Monday, September 8, 2008

Is Sarah Palin the Next Ronald Reagan?

Sarah Palin and Ronald Reagan appear poles apart in their backgrounds. Before coming to the center stage of national politics, Palin was a small-town mother of five and Governor of Alaska, and Reagan, a Hollywood actor and Governor of California. But these and other dramatic differences mask surprising similarities, which now appear to merge at the intersection of time and circumstance.

Low Bar of Expectations. Critics contended that Ronald Reagan was nothing more than a third-rate Hollywood actor, who lacked the intellectual depth and educational training to serve successfully as president. And critics now contend that Sarah Palin lacks adequate experience to be one heartbeat away from the Oval Office. By jumping high over the bar of expectations set for her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Palin has become the "rock star" of conservatism, drawing huge crowds and raising untold campaign cash. Of course, after Senator Barry Goldwater's humiliating defeat in 1964, Reagan surprised his critics by unexpectedly transforming the lost cause of conservatism into a victorious nationwide movement.

Insurgent Leadership. Just as Reagan became the leader of a conservative insurgency in the Republican Party that ultimately propelled him into the Oval Office in 1980 so, too, has Sarah Palin led insurgent reform movements to become Mayor of Wasilla and Governor of Alaska. As a reformer she became the perfect fit for John McCain's image as a maverick challenging Washington's "Beltway establishment."

Surprising Ecumenicity. In their rise to power Palin and Reagan demonstrated political pragmatism by reaching out to both Democrats and Republicans. Reagan appealed to the so-called "Reagan Democrats," primarily conservative Roman Catholics in the North, and also to the Democratic Party's southern evangelicals. He even converted some Democratic members of Congress to the Republican Party. As a reformer Palin crossed over party lines to lead as Mayor and Governor. Time and circumstance have now bestowed upon her the Reagan mantle of appealing to those same "Reagan Democrats" and southern evangelicals, whose votes were vital to Reagan's election then and McCain's election now.

Reserved Religiosity. Both Palin and Reagan subscribe to similar religious beliefs, such as trusting Jesus Christ as their personal savior and supporting the Genesis account of creation. But not with great fanfare. Reagan attended the comfortable Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, while Palin left the more emotional Assemblies of God Church to attend the more reserved Wasilla Bible Church. Her personal faith, like Ronald Reagan's, appeals to the increasingly large and vital evangelical movement.

Instinctive Leaders. Like Reagan, Palin is not a "policy wonk." She does not devote herself to the minutiae of public policy details, but rather she leads by instinct, based upon her guiding principles of right and wrong. When Reagan's advisors tried to prep him for presidential debates through reading thick manuals, he refused. Rather he brought to the debates a set of well-honed conservative principles, which he used as a grid to filter his answers to policy questions. Sarah Palin's early campaign speeches, especially her acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, suggest that she is cut out of the same cloth.

"Skin Comfort." As former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown said of Sarah Palin's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention: "Her timing was exquisite. She didn't linger with applause, but instead launched into line after line of attack, slipping the knives in with every smile and joke. And she delivered it like she was just BS-ing on the street with the meter maid. She didn't have to prove she was 'of the people.' She really is the people." Likewise, Reagan exuded that same comfort with his persona whether delivering major speeches or dealing with members of Congress. In working with House Speaker Tip O'Neill, he demonstrated that despite major partisan differences, it was difficult for political adversaries to dislike him.

Compelling Personal Stories. Reagan and Palin beat the odds. Coming from the small town of Dixon in the midst of flat Illinois cornfields, raised by a very religious mother, whose training led him to become a Sunday School teacher of grade-school boys, a graduate of a tiny and little-known religious college, Eureka, Reagan hardly had the pedigree to become President of the United States. Neither does Sarah Palin. Her small-town background, a degree from the out-of-the-way University of Idaho, and sportscaster start, the same as Ronald Reagan's first job after college, hardly qualified her to become Governor of Alaska, much less a Vice Presidential candidate.

Time and circumstance merged for Ronald Reagan. Will they for Sarah Palin?


Carol said...

My initial impressions of Sarah Palin are positive, and her choice as running mate has truly energized a rather boring campaign. However, I attended the Colorado Springs rally with Palin and McCain two days ago. I, along with a number of others, was very disappointed by a Palin speech that was a mere rehash of her convention speech...exact jokes and all. Surely, even if her campaign team is that dense, Sarah herself ought to know that 95% of the people who would go to the trouble (hours of waiting in line and the hot sun) to come see her and McCain were bound to have listened to her convention speech. As such, common sense would dictate something different, even if very brief and delivered extemporaneously. Is Sarah Palin capable of speaking without being given a speech to rehearse in advance? Time will tell. She's a gutsy, strong, talented woman, but it takes a lot more than that to survive the rigors of debate, unexpected media questions, and national (not to mention international) crises. I also want to note that while Palin may become vice president on McCain's coattails, she will not be the first woman president.

Kevin Sam said...

Palin’s charisma, sincerity and toughness may have taken Democrats by surprise. Many likely did not know what to expect from this Republican Vice-Presidential nominee. I suspect many Democratic supporters of Obama/Biden have ben reeling from shock and surprise after having listened to her spectacular speech at the 2008 RNC. She will definitely be a force to be reckoned by the Democratic ticket during this election campaign. Democrats now know that Sarah Palin is no pushover mayor-turned-Governor. She’s a genuine and authentic conservative, and a strong political leader who can walk the talk and lead with action. She can rally the Republican supporters, and also excite undecided voters who are looking for a leader who can lead effectively. I look forward to seeing and hearing more from Gov. Sarah Palin, potential Vice-President of the United States.

Malinda Marguerite said...

I have seen two or three articles comparing Pailn to Margaret Thatcher, but I did not realize that her background was so parallel to Reagan's. Palin is gutsy and genuine, two things you rarely find together for good in politics. I greatly admire what I've seen from her thus far and I'm excited to see how well she does. Given the right timing she very well could be the first woman president.

Anonymous said...

I am quite dismayed at the comparison between Reagan and Palin. Reagan comes from what I would consider an American "old school" of values and beliefs. I am not sure that Palin holds to the same tradition. Turtles have strong shells, but can certainly be broken eventually. Hers surely will. It almost seems that conservatives are blind to this politicians weaknesses. How can the so called evangelical base place party loyalty over the fact that her own household doesn't seems to be well managed. Even the bible teaches a concept that points toward evidence of strong leadership having a well run household. It's easy to say "judge not..." But discernment is another matter entirely. One levels criticism at a Clinton White House that was defiled and a Bush White House plagued with lies. I think the better question is not will Palin be the next Reagan, but the next American compromise. Besides that, the fact that she is a governor means absolutely nothing. People seem to forget that Bush was a governor too. Look where that has taken us.

Kevin Sam said...

As much as I like Palin and there are characteristics that may be similar to him, but she definitely won't be a Reagan, or even a Thatcher. She will have to make her own mark in the political world. She may be an original.

tom said...

Thank you Professor for this picture of history apparently repeating itself. I do believe your comparisons are correct. Sarah is a beatiful person, inside and out. God will use her to move many of our people to do what we know is right. We are about to be blessed whether we want to be or not.

Lucas said...

The biggest similarity: Both are happy conservatives. They have this opponent destroying smile, and likability that makes it hard for their enemies to tear them down, and easy for people to like them.

Smile: The lost art of good politics.

Andrew Cross said...

While I agree that there are some striking similarities between Palin and the old Gipper, I'm not sure they will necessarily translate into success for the Republicans on Election Day.

Reagan, in large part thanks to his acting background, was a phenomenal speaker. I think he was the first public orator to perfect the concept of targeting individuals in his audience with whom to exchange a smile, wink, or friendly glance.

Palin proved herself to be a more than capable speaker on the second to last night of the RNC.

In addition, Palin brings a glimmer of executive experience to the Republican ticket. Most of all, I think Palin is a gracious yet down-to-earth woman Americans can identify with. I would credit her for McCain's recent bump in the national polls.

Still, Palin will need to focus on this election's key issues and have a good showing against Bulldog Biden in the Vice Presidential debate to gain (or retain) her credibility in the eyes of Americans.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Dunn

I voted for Ronald Reagan, twice. I supported Ronald Reagan’s policies with every fiber of my being. Ronald Reagan was my President. Professor, Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan. (my apologies to Lloyd Bentsen)

Sarah Palin may have some superficial resemblance to President Reagan. She appears to be a good speaker and certainly has the ability to connect with the common man, or woman. Her beliefs, as stated, mesh with the modern conservative movement. I say as stated because in two weeks she’s shown a deft ability to change her beliefs as directed by coaches. I also agree that she also appears to be able to cross party lines when needed to achieve a goal. But that’s where the similarity ends.

Ronald Reagan was a two-term governor of a state whose population and GDP rival that of many developed countries. Sarah Palin is a two-year governor of a state that is forty-eighth in population and forty-seventh in state GDP. Her ability to function in a national environment is a fact not in evidence.

Ronald Reagan had a burning vision of what the United States could be and he pursued it with all his strength. After watching her interviews, I’m not sure that Governor Palin could find all fifty of our states on the map. As to vision, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that she has the ability to see, let alone lead us down, a path of greatness.

While Ronald Reagan was not a towering intellect, he compensated for that by using his uncanny ability to judge character to surround himself with people who were. Then, and this is the important part, he listened to them. I’ve seen nothing from Sarah Palin that indicates she has either that ability or predilection.

Ronald Reagan was loyal to his friends and the people who supported him. They in turn were loyal to him. Governor Palin has shown an ability to turn on people much as a pit bull can for no better reason than they disagreed with her. Maybe it’s the “hockey mom” in her that brings that out.

Ronald Reagan actually liked people and it showed. Even his opponents were caught in his affable demeanor. That's one of the reasons he was such a good negotiator. By all accounts, Sarah Palin's skill is alienating anyone who doesn't agree with her. That doesn't speak well for her ability to close a deal or broker a compromise when needed.

Ronald Reagan…, there’s no need to continue. I could go on for hours, but the truth is that, despite being a short term political “rock star”, Sarah Palin doesn't have the ability to galvanize the Republican Party or American electorate as Ronald Reagan could and did. As the weeks to the election wear on, the glitter will drop away and her one-dimensional reality will show through.

I’ve been a Republican all my life. Just as the Democratic Party left Reagan in 1962, the Republican Party has left me. That’s why I supported John McCain in 2000 when he was a true maverick. But McCain has changed. Maybe it’s because he knows that this election is his last shot, maybe he’s just lost his edge. Whatever the reason, his choice of Sarah Palin is just another indicator of the change. He didn’t pick her because she was the best choice. He picked her because she filled demographic holes in his campaign. The old John McCain wouldn’t have done that. He would have picked the best person and let the chips fall where they may.


Knottie said...

I can't find your email so i will leave a comment. This is Angelia ( Jim's daughter) I wanted to say hi and thank you for your message on my son's obit earlier this year.


Charles Rivers said...

I can't believe that the power behind the Republicans have once again nominated a puppet. Palin has given the same speech multiple times, because its the only one she has rehearsed. When the Religious Right took up the cause of the Military Industrial Complex and backed the invasion of THE WRONG COUNTRY, the Muslims viewed this as a holy war. We subsequently dropped 1,500 bombs in a 24 hour "Shock and Awe" campaign on a defenseless city of 6 million citizens - destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands. We saw Humvees rolling into Iraq. The Muslim world saw live TV coverage of countless dead bodies - and vowed revenge. bin Laden held a gun to our head, and Bush pulled the trigger. 1.2 million civilian deaths so far... Whoops! No WMD's? And everybody involved got commendations - while torture was redefined and secret rendition prisons were implemented? What would you do if they did that in America?

The pillars of Wall street are crashing. Bush has foreign financed 100% of a $3 TRILLION war while giving tax cuts annually to the wealthiest equal to our annual deficit. Bush doubled our national debt.

Folks, there have not been any terrorist attacks sin 9/11, except for the way Bush has nuked our nation.

We're about to experience a meltdown of our society - where the Dollar is destroyed, our credit cards don't work any more, food riots disrupt our distribution system, healthcare and gasoline will become cost prohibitive, and employment is non-existent for millions.

And the Republicans say the best that they can do is a lipstick wearing "Hockey Mom" with virtually zero experience?

Its time to wake up folks, because it is about to get ugly out there...