Cal Thomas column: Palin’s quick rise was bound to flop
The soon-to-be-former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, is like one of those souffles my mother sometimes made. The recipe warned against premature removal from the oven because the dish would collapse.
That is the saga of Gov. Palin. Prematurely plucked from relative obscurity by John McCain and touted as a rising star by many Republican conservatives, Palin collapsed. Though she was treated unfairly and in ways that no liberal woman would have been ó not even Hillary Clinton ó she clearly was not prepared to discuss the issues, the command of which ó or least familiarity of which ó are essential to anyone seeking national office.
Palin energized the shrinking Republican base, but could never get beyond them to connect with independents and conservative Democrats who might have taken her seriously had she displayed more seriousness. It is not enough to talk about what has been lost in America. One must speak of a vision for the future and ways to reach it.
Many commentators are speculating whether quitting as governor is good or bad political strategy. Few want to take Palin’s word at face value, that she is tired of the ethics probes (all but two of the 15 ethics complaints filed against her have been dismissed with no findings of wrongdoing) and the big media’s refusal to examine her accomplishments as governor and the substance of her views. Fair enough. But anyone running for national office must traverse a media gauntlet ó with the notable exception of Barack Obama and his worshipful media disciples. While conservatives can expect worse treatment than liberals, they can prevail with the right strategy.
It was unfair to Palin to have been selected as McCain’s running mate so soon after the birth of her youngest child, especially one with Down syndrome, and the pregnancy of her teenage daughter. Either event would have required more motherly attention than usual, but both demand a level of emotional energy that no human being can muster while running for vice president.
If Palin is to have a future in national politics (assuming she wants one) there are several steps she must take.
First, she needs a complete makeover. The big media will never admit they were wrong in their judgments, but they might write stories about the “new Sarah Palin.” She should hit the books and learn as much as she can about the modern world, history and court cases. She should read newspapers so that when future interviewers hit her with questions, she can dazzle them like a “Jeopardy” champion.
What she should not do is become a cable TV pundit. That’s too predictable. Instead, she might follow Ronald Reagan’s example and deliver a daily radio commentary. Radio takes the focus away from outward appearance and places it on the substance of what is said. She should write these commentaries herself, as Reagan did, and the outlets ought to include mainstream stations, as well as conservative and Christian ones.
Palin should hire a speech coach and follow that person’s advice. She has a pleasant enough speaking voice, but the tone needs to be adjusted, as do her word choices. “You betcha” should be banned from her vocabulary. Such slang may resonate well with some people, but national candidates should have rhetoric that soars and gets attention.
Lastly, she needs a hair, makeup and wardrobe makeover. She is a beautiful woman, but appearance should not be the first thing one reacts to when people look at her.
There aren’t many second acts in politics because the media tend to gobble people up and constantly search for the “new” and exciting. Sarah Palin can be “born again” in a political sense and excite beyond her base if she allows herself to be “baked” at the proper temperature and for the right amount of time. If she does that, she may emerge again and this time she’ll rise, not fall.
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Cal Thomas writes for Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207.