Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a two-part series on Governor Sarah Palin’s qualifications for the presidency. We hope Barbara Walters reads both of them so she can be more “informed” for her next interview with Governor Palin, whenever that might occur. She might even be able to ask an intelligent question.
Qualification: an essential skill, quality, or attribute that makes somebody suitable for a job, activity, or task.
In the first part of our series, we explored Governor Sarah Palin’s nearly two decades of experience as a city councilor, mayor and governor, her work as an oil and gas regulator, and as an advocate for children and families. All of which distinguish her not only from potential Republican rivals, but from five recent presidents.
In this piece we examine Sarah Palin’s personal narrative. Given that voters select presidents not just for job experience, but overall life story, these softer qualifications cannot be dismissed. Who can forget Bill Clinton’s compelling characterization of himself as the “Man from Hope,” or George W. Bush’s promise to bring a “Fresh Start” to D.C. after myriad Clinton scandals. And as a nation braved two Middle East conflicts and a Fannie Mae-fueled liquidity crisis, Obama captured voter imagination with stirring speeches and the buoyant prospects of electing our first African-American president.
Does Palin’s narrative suit the times? Let’s examine five characteristics of her biography that may resonate extremely well in 2012, and even distinguish her from recent presidents.
(Continued from Qualifications 1-5 in part one)
6. Working class.
At a time when so many Americans simply want to get back to work, Sarah and Todd Palin’s working-class background might prove a welcome contrast to the Ivy-League-attorney-power couples and bluebloods who have graced the White House in recent years. Uniquely attuned to the concerns of the hardworking little guy, the Palins don’t just pay lip service to working families: they are a working family. Indeed, Todd Palin, the former “First Dude” of Alaska, is proudly blue collar – a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and United Steelworkers unions. Perhaps unlike any first spouse before him, Todd’s life work requires him to get his hands dirty, really dirty, both as a commercial fisherman in summers on Bristol Bay and also as a former oil-field production operator on Alaska’s remote North Slope.
Palin describes her husband in Going Rogue:
Todd Palin roared into my life in a 1972 Ford Mustang. Handsome and independent, he was part Yupik Eskimo. … He didn’t come from a wealthy family but from a very hardworking family. […] As a blue-collar union hand, a production operator wearing a hard hat and steel-toed boots, Todd wasn’t calling the shots for the [BP] corporate bosses in London. In fact, I told Alaskans, “Todd’s not in management. He actually works.”
Given our need to restore manufacturing jobs in this country, Todd Palin’s experience in an important industry and in North America’s largest industrial union (700,000-plus members) could prove valuable in an advisory capacity. As first gentleman of Alaska, Todd Palin counseled Governor Palin on workforce development issues for the natural gas pipeline she championed. Sarah Palin herself was given honorary membership in the IBEW union as she pursued private-sector energy projects. The overhyped emails released in February of this year, showed Todd Palin providing input to his wife on what you might expect: marine regulation, wildfires, native Alaskan issues, oil shale leasing, and Bureau of Land Management deals. While reporters suggested Todd played an alarmingly large policy role, strangely, no emails ever surfaced showing that he advised the governor on how to ban bake sales at public schools. Apparently, Todd Palin stuck to issues he knew, where he could be of value, and didn’t try to impose half-baked views on others.
At the end of the day, unlike some of her would-be GOP rivals and recent presidents, Sarah Palin can authentically relate to the fears and concerns of “working families” and will no doubt continue to reach out to her union “brothers and sisters” – as she has done on Facebook. She knows union bosses in bed with liberal politicians do not necessarily represent the views of more conservative rank-and-file members. In this regard, Palin might be better positioned than two recent Republican presidents (both named Bush) to woo the elusive Reagan Democrats that powered President Reagan to two landslide victories.
7. Tea Party folk hero.
Galvanized by opposition to mounting federal debt and a shared belief that our leaders aren’t listening, the Tea Party has emerged as the most powerful grassroots political movement in America since the 1960s anti-war movement. In actuality, it’s much larger than the anti-war movement because of its broad popular appeal. In her book America by Heart, Palin said of the Tea Party:
“This is the central political struggle facing America today, being played out right here … [Tea Party opponents] want something more from government … [Tea Partiers] are the ones paying the bills.”
Tea Party groups began sprouting up seemingly overnight in 2009 after CNBC’s Rick Santelli griped on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile about another federal bailout for defaulting mortgage holders. Santelli, like others before him, lamented our government’s flippant disregard for moral hazard, the principle that poor choices should result in negative consequences, not rewards. Santelli and other free marketers believed that bailing out irresponsible behavior erodes the incentive to work hard and to make wise choices. Not to mention the fact that it creates artificial markets, like the one that drove the mortgage option market and crashed the nation’s financial system in 2008. Santelli encouraged Chicago traders to dump mortgage derivatives into Lake Michigan in protest. Subsequent outrage over further bailouts and the stimulus package led Tea Party groups to host April 15th tax protests, and make their voices heard at spirited townhall meetings in the summer of 2009. An estimated one million Tea Partiers marched on Washington on September 12, 2009, in advance of the Obamacare votes in Congress.
The Tea Party showed up to vote in the 2010 midterms, helping the GOP flip a modern record of more than 70 seats in the house and senate as well as pick up 11 governorships. High-profile wins included Marco Rubio, and Palin-endorsed Rand Paul, Nikki Haley, Pat Toomey, Sean Duffy, Renee Ellmers, and Allen West.
Governor Sarah Palin arguably stands at the heart of the Tea Party movement, along with sympathetic Congressional leaders such as Ron Paul, Jim DeMint, Mike Pence, and Michelle Bachmann. Palin was the keynote speaker at the inaugural Tea Party Nation convention in February 2010, as 200-plus members of the worldwide media hung on her every word (and hand note). Palin would go on to rally with the Tea Party Express in Boston, Searchlight, Nev., and Phoenix, and was the only politician invited to speak at Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally that attracted some 500,000 Tea Party-minded folks to the nation’s capital this past August.
Conservative blogger and Oklahoma Tea Partier C.B. Kurtz described Sarah Palin’s influence on the movement, starting almost from the moment she appeared on the national stage.
“In the months that followed the announcement of Gov. Palin’s addition to the McCain ticket, millions of people quite similar to Gov. Palin in attitude, background and yes, politics, began to get fed up about the direction of this country. Following her stem-winding, cork-popping, status-gouging speech at the Republican National Convention, suddenly millions of Americans realized that we don’t have to sit back and take it quietly. Tea Parties started brewing, quietly at first, and then, all the sudden, they were everywhere. Gov. Palin was that first bubble of black gold (like the oil discovered by Jed Clampett), and all of us behind her have come rushing out in a tidal wave … ”
8. Former journalist.
Governor Palin communicates regularly with her 2.5 million Facebook friends , giving her a potential audience roughly the size of the paid circulations of the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times combined. She also tweets to 325,000 Twitter followers, imparting wisdom in 140-bit snippets. Anyone who has ever actually read a Palin Facebook essay or op-ed, sees her ability to write concise, timely and even witty copy on a variety of topics from economics to national security. She has penned two best-selling books in the two years since running for vice president. Going Rogue chronicled her upbringing and two decades in public life, while her new book, America By Heart, lays out her political vision grounded in her love of family, faith and country. Palin’s prodigious writing should surprise no one given that she actually studied to become a journalist, earning her degree and a minor in political science from the University of Idaho.
She describes her favorite journalism experiences in her memoir, Going Rogue:
During semesters in college and summers back in Alaska, I interned at a couple of TV sports desks. I covered high school and college sports, putting together packages and writing sports copy [and anchoring]. I loved the intensity of the newsroom, the deadlines, the adrenaline. Unmarried and with no kids, I spent hours and hours at the station… I also began paying more and more attention to the [political] chatter from the news desk, especially at an Anchorage NBC affiliate. In Alaska, we don’t have big-league professional sports teams or many celebrities (except famous dog mushers), so for many up here politics is just another sport. So even as I covered sports, my interest in public policy and how it affected people continued to grow.
As a former journalist, Palin remains fiercely outspoken about the importance of press freedom, calling it a keystone of our democracy. She also believes in holding the media accountable, challenging unprincipled reporters to “Stop making things up.” Her critiques of the “lamestream media” proved sagacious this summer when the JournoList scandal revealed hundreds of liberal journalists conspiring to prop up Obama’s candidacy in 2008 and to smear Governor Palin from the day she was nominated for vice president. This unethical behavior among some reporters has taken a toll. Gallup recently found that a record 57% of Americans don’t trust the media. Another Pew study showed a whopping 82% of Americans think the press is biased. In calling attention to this bias, Palin has done more than perhaps any other political leader to demand media accountability. Through her speaking and writing, she also has shown the ability to “go around the media,” directly to the people, similar to another famous ex-Governor. President Ronald Reagan, also a former sports reporter, was called the “Great Communicator.” Palin may as well be tagged as the “Great Social Mediator”.
9. Commercial fisherwoman.
President Obama’s administration has brought together a team with less real-world business experience than any administration in 100 years. Indeed, Obama himself is a career social activist who eschewed private sector work his entire life. His key advisers are also glaringly inexperienced when it comes to owning or managing an enterprise, except the enterprise called government and government largess. If she were to win the nomination and compete for the presidency, Sarah Palin no doubt would attack Obama’s business-unfriendly policies, and his hostility to the entrepreneurial spirit that built this country. And she will speak from personal experience – as a small business owner. Palin has been fishing the waters of Bristol Bay in summers with her husband since their courtship days. As co-owner of his commercial enterprise, she is well-familiar with the ups and downs of business cycles, and well aware of the risk-taking mindset required for success. She also knows the impact of government policy on business decisions.
Todd and Sarah Palin hail from extended families that have owned gas stations, hotels, and stores, in addition to fishing operations. As mayor, Palin spurred business growth by reducing tax and regulatory burdens. She recognized that businesses thrive on predictable government policy, a point she makes in speeches lamenting the current uncertainty of the tax code and the scepter of Obamacare hanging over entrepreneurs’ heads. She also sees natural kinship between a family fishing enterprise and a family farm. Both rely on hard work, God’s grace, and a devotion to natural resource stewardship. Palin understands that no one cares more about the land or water than those who earn their livelihood from them. More than most others, Palin understands the need to protect the environment, because prosperity depends on it.
She described the devastation to the fishing industry from the Exxon-Valdez spill in Going Rogue:
The effects rippled through the state like aftershocks. … Alaska fish products make up an $8 billion industry and produce more than 62 percent of all the United States’ wild seafood. … Fishermen watched helplessly as fish processors posted the price they’d pay for our wild salmon caught that season; it plummeted by 65 percent, from $2.35 to 80 cents a pound. The fish will fetch ten times that much once it hit markets in the Lower 48 and overseas, but processors insisted they could pay the fishermen only minimal prices for a product perceived as “tainted.” With the polluted Sound unfishable and incomes dried up, banks repossessed scores of commercial fishing vessels, leaving hundreds of people jobless, unable to pay their mortgages and other bills. Entire commericial salmon and herring fisheries closed after the disaster.
No doubt should Sarah Palin run for president, one of her first stops might just be the Gulf Coast. In the wake of the horrific BP spill this year (four times worse than Valdez) and botched government response, Palin, more than any recent president can empathize with the struggling fishery enterprises there. Moreover, as a former oil and gas regulator, she knows the delicate balance between opening up energy development and requiring that firms operate responsibly.
10. Mother of a combat vet.
If being a “wise Latina” counts as one credential toward serving on the Supreme Court, then surely being a “soldier’s mother” bolsters the bonafides of a potential commander-in-chief– especially when combined with all of Governor Palin’s other accomplishments in elected office. After all, this is a self-made woman who fought corruption and the good old boys all the way to the top of her rugged state while raising five children, including now one with special needs (Trig) and another, Track, who completed a tour of duty in Iraq before the end of combat operations there. In interviews, the patriotic Palin counts raising a soldier son as her proudest accomplishment. Indeed, the fact that one of her children enlisted to serve in a time of war distinguishes her from five recent presidents and potential 2012 rivals.
In America By Heart, Palin reflects on Track’s service:
I look at these kids and I think, They could be off partying on spring break or working their way up a high-powered career ladder. What motivates them to put all that aside for a military enlistment? …During the year they spent in the Diyala Province, [Track's] Stryker Brigade lost many soldiers. … Our military men and women fight — and die — to defend our freedom. They do their duty. But we have a duty as well. Our duty is to cherish the great gift they have given us; to honor their service and their memory by preserving what Lincoln so memorably called “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
War will be on the ballot in 2012 as the United States attempts to extricate itself from the lingering quagmire in Afghanistan, where more American soldiers died this year than in any other year of the conflict. Sarah Palin has articulated the need for a clear mission and strategy for victory. She not only has the experience of serving as Commander-in-Chief of the Alaska National Guard, and visiting troops in Kuwait, she knows the anguish of waiting for news on a loved one overseas, giving her a unique viewpoint from which to evaluate military decisions. Unlike our current president beholden to his liberal base, she would be less likely to play politics with war. She’s seen it up close and personal: Track enlisted on September 11th 2007, and embarked on his service to Iraq on September 11th, 2008, just as she was running for vice president, only the second woman to do so. For one year, while simultaneously taking round-after-round of political hits, Sarah Palin endured the worry only a soldier’s mother knows. She suffered a media lynching, ironically, while her son bravely defended freedom of the press and the other freedoms we so often take for granted in America.
As she tells it, her son’s service to our country is something no one can take away from her. This would be true whether she runs for president, or settles down to a quiet life in Wasilla with her family, two scenarios that for her probably hold equal value.
But since we know her life will never be quiet regardless, we’re hoping she steps up to show the world just how qualified she really is for the highest office in the land. We’ve laid out ten points of distinction in this series, but the real list might be as vast as the golden Alaskan horizon and as deep as a mother’s love.