Patrick Ruffini says Sarah Palin is "situated similarly" to Howard Dean, and could be the flashpoint for a grassroots revival of the Republican Party. Andrew Sullivan disagrees. Underneath the unbecoming hyperbole, he makes a good point.
The concept of Palin as a marketing tool, as an emblem of pure content-free identity politics, is very powerful. You can see why on paper, Kristol loved her, the way he loved the concept of Iraqi liberation. The only trouble is the actual reality: the fact that she has no record to speak of, that what she has is dreadful, that she has no education, that she is a pathological liar, that she is a vicious hater of those unlike her, that she is a McCarthyite sans communism.
If Ruffini thinks Palin will be the leader of a grassroots revival, then I think he is probably over-optimistic. As an abstraction, Sarah Palin is a fantastic leader. She's a genuine outsider, she's stood up to her own party, she's pursued and won major reform fights, she's made difficult cuts in spending, and she's generally in line with the Republican grassroots on policy issues. And she's a fresh, interesting face for the Republican Party.
But to be the substantive leader of a political movement, she needs three things:
- A clear, but sophisticated, political philosophy
- A serious governing strategy to move the ball forward on her political philosophy
- A support base, including grassroots and elite infrastructure, that can mobilize to defend her and advance her agenda
Howard Dean walked away from the 2004 campaign with a huge mailing list of devoted activists who were very connected (online and offline), and a base of support that was still pissed. Howard Dean had an army to deploy to fight for his political philosophy and governing agenda, and that army was willing to go to war against their own Party. Dean's resources fit the fight in which he needed them.
Does Sarah Palin have any of those things? I haven't seen any evidence that she has the sophisticated political philosophy, or a good governing strategy. Would Palin walk out of hte '08 campaign with the McCain campaign's mailing list? Doubtful. And the McCain campaign's mailing list is not obviously well-aligned with the coalition that would be needed to take back the Republican Party, or that they are sufficiently engaged to be mobilized for such an effort.
I understand why Palin is a compelling idea. I just haven't seen much evidence that she's got the serious substance behind the marketing abstraction. At least, not right now. Remember, Ronald Reagan spent decades writing, speaking and working on difficult political issues, thinking deeply about what he believed and why, before he was taken seriously as a major movement leader. And even then, he stood upon the shoulders of giants. The next leaders of the Right will not be riding an emerging Movement into power; they will be building a Movement anew.
Sarah Palin can be a part of that, but the leader of the next Right will have to bring a great deal more to the table than Sarah Palin does right now.
Side Note: The rest of Sullivan's post goes beyond hyperbole and into vulgar, but not particularly insightful, ridicule. That's unfortunate. I've admired Andrew Sullivan as a writer and thinker, regardless of his political alignment. But Andrew Sullivan, Intellectual, seems to be increasingly subsumed to Andrew Sullivan, Head Cheerleader of 2 Minutes Hate. 20 years hence, I suspect Andrew Sullivan will not be proud of this period of his career.