Asked Wednesday whether or not Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is now the leader of the Republican Party, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter responded with a clear and definite "no." While not always correct on public policy, Senator Specter’s pithy answer should be met with praise throughout Republican and conservative circles.
Looking back on this past week’s GOP defeat, this writer will be slightly more loquacious than Senator Specter. The evidence is clear that Palin was a drag on the ticket, and God willing, is not the future voice of the GOP. If so, she will represent a weakened, small-tent, vapid political party with very little purpose, message, or meaning. This again is the Vice Presidential candidate who reportedly failed to identify the three nations who signed the North American Free Trade Agreement and actually admitted at a South Philly Cheese Steak shop that she favored violating the sovereign borders of Pakistan.
Sixty percent of voters told exit pollsters that she was unqualified to be president if necessary. Despite McCain’s logic for placing her on the ticket, she failed to bring in suburban women or independents as she would do, or so we were told. Looking back, Palin was incapable of putting together a coherent governing philosophy other than telling half truths (ie–"selling" the state plane on Ebay), reading from boilerplate neocon talking points, embarrassing herself and her party in national interviews and at the lone Vice Presidential debate, and spewing silly rhetoric rather than a realistic political program.
The time to act in order to prevent continuing tragedies within the GOP is now. The outcome of this election should lead us not down the path of more Palinesque candidates and intellectually void campaigns, but rather to the less-traveled road towards a commitment to redefine the moral, ethical framework of the Republican Party while also committing ourselves to learn from the disaster of Nov. 4, 2008.
After this election, conservatives need more than ever to return to an intelligent, informed set of principles to help shape the nation and the party. If Sarah Palin is the messenger or expected to lead this charge, we will find ourselves further in the hole without a ladder tall enough to allow us to climb out. Republicans were beaten on Tuesday not because of how good the Democrats were, but rather how awful we are at this moment in history.
John McCain had no easy task this year. Considering President Bush’s disastrous expansion of federal education meddling via No Child Left Behind, the botched handling of Hurricane Katrina, a war for the sake of holding a war, the depletion of privacy rights for American citizens, the authoring of signing statements which disrespect the laws of the land, a wasteful prescription drug benefit program, record deficits, a terrible Wall Street bailout, a corrupt administration, and runaway government spending and growth, is there any wonder McCain’s task was all the more difficult?
McCain’s burden was complicated by his own stubbornness which led him to think he could win by telling voters he was right on the issues and they were not. As Patrick Buchanan pointed out early in the summer, McCain entered this campaign on the wrong side of a war opposed by three quarters of the nation, the wrong side of a trade policy opposed by three quarters of the nation, and on the wrong side of an amnesty package opposed by the same.
Consider just some of McCain’s blown opportunities:
• When given the opportunity to stand with the three quarters who want the rule of law restored, McCain instead spoke before La Raza’s national conference and promised more amnesty.
• When given the opportunity to stand with the three quarters who demand an America First trade policy, McCain stood up in the second debate and babbled unintelligibly about how if you aren’t for "free" trade, then you are a Hoover-like protectionist.
• When given the opportunity to stand with the three quarters who do not want to continue hemorrhaging money in Mesopotamia, McCain said repeatedly and without consideration to "stay the course," perhaps for another 100 years.
• When given the opportunity to showcase the sound judgment he claimed Obama was lacking by inspiring us with a partner who could articulate a vision for the future, he gave us the woman who danced along to a demeaning rap song on Saturday Night Live’s "Weekend Update" and failed to name one Supreme Court case she was opposed to other than Roe V. Wade.
I have heard numerous comments from self-described conservatives and Republicans like "McCain only got as far as he did because of Palin," or "the grassroots only voted for the ticket because of Palin." These folks who suggest that Palin did anything but help drag McCain further down in defeat are delusional at best.
In full disclosure, McCain was my third from the last pick during the GOP primary season (barely edging out Giuliani and Huckabee) and I predicted his dismal defeat if nominated over 18 months ago. However, his vote total on Nov. 4 exceeded what the GOP should have been able to produce following the last eight years of governmental expansion, erosion of civil liberties, and inept foreign policy decisions.
Instead of talking about the world’s struggle with Islamic fundamentalism, McCain talked about William Ayers. Instead of discussing the trade issue, he babbled inaccurately about Hoover causing the Great Depression. Instead of apologizing for his support of amnesty, he stood with Lindsay Graham and La Raza. Rather than talking about fixing our foreign policy, he gave us Joe the Plumber. When Americans by a rate of 70 to 30 opposed the bailout, McCain defied his own "Country First" slogan and voted to pass the $830 billion giveaway to Wall Street fat cats, hurting the entire country.
Now in this time of great struggle over the future, Republicans must turn to the men who helped build an inspiring philosophy like Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, William Buckley, Sam Francis, George Will, John Stuart Mill, Tom Jefferson, James Madison and those practitioners who showed that it can be put to good use like Calvin Coolidge, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Grover Cleveland, now more than ever, Senator Bob Taft.
The future of the Republican Party and the conservative movement rests not in the hands of Sarah Palin, but in whether or not we actually still believe that the ideas and philosophical tradition of these men can lead us back from our current intellectual wasteland.
Nathan R. Shrader holds an MS in political science from Suffolk University. He can be reached at [email protected]