Monday, November 16, 2009


The conventional wisdom is that Sarah Palin will want to deal with her weaknesses in anticipation of a 2012 presidential run -- or not run at all. Everyone, of course, knows what those weaknesses are: according to the new Washington Post/ABC poll, she's viewed unfavorably by a majority of the country, including a plurality of independents, and 60% of poll respondents say she's unqualified for the presidency. So we ask: is this when she'll start reaching out to the center? When she'll start trying to demonstrate a real command of issues? When she'll start trying to seem more personally appealing to those who aren't in the base?

But the endless anticipation of a new, more presidential Palin is starting to remind me of the Bush years, when the conventional wisdom kept telling us that surely the steely-eyed rocket man would see the error of his ways and withdraw from Iraq while offering olive branches to Democrats. It never happened, because George W. Bush who didn't think anything was ever wrong with him -- if you didn't like him, if you didn't like the things he did, well, tough noogies for you.

Palin's the same way. She's never going to "shore up" anything we think she needs to "shore up" if she wants to run for president -- and yet she's going to run for president. As Michiko Kakutani notes in her New York Times review of Palin's book,

the second half of this book often reads like a calculated attempt to position Ms. Palin for 2012. She tries to compare herself to Ronald Reagan by repeatedly invoking his name and record. She talks about being "a Commonsense Conservative" and worrying about the national deficit. And she attempts to explain, rationalize or refute controversial incidents and allegations that emerged during the 2008 race.

And yet, as Mark Halperin has noted, the book is utterly lacking in "hefty policy prescriptions." Translation: she's running and she doesn't give a crap if you think she doesn't have policy chops.

If Palin wanted to seem more likable and more substantial, the damn book wouldn't play into a stereotype of cattiness. And yet it does. Kakutani:

The most sustained and vehement barbs in this book are directed not at Democrats or liberals or the news media, but at the McCain campaign. The very campaign that plucked her out of Alaska, anointed her the Republican vice-presidential nominee and made her one of the most talked about women on the planet -- someone who could command a reported $5 million advance for writing this book.

[This] reads like payback for disparaging comments by John McCain's aides about her after the ticket’s loss to Barack Obama...

I know -- "cattiness" is a sexist word. Well, just as Barack Obama has taken great pains throughout his political career -- throughout his adult life, in fact -- not to embody the unfair stereotype of the "angry black man," Palin needs not to seem focused on claws-out revenge in this way, whether that's fair or not. Any other woman who wanted to be president would acknowledge this potential pitfall, seek to avoid it, and do damage control for any words and deeds that played into the stereotype. Not Palin. She's not going to change.

She's not bothering with seriousness, or outreach to voters who live in densely populated areas (her book tour is mostly sticking to the tank towns), or any attempt to broaden her ideological appeal. She's going to stand pat with her base -- and then probably whine about the unfairness of her inevitable 2012 loss, in either the primaries or the general election. But, like Bush, she's not going to change who she is, because, like Bush, she doesn't think anything about her needs changing -- ever.

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