Outlook: Five myths about Sarah Palin

Oct 18, 2010

Weekly Standard opinion editor Matthew Continetti will be online Monday, Oct. 18, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article titled 'Five myths about Sarah Palin.'

Continetti is the author of 'The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star.'

Just curious about your book title. Can you please define "Elite Media"?

Hello everyone and welcome to this online chat. I look forward to reading and answering your questions. Let's get started.

For the purposes of my book, I define "elite media" as the broadcast networks, CNN, PBS, NPR, MSNBC, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal news pages, etc., etc. Basically, the media that our nation's elite -- by which I mean, the educated classes that establish conventional opinion -- reads and watches. So the Daily Show is "elite media," whereas Glenn Beck is not, since most of our elites, Republican or Democrat, wouldn't be caught dead watching the latter.

Will the on-again/off-again shenanigans of Bristol Palin and& Levi Johnston's relationship (mostly Levi Johnston's antics) hurt Sarah politically in any way?

Most Americans already have fixed opinions about Palin. If independent voters change their minds about her, it will be because (a) she demonstrates her capacity to lead and/or (b) the economic and political situation becomes so intolerable that the electorate is willing to turn to anyone who isn't Barack Obama. I don't see how Levi and Bristol affect either variable in that equation.

It's great that Sarah Palin has the vote from conservative Republicans, but how about conservative Democrats like Jimmy Carter fans? Don't you think in order to win, she will need their vote as well as moderate Republicans/Democrats?

Interesting question. Palin probably already has the support of Democrats who say they are ideological conservatives. You see, I'm not sure whether Jimmy Carter's remaining fans are "conservative" Democrats, actually. They tend to be liberals, many of whom worked in his administration.

In the 30 years since the 1980 election, we've seen the two parties sort by ideology. What few "conservative" Democrats  remain tend to be Blue Dogs from the Midwest and South who say they'll be different from the urban, coastal liberals who dominate the Democratic party. But in the end the Blue Dogs often go along with the party leadership, and thus there won't be many  of them left on November 3.

As for moderate Republicans and Democrats, here the question becomes more complicated. Partisans tend to back their presidential nominees in high numbers. What Palin needs are independent voters, who went for the Democrats in 2006 and 2008 but are swinging right in 2010. Right now, independents don't like Palin. She needs that to change if she wants to be president.

Matthew, With due respect to your piece, Palin resigned as Governor because she wanted the financial opportunities that came with being a private citizen as opposed to a public servant. She gets paid incredibly well to "rally" the tea party on the national stage and expound about various things on Fox News. Don't get me wrong, she has the right to do all this, but let's not pretend she quit the governorship all for anything other than to benefit herself, which is certainly her right, but it's a lot less lofty-sounding than the reasons you described.

I don't think it's that simple. Certainly, Palin, like anyone, wanted to make money. But one of the reasons she wanted to make money was the increasing financial burden she felt from ethics complaints lodged by her political opponents. Most of those complaints had no basis in fact; they were an attempt to drain Palin's emotional and financial resources.

Palin's answer to this conundrum was to break free from the governor's office. It's paid off financially, as you note. So far, it's paid off politically as well.

Is Sarah Palin a FEMALE Ronald Reagan?

Palin is a Reaganite, which is to say, a follower of Ronald Reagan's political philosophy. Like Reagan, she's a former governor from the American West. In the end, though, I don't think she's a female Reagan. Not yet.

Reagan, remember, was a Democrat who left his party over the course of many years. He was active in politics for decades before winning the presidency. He won two terms as governor of California, challenged a sitting Republican president in 1976, then defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980. He spent years honing his conservative philosophy in speeches, radio commentaries, and public debates, so that he could supply detailed arguments for his many positions. He introduced world-changing ideas -- supply-side economics, the Strategic Defense Initiative -- to the world.

Palin shares Reagan's beliefs in limited government and a strong, exceptional America. But she is a newcomer to the national scene, thrust upon it unexpectedly only two years ago. She hasn't defended her ideas in a hostile environment since her debate with Joe Biden in 2008.  She has yet to introduce a big, neo-Reaganite idea of her own.

Lucky for her, there's still plenty of time.

How do you think Sarah Palin would come out against Hillary Clinton?

It's likely that we'll never know. The White House denies that Clinton will replace Joe Biden on the ticket in 2012, and I think Clinton's moment will have passed by 2016.

Your definition of "Elite Media" seems to suggest a focus on the established media hierarchy. Can you speak to the influence of "new media" i.e. blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook in Sarah Palin's ascent to political relevancy?

This is a great question. New Media are an important part of the Palin phenomenon. In 2008, the Internet and blogs were among Palin's worst critics, spreading doubts about the maternity of her youngest son, false rumors about marital infidelity, and misstatements about her past. The level of invective was shocking.

By 2009, however, Palin had adopted New Media for her own. She uses Facebook and Twitter to communicate directly with her supporters. Her Facebook pronouncements influence Republican primaries and the national political debate. Obviously, her many critics on the web are still there, typing furiously. But now Palin has a trumpet of her own.

"Basically, the media that our nation's elite -- by which I mean, the educated classes that establish conventional opinion -- reads and watches. So the Daily Show is "elite media," whereas Glenn Beck is not" Did you just say that the only people who watch Glenn Beck are uneduated? Interesting.

Clever, but wrong. Needless to say, the phrase "educated classes that establish conventional opinion" is a far cry from the word, "educated." Obviously educated people watch Glenn Beck. But they do not establish what passes for conventional wisdom or "right thinking" in this country. If they did, America would be a very different place.

Do you think Sarah Palin has the political capital/capacity to build the broad reaching coalitions necessary to govern in our modern democratic system?

Remains to be seen. As I researched my book, I was frankly surprised at how well Palin negotiated Juneau politics prior to her nomination as vice president. She drew support from Republicans, independents, and Democrats. Her governing agenda was focused almost completely on energy. She was perhaps the most popular Republican in the land.

Her first years as governor provide a glimpse of what might have been, if John McCain hadn't asked her to join him on the 2008 ticket. But he did, and Palin said yes, and a combination of unforced errors and overwhelmingly negative press turned her, in the minds of many, into a cartoon. She'll be battling that caricature for the rest of her public life.

Your response that her resigning as governor has a complicated backstory is certainly believable, but the bumper sticker slogan will be "She quit as gov of AK when the going got tough -- she'll do the same as persident", which will be hard to counter with the legal costs of potential ethics lapses. Do you think that she would be successful in that particular battle?

As the Magic 8 Ball would say, "Remains to be seen." My impression is that candidates for office never want to spend much time talking about the past. Voters are much more concerned about the future. What will the candidate do to improve that future? What kind of future does the candidate see for America?

If Palin gets trapped into a debate over her past, it means  voters won't hear about her plans for the future. And that would be a problem.

Hi Matt, We were in the same Lake Braddock graduating class, congratulations on your successs. I am wondering how you think growing up in the NoVa atmosphere--where local news is national news--has shaped your view of politics?

I know this question is off topic, but I always have to pay my respects to Burke, Virginia! Growing up in Northern Virginia totally shaped my worldview. The area where I grew up was diverse, educated, filled with military personnel, and contained Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals. A lot of kids, unfortunately, grow up in places where everyone thinks the same. I'm lucky to say I didn't.

What would Sarah Palin need to do to reasonably overcome her high negative perceptions among a significant percentage of the American public, especially the electorate?

This is the central question facing Sarah Palin. If I knew the answer, I could make a million dollars as a political consultant! But I don't, and so I'll have to give you my educated guess.

Palin needs to run a campaign in which she demonstrates the ability to stay on message, raise significant sums of money from a broad group of donors, demonstrate familiarity with the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy, and presnt a unifying theme of American strength, at home and abroad.

It's a tall order, I know. But the next Republican president will do all these things.

Hello, Your Outlook piece and response to the Levi/Bristol question implied that Sarah Palin's poll numbers can only improve. In your mind, is there anything that can happen which will hurt Palin (e.g. ethics investigations, gaffes, or Tea Party failures)?

All the things you mention could hurt Palin, especially with GOP voters, who are her last bastion of political support. When you start off from a low point, though, as Palin does with Democrats and independents, the only direction to go is up.

Do you actually think Palin wants to run for the presidency in 2012? I don't think she is acting like she wants to.

I do. I see her endorsing candidates and joining them on the trail, raising money through her political action committee, establishing a national voice through her books and upcoming television series, and engaging the Obama administration through television appearances, Facebook, and Twitter. Palin sees her influence in Republican circles, sees her continued popularity among Republicans, sees the potential weaknesses in Obama, and sees the potential parallels between the 1980 election and the 2012 election. She's getting ready.

Matthew, You mention that Palin and the Tea Party haven't hurt the GOP one bit. Haven't they turned two races, Nevada and Delaware, where state party-backed candidates had huge leads in polls, and turned Nevada into a toss up and lost Delaware to the Dems?

Good question, and if Delaware is the reason Republicans don't win the Senate, then I'll take your point.

As for Nevada, it's not so clear that any of the alternatives to Sharron Angle would be doing any better against Reid. Sue Lowden was sinking prior to the primary, thanks to the chicken who followed her around the state.

In fact, I'd say Angle's been a surprisingly effective candidate. She hasn't pulled a Rand Paul and questioned the Civil Rights Act on MSNBC, for example. (Even Rand Paul hasn't pulled a Rand Paul since then.) I think Angle won that debate with Harry Reid last week with the line, "Man up, Harry Reid." I expect her to win a tight race in two weeks.

Why do you think Bristol Palin went on DWTS? Is is part of the Palin strategy?

You'd have to ask Bristol. But I doubt Palin played any part in her daughter's decision. The Bristol saga is ancillary to Palin's political story (in my opinion).

So your POV is that the Weekly Standard and Fox News do not represent Elite media? If Fox is number 1 in ratings, how do they not play a part in establishing our conventional opinion?

You're going to have to trust me on this, but Fox does not play a part in establishing conventional opinion inside the West Wing, at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution, or at the New York Times.

She seemed to do an excellent job in Alaskan politics. She saw the problems, and was direct in dealing with them, but if she can't handle the heat as governor of Alaska, how does that make her fit for the White House? Also, it was argued she had a myopic world view two years ago. How has she become better suited for Capitol Hill?

I think your first question will be asked by every single one of Palin's opponents in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

I disagree with the premise of your second question, though. I actually feel that Palin is stronger on foreign than domestic policy. She enjoyed the company of her foreign policy advisers during the campaign, and she made far fewer gaffes than "foreign policy expert" Joe Biden did during their debate.

What do you see as the key policy initiatives of a Palin presidential run? Is "spend less, tax less" enough- or will she actually need some specific plans? Does she have any?

My guess is the 2012 Republican nominee will run on repealing Obamacare and instituting a major pro-growth tax reform. But it's only a guess, and something tells me that foreign policy will loom larger in 2012 than it does in 2010. But who knows? As Fred Barnes likes to say, the future in politics is never a straight-line projection from the present. Which is why it's useful to question the widespread assumption that Sarah Palin is a lightweight who's headed nowhere.

With that, I'm going back to work. Thanks for reading, and for asking such interesting questions.

In This Chat
Matthew Continetti
Matthew Continetti is opinion editor at the Weekly Standard and author of 'The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star.'
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