STILL WAITING FOR PALIN'S LEARNING CURVE TO START UNDERGOING THAT SUDDEN SHARP ACCELERATION
First of all, two cheers to George Will (yes, really) for at least some components of this nasty little cluster bomb of a sentence, which appears in his year-end column for Newsweek:
During the presidential contest between an African-American from Chicago and a plumber from Toledo, eros reared its beguiling head, so: Coming soon to a Cineplex near you, "Republicans in Love," a romantic comedy about conservatives who advocate extravagant presidential powers and who this autumn favored putting the governor of a national park (the federal government owns 63 percent of Alaska) in close proximity to those powers.
Will is essentially correct in that first clause: this fall, it really did seem as if John McCain was looking for someone, anyone, to be the real face of his own ticket, rather than himself. First it was Palin, then it was Joe; if the race had gone on for a few more months, hell, it could have been somebody whose name was picked out of a hat. Certainly three or four other lunkheads would have gotten the gig in succession, or perhaps simultaneously.
And Palin is "the governor of a national park"? Ouch.
Ah, but what Will calls "eros" certainly lingers on: today, the Wall Street Journal gives us John O'Sullivan's contention that Palin might be just a few all-nighters away from becoming the next Maggie Thatcher:
...[In 1975] Margaret Thatcher was not yet Margaret Thatcher. She had not won the 1979 election, recovered the Falklands, reformed trade union law, defeated the miners, and helped destroy Soviet communism peacefully.
... Like Mrs. Palin this year, Mrs. Thatcher knew there were serious gaps in her knowledge, especially of foreign affairs. She recruited experts who shared her general outlook (such as Robert Conquest and Hugh Thomas) to tutor her on these things.
... initially she faltered.... But she lowered her tone (vocally not morally), took lessons in presentation from (among others) Laurence Olivier, and prepared diligently for every debate and Question Time.
I can still recall her breakthrough performance in a July 1977 debate on the Labour government's collapsing economy. She dominated the House of Commons so wittily that the next day the Daily Mail's acerbic correspondent, Andrew Alexander, began his report: "If Mrs. Thatcher were a racehorse, she would have been tested for drugs yesterday." She was now on the way to becoming the world-historical figure who today is the gold standard of conservative statesmanship.
... [Palin] has plenty of time, probably eight years, to analyze America's problems, recruit her own expert advice, and develop conservative solutions to them....
But what evidence is there that Palin thinks she needs to do any of this?
It still astonishes me that she actually accepted John McCain's offer of the #2 spot. You say it was a great career move? Hey, it would be a great career move for me to become the chief of brain surgery at Johns Hopkins -- but, silly me, if someone offered me this gig, with the vast increase in money and prestige it would afford, I would turn it down because I'm not a freaking doctor. I'm not qualified. Lives would be in the balance. I could do irreparable harm to people.
Faced with a similar set of circumstances last summer (and also with family difficulties), Palin apparently didn't even ask to sleep on the offer of possibly being a heartbeat away from the presidency. She just said "You betcha."
We know from her recent Human Events interview that she thought she was ready to take on the world:
GIZZI: What was the biggest mistake made in the ’08 campaign?
PALIN: The biggest mistake made was that I could have called more shots on this: the opportunities that were not seized to speak to more Americans via media. I was not allowed to do very many interviews, and the interviews that I did were not necessarily those I would have chosen. But I...
But if I would have been in charge, I would have wanted to speak to more reporters because that’s how you get your message out to the electorate.
GIZZI: And what was the most important lesson you learned from the campaign?
PALIN: ... there were so many things that were outside of my control. I was in a campaign in which I did not know the people individually running the campaign. So I had to put my life, my career, my family, and my reputation in their hands. That’s kind of a scary thing to do when you don’t know the people you are working with.
Short version: Palin thinks she needed less hand-holding.
And as for evidence that Palin will "recruit experts who share her general outlook," I have a hunch that this interview exchange tells us something about what savants she turns to:
GIZZI: Who is your role model?
PALIN: Susan B. Anthony. I have great respect there for the history. She was a pro-life feminist and those things that she stood for, and she was so far ahead of her time. It amazes me.
Hmmm ... where'd she get that? Possibly from the folks at the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group whose president was also a co-founder of the frequently offensive Palin fan site Team Sarah?
I know what you're going to say: If she wants to play in the bigs in 2012 or 2016, she knows she'll have to do better than that. She's going to make herself credible -- bone up on issues, impress editorial boards, publish a campaign-year essay in Foreign Affairs, etc., etc.
I'm not sure she'll do it. I think she'll master the issues enough to get by, then refuse to go the "serious" route -- painting that refusal as "mavericky," or whatever the word for it is then. And I think her party will be just as suspicious of book-l'arnin' then as it is now, and will make her the nominee, not in spite of her lack of detailed knowledge, but in large part because of it.