Like many before her, she is caught in a stream that leads inexorably on and running for president, barring some huge personal life and death event, is the pool it dumps into.
But can she win? Ah, that’s another question and frankly, quite beside the point at this stage. Even if she loses she might end up with a national television show, like Mike Huckabee, or command much bigger fees on the lecture circuit like John Kerry, or write a bestselling book and make a movie like Al Gore, or launch a new movement like Barry Goldwater, or end up on the board of directors of a number of great companies, like almost all of them.
The debates alone are the equivalent of millions of dollars in free exposure. It would be pretty extravagant for her NOT to run for president and hire all her family to help her, especially those deadbeat nephews who can’t otherwise get good jobs.
But hasn’t she been hopelessly damaged by a furious media, who took retribution for her surprise public popularity? Haven’t they successfully characterized her as dumb?
Yes, yes. So what? Since when has dumb been important?
This brings up my favorite historical explanation for the presidency. And this is original folks, so if you see it or hear it somewhere else, like “compassionate conservative” or “pander bear,” check out the dates of the copyrighted books and tapes. Or in this case, check out the date of this blog and you will see that they stole it from me.
I call it “Dumb and Duller.” That is, the Republicans usually nominate a candidate that is considered “dumb” and the Democrats nominate one that is considered “dull.” Usually. There are reset years like 1960 and this past one, 2008.
For example, even the first Republican nominee, Abraham Lincoln, was considered dumb. One of his own cabinet members referred to him in letters to his wife as “our dear imbecile.” They called him “baboon.” The average man on the street thought he could do better. He engendered sympathy from intellectuals. His genius was only recognized after he was killed.
Even in modern times, especially in modern times, Republican nominees have been seen as dumb. Eisenhower, Goldwater, Ford, Reagan, Bush, Bush. Clark Clifford referred to Reagan as “an amiable dunce.” Lyndon Johnson once famously said that Gerald Ford was “so dumb he can’t walk straight and fart at the same time.” The senior Bush, for whom I worked, was ridiculed for reading Ludlum instead of LeCarre’.
This is not to say that they were actually dumb. Sorry. You don’t get that far on dumb. I entertained Gerald Ford in my home a number of times and I was bowled over. He turned out to be a policy wonk. He could out argue anyone in the room and the data was at his fingertips. Reagan’s sense of the world turned out to be right, while the sense of reality proposed by pontificating professors at Harvard was dead wrong. So who’s dumb?
In 1998 I called George W. Bush to tell him that he was being lampooned on Saturday Night Live. “They are making you appear really, really dumb,” I said, breathlessly. I was sure I was bearing important political news.
There was a very long pause on the other end of the line. And then Governor Bush said, “Good.”
And that was that.
Come to think of it. Who was elected class president in your school? The smartest? The most entertaining? The best speaker? Not likely.
Politics is no accident. It is just as much a science as biology but it is deceptively different than the layman suspects. Entertainers, with some exceptions, Reagan, Schwarzenegger, Franken, totally miss it. Many of my journalist friends do too.
Meanwhile, most Democratic nominees are “Dull.”
Dukakis bored people to death. Richard Nixon once told Meet the Press that Dukakis was “as dull as a word processor.” So was Kerry. Joe Klein of TIME magazine said Kerry was “deadly dull, slow to respond and trapped in Democratic banality.” Gore, they said, was “too wooden.” Bill Clinton gave a speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention that was so long and so boring pundits said he had just committed political suicide. People were out of their seats, sleeping on the convention floor. Four years later he was president.
This is no accident. One important piece of politics is “the art of offending the least.” And that lends itself to boring, but safe, speeches and what appears to be dull people.
Which brings us to 2008. I call it a reset year, like 1960. Nixon wasn’t dumb and neither is McCain. And Kennedy wasn’t dull and neither is Obama. In fact Kennedy was so charismatic that pundits for years promoted the fiction that charisma was important to winning elections. Tell that to Johnson, Carter, Bush, Clinton, Bush. Now the truth is that Democrats are not as boring as you might think. Nor are they as smart. For example, we now know that Jack Kennedy’s IQ registered at Harvard was 119. The sources are in my book. Not the 174 that is fostered on the public. You want smart? That would be Jimmy Carter. Go figure.
And that brings us back to Palin. She is being portrayed by the media as “dumb.” The fact is, one can learn how to stay on your feet in an interview in a few months. The airwaves are full of young beautiful women who sound very smart but couldn’t get elected dogcatcher. The hard part is getting elected as governor of Alaska and having an 80% approval rating on the job. Now we are getting into some finite air.
So yes, Sarah Palin will run. And while Obama, if he wins, will be a gigantic figure in history and in the world, reviving American popularity, and while he will likely time the economic recovery to coincide with his re-election campaign, life is tricky and ordering the economy to perform on cue does not always work. Too much is at stake for Sarah to sit at home. She will run and she just might get lucky too. It is worth the risk. And if she loses, the consolation prizes are not so bad either. It beats going home to a dumpy $400,000 house without a Mall, a Cheesecake Factory, a Maggianos or even an Outback within driving distance.
If the McCain-Palin ticket loses on Tuesday, will Sarah Palin run for president next time around? You betcha. She is going to run. If only for better restaurants and shopping. So go girl. But her fans, like me, should not expect miracles in 2012, usually Republican “dumb” only beats Democrat “dull.”