By James T Hackett for The Washington Times
Ronald Reagan was an American original and a unique political phenomenon. He combined unusual charm and personality and showed common sense that connected with the average American. He was attacked viciously by the political elites, who saw his popular appeal – and his opposition to big government and high taxes – as a threat to their domination of the nation’s politics.
Conservatives have been searching for a new Ronald Reagan, so far without success. But perhaps the Gipper’s heir is in sight. Sarah Palin is remarkably similar to the late president. The Mama Grizzly from Alaska is certainly an American original, and her success in picking political winners against the odds has shown that she is no less a political phenomenon. And the policies she supports are similar – small government and low taxes, plus energy self-sufficiency and a balanced budget.
Just as Reagan was denigrated as an ex-movie actor with limited education, Mrs. Palin is portrayed as an ex-model with limited education, which means she did not go to Harvard or Yale, like most recent presidents and much of the liberal elite. The fact that elites from those institutions have nearly destroyed the economy and bankrupted the country does not reduce their arrogance or diminish their efforts to hold onto power.
Mrs. Palin was roundly criticized when she left the office of governor of Alaska, but since then, she has been riding a populist wave accompanied by Tea Party activists who want a return to common sense and responsible spending. President Obama promised change, which many sought after the budget excesses of the George W. Bush years and the pork-obsessed Republican Congress. But candidate Obama was unclear, telling each audience what it wanted to hear.
Now we know what he meant by change – a much bigger federal government, excessive government spending, harsh new energy and environmental regulations on business, spending in support of labor unions and the bailout of profligate state governments. Under Mr. Obama, the environmentalists are running amok, spending billions on windmills, electric cars and other green-energy schemes while blocking oil drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.
The administration does not care that giving money to the states only perpetuates their overspending while doing little to help unemployment. At the same time, their anti-oil bias and excessive regulation are reducing jobs in the all-important private sector. The Keynesian economists in control will not accept that their policies are aggravating the problem.
Most Tea Party activists are grass-roots Americans who see what Washington elites cannot, which is why they keep winning. Sarah Palin has become a political power by encouraging Republican women to run for office and by her amazing ability to pick winners – and often help them win – even against heavy opposition spending. With Mrs. Palin’s support, Republican women are becoming politically successful in growing numbers.
Mrs. Palin has endorsed more than 20 winners in Republican primaries this year, many underdogs who were given little chance against the party’s chosen candidates. Among her notable successes have been the nominations of Nikki Haley, an Indian-American woman, for governor of South Carolina; Carly Fiorina, a former corporate executive running against Sen. Barbara Boxer in California; Rand Paul, a maverick candidate for U.S. Senate in Kentucky; and Susana Martinez, running for governor of New Mexico. Now she is supporting another maverick, Sharron Angle, in her high-profile race against Harry Reid, the Democrats’ Senate leader.
But Mrs. Palin’s biggest success has to be the amazing turnaround in last week’s Alaska election for the Republican Senate nomination. It is very hard to oust an entrenched incumbent such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski, daughter of a former senator and governor, with eight years in office. Her opponent, a virtually unknown lawyer, Joe Miller, was considered a hopeless candidate, with polls showing him far behind and practically no one picking him to win, except Sarah Palin.
Yet, with Mrs. Palin’s endorsement, he came from behind to win the Election Day count by 1,668 votes. The final result waits for the counting of absentee and contested ballots, but the turnaround has nonetheless been spectacular. Mrs. Palin has shown she is a force to reckon with, which is why the left is attacking her so relentlessly.
The question is whether she can apply her keen political instincts and the grass-roots support she generates to become the next Ronald Reagan. The liberal powers clearly fear that she can.
-James T. Hackett is a former Reagan administration official and Heritage Foundation writer.