Tuesday night on Hannity, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin exhibited some of that fire. It’s sure to give the existing Republican presidential field no shortage of heartburn. She was strongly combative in the face of ridiculous slurs, and not merely those leveled at her, but also those aimed at Tea Party patriots and even talk radio hosts. Her message was clear and concise: “Enough is enough!” Indeed, her words reverberated with with passion for this fight. Sarah Palin seems intent upon taking up the fight against the entrenched establishment with a vigor that no other prospect of national political prominence is willing to do.
This facet of Governor Palin’s attitude is what Americans have been hoping to see from any of the other presidential prospects in the GOP. Instead, what they’ve seen is an increasingly invisible and tepid lot of weakly-mumbled remarks in lukewarm defense of the Tea Party, and conservatism. This is the most significant distinction between Sarah Palin’s electability and that of the other Republican candidates: Governor Palin has the unique capability to energize crowds, move people to rally with her, and focus their combined strength on virtually any cultural and political issue. Combined with her commitment to firmly held principles, what the fire in her belly provides is the one thing the GOP needs in a candidate, perhaps more desperately than any other trait: Sarah Palin has the unrepentant will to stand up and join in the fight.
It isn’t about simple sloganeering. Governor Palin seems willing to leave slogans to others, but what her passion indicates is a sincere commitment to the restoration of the republic. Why wouldn’t she be passionate? In most every respect, she has much more in common with the average American than any of the other republicans in a position to seek the presidency. She has every bit as much to lose from the continuation of the current establishment paradigm as any of us. She’s an entrepreneur who sees the effects of the growing government sector at the expense of the private sector. Like so many of us, as a parent, and nowadays, a grandparent, she has a deep personal investment in the future of the country, and it resounds in the tone of her voice as she tells her audience that we can’t afford any more of Obama’s disastrous economic policies. She isn’t just spouting talking points. She means it.
More importantly, perhaps, it seems many Americans recognize her commitment, her passion, and her sincerity in confronting the crises with which the country is faced. One fairly reliable gauge I’ve found for evaluating candidates is in the person of my wife. She’s had an uncanny ability to pick who will win or lose, and she is consistently adept at sizing up candidates. In 1992, she took one look at Bill Clinton and said: “Oh, wonderful, we’re going to have a used-car salesman for President.” In 1996, she took one look at the newly-minted Republican nominee, and said: “Just get yourself ready for four more years of Bubba-talk and used cars.” She’s successfully picked the winner in each subsequent election, mostly on the basis of her relative appraisals of the candidates. Somehow, she just knows, and while she may not like what her judgments tell her, she’s been remarkably straightforward in stating them. In 2008, she looked at John McCain, shook her head, and asked: “Why did they nominate him?” Adding more, she nodded her head at the speaker, Sarah Palin, and said: “They could have saved a lot of time and trouble, and four years of pain if they would have just nominated her, instead.” After a moment more of the governor speaking she looked at me and said: “Don’t worry, she’ll be back.” I’ve asked her to explain it to me, but she says it’s a ‘woman thing.’ Perplexed as ever when that is offered as the sole explanation, I shrug hopelessly and go on to the things I can measure.
It’s against this back-drop that on Tuesday night, I watched the Hannity interview alone, but I was curious to be able to watch the reaction of a true political skeptic. Mrs. America walked into the room, and I rewound the DVR to replay it for her, as I settled into a position from which I could watch my wife without making it obvious, and thereby biasing my ‘study.’ Having spent more than two decades as the perpetual cause of most of her more severe facial expressions, I knew that by watching Mrs. America’s face for every raised eyebrow, every tiny widening of eyes, and every re-forming of the shape of her mouth, I would be able to gauge her reaction as a sort of study in the effects Governor Palin might have on an agreeable but not altogether ‘sold‘ viewers. After forty-six years, I may not know the first thing about ‘women,’ but I know how to read the nuances of the mood of exactly one woman. When she started to speak, Hannity having posed the question about Biden and the others calling Tea Party Americans ‘terrorists,’ I watched a growing look of inquiring expectancy. She was waiting for something. When Governor Palin came out swinging, taking the leftists to task for this latest vile nonsense, I saw the set of a jaw tightening and the barely perceptible nod, and as Mrs. Palin went on, Mrs. America followed.
When Mrs. Palin said “I’m going to stand up…” I saw a brightening of the eyes, and a slight smile begin to take shape from the previously indifferent pose of Mrs. America’s lips. Every time and in every way she addressed the propensity of Obama to recklessly spend more money, I watched a growing resolve in the set of my wife’s jaw. When Hannity prepared to go to commercials, he had to make the obligatory inquiry about her plans for 2012, but pressed for time, he tried to suggest one, and Sarah Palin beamed and laughed and that’s when I saw it: My wife, the hardened cynic, with resolute indifference to most frivolous remarks, had leaned back slightly in her seat, and she had begun to smile with Sarah Palin.
The beauty of DVR technology is that we didn’t need to wait through those commercials. Advancing it to the resumption of the interview, Mrs. America, at first sitting forward again, now leaned back against the sofa as if settling in. When Hannity asked about the notion of ‘compromise,’ here too, my wife leaned forward a bit, as if waiting to hear the answer that would tell the tale of the tape. As Governor Palin described the need to stand firm, citing Ronald Reagan’s example, I watched something interesting develop on the face of Mrs. America, and it was an expression with which I’m naturally less familiar: Approval. Nodding in agreement, I watched my wife’s hand tighten on the remote, and lightly pound it into the top of her thigh. It was an exclamation point in time with the Governor’s remarks on Cut, Cap, and Balance. The drumbeat of those words were matched in time by Mrs. America’s. When Governor Palin analogized her position to that of Hannity, Levin, and Limbaugh, Sean asked if she really thought any of the three could be elected to office. Sarah Palin’s answer was a laugh, and as she said “Well, I do, but I’m one of those ‘terrorists’…” My wife had begun to smile again, and now laughed openly, again with Mrs. Palin. When I saw that, what it told me is that the remainder of the Republican field had better prepare themselves for a serious primary battle. If Mrs. America’s reactions to Governor Palin are any yardstick by which to measure her presidential prospects, my wife’s little statement to me as she passed back the remote may be the indication: “She’ll do just fine.” After twenty-three years of marriage and five presidential campaign seasons together, that sort of matter-of-fact appraisal is as much as I will get, and what it tells me is only: She knows.