Ruth Dudley Edwards: A good Alaskan, but not a good candidate
Sadly, Sarah Palin may be as folksy as Ronald Reagan but she lacks his political skill, says Ruth Dudley Edwards
Published 22/11/2009 | 05:00
So Sarah Palin, until lately Governor of Alaska, is back polarising the American public from the Atlantic to the Pacific, criss-crossing the US to small towns where admirers queue for hours to have her sign her memoirs.
Going Rogue: an American Life was published last Tuesday and is already top of the bestseller list. Her interviews are stirring up storms of controversy; she drew the biggest audience for Oprah in two years. Among the many books churned out over the past year are, The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star and The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind her Relentless Quest for Power.
Maybe it's partly my genes that make me look benignly on Palin and her 'nature, red in tooth and claw' background. My Cork grandfather was a gamekeeper and my uncle kept the table stocked with the fish he caught in the Blackwater and the rabbits he shot in the woods. These days, I'd rather shoot myself than even a grey squirrel, but I'm not proud of such wimpishness. I loved Alaska, which I visited in 2007, both for buisness and pleasure, and I found the place full of the happy and the helpful. Because life can be so harsh there, those who want a soft life leave, replaced by visitors who decide to stay because of the beauty and challenge of the place.
Sarah Palin, who is entirely self-made, who took on her own corrupt party in Alaska and won, and was a tough and popular governor, has the charm, guts and drive and ready identification with the man and woman in the street that marks out a good Alaskan.
Throughout the election, I was appalled by the rank partisanship and unfairness of the liberal press which crawled over her life ready to pounce on any crumb of potential scandal. There was her husband's drink-driving charge from the Eighties, her 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy, some kerfuffle involving a demented ex-brother-in-law, completely unsubstantiated allegations of affairs and even allegations that her Down Syndrome baby was actually her daughter's. During the same period, the media showed little interest in Obama's involvement with machine politicians in the most corrupt city in America, 20 years' intimacy with a racist preacher and unrepentant ex-terrorists, and a financial involvement with a convicted fraudster.
America is a split country. The media, academia, big-city dwellers and Congress insiders constitute a left-wing elite that despise right-wing smalltown America, whose inhabitants in turn hate what they call 'liberals' for being out of touch, patronising and obsessed with political correctness and multiculturalism. To the liberal elite, Palin's antipathy to abortion and stem-cell research and her belief that creationism should be covered in schools as well as evolution marks her out as a raving lunatic, and, besides, they hate her clothes and her accent. To her, contempt for smalltown values such as patriotism, religion and a passion for the land makes you un-American.
Why did Palin retire early from the governorship (essentially she claims her job had been made impossible by the press and local enemies)? Is she merely looking for money and affirmation? Might she become a chat-show host? Or is she seeking to become the Republican presidential candidate in 2012? Could she be telling the truth when she says her main concern is to galvanise the party for the 2010 Congressional elections by reminding the grassroots what makes America great?
I've been watching interviews and following her progress on Facebook, where yesterday I pressed a wrong button, became listed as a supporter and immediately had scream of email anguish from a good friend. Sadly, while I enjoy Palin's frankness, courage, humour, warmth and resilience and agree with the fans who keeping saying she is 'no-nonsense' and a 'breath of fresh air', I have reluctantly concluded that she lacks the brains, curiosity or philosophical coherence to be serious presidential material. She may be as folksy as Ronald Reagan, but she lacks his intellect and sure political skills.
At a time when middle America is worried that their president is a liberal, a spendthrift and an appeaser, Sarah Palin is doing a valuable job in reassuring millions of ordinary Americans that there is someone with the guts and charisma to take on the liberati by standing up for social conservatism, small government and the military. She's an important role model too for the pro-life working women of America who have nothing in common with those who argue for abortion on demand or gender quotas. Loved and hated, Palin sails serenely on, explaining sweetly to her enemies that she hasn't gone -- and won't be going -- away.