on this site – support Gov. Sarah is that can communicate effectively with the great “middle” group of Americans. One reason she can do so is that she’s one of them – more accurately, one of us.
She’s not a child of privilege. Unlike Nancy Pelosi, she didn’t take the traditional political step of marrying a mega-rich man. Unlike Hillary Clinton, she didn't base a political career based on her husband's accomplishments.
She’s a public school graduate, the mother of four, and married to a man with occupations – as a commercial fisherman and oil field worker – that are almost mythic vocations in this country. “First Dude” Todd Palin (her term for her spouse’s current role) couldn’t be more of a classic American male unless he also moonlighted as a cowboy.
If you’ve been reading about Sarah, you may have heard her economic views described as conservative, libertarian, and even populist. Can she truly be all of those very different things? She describes herself as “pro-growth” and “pro-business,” both of which she clearly is.
However, this is a woman whose broad appeal is reflective of her freedom from ideological rigidity. In the Fred Barnes article, you’ll see that she fired the State Agriculture Board so that she could fire the “State Creamery” officials who wanted to abolish their function. The Creamery institution distributes products generated by the state’s important group of dairy farmers.
Many conservatives are uncomfortable, as a matter of economic principle, with state-owned businesses. Gov. Palin obviously believes Alaska benefits from the Creamery enterprise. As Barnes explained, she doesn’t want her state to become one with just two industries – energy and (cruise-ship-driven) tourism. Agriculture must be a strong and growing part of the state’s economic mix, and if the Creamery is essential to that, so be it.
Serving the public should generally trump ideological purity.
She has taken on Big Oil in her state. How can she do that as a conservative? Perhaps she recognizes that huge businesses tend not to be very conservative or especially interested in private enterprise.
Overall, the Governor understands something important: that modern life shows signs of becoming increasingly insecure. We don’t live anymore in a country where we remain with one employer, who usually provides great health care and pension benefits, for a lifetime. We change jobs; we occasionally lose health benefits; and pensions are becoming increasingly rare.
Also, we’re living longer. Many Americans wonder how they’re going to afford to live to a ripe old age. They also recognize that children living in Texas or California aren’t going to be readily available to provide assistance to aging parents in Pittsburgh or Chicago.
Also, no older person wants to end up in a nursing home, but that will continue to be the fate of many people. You may have a quarter-million dollars in the bank, but a decent nursing home will consume that rapidly.
This is the world inhabited by people not only in “middle England,” but also in “middle America.”
In fact, in our country, that’s a group vulnerable to appeals by liberal Democrats. As you listen to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, their message goes something like this: “WE WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU.”
When they talk about health care, for example, they’re advocating the state-sponsored variety. They’ll also talk about safeguarding your pension, by of course having the government be the pension provider of last resort. They won’t talk about having the government – and the American people – bite the bullet on the nation’s vast unfunded liability for Medicare and Social Security. Like Scarlet O’Hara, they’ll “worry about that tomorrow” (i.e., hand it off to the next generation).
The Democrats basically advocate one policy: redistribution of income. They’re modern Robin Hoods, although they end up essentially taking from their opponents in the middle class and giving to their supporters.
With the occasional exception of someone like Reagan, we Republicans have not been good communicators. We talk philosophy to people who want to hear practicality. All too often, we come across as grumpy defenders of the supposed status quo – perhaps one that no longer exists given the social and economic volatility of our time.
Sarah Palin is not a rich woman. I suspect one reason she didn’t run for the U.S. Senate in 2004 is that she probably wondered how her family could afford to live in the expensive DC area. Most of us would have the same concern.
However, that’s precisely the woman’s greatest strength: the life she has experienced is the one familiar to most Americans. She knows when political ideology works – and when it’s impractical. As a female professional of relatively modest means, she can’t afford to hire pricey nannies to mind her children. Her husband Todd is now a stay-at-home-dad.
Sarah Palin will be vice-president of the United States – and, sooner rather than later, President of our land. The American people – tens of millions – are going to look at her and say, “This is one of us. This is a person who understands our life, our fears and insecurities, and can reassure us that leaders at the highest level actually care about ordinary people.”
Yes, we’re asking a lot of Sarah. But as everything in her life demonstrates, she has a seemingly endless capacity to give.
Stephen R. Maloney