Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan often spoke of Americans having a “rendezvous with destiny.” Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin certainly had a rendezvous with her destiny when she spoke Wednesday evening at the Republican National Convention. Palin is the first politician to appear on the contemporary American scene in either party who seems to have Reagan’s gift of giving an inspired, reassuring voice to conservative ideals in the everyday language of Middle America.
But that’s only the first of many factors that make memorable Palin’s vice presidential nomination and acceptance speech, whether or not she and Sen. John McCain take the oaths of office come January.
Consider the yawning gulf between the Palin introduced to America on Wednesday evening and the fantasy Palin created by the mainstream media and the mandarins of the chattering classes. From the scurrilous charges on Daily Kos about who “really” gave birth to the Palins’ special-needs baby to the breathlessly manufactured scandals reported in the final hours leading up to her address, it was impossible to miss the overt knee-jerk hostility to Palin.
The intensity of that hostility reflects a sharply growing divergence of middle American values from those of the elites who presume to shape popular culture and opinion. The rise of Palin should remind the elites that their force-feeding of the rest of us only intensifies resistance and sows ill will among all concerned. That is not a healthy state of affairs for a democratic republic.
Then there is Palin’s potential impact on partisan politics. Contrary to the elite’s critical narrative of the Reagan years, the New Deal and Great Society were not repealed in 1981. Taxes were cut and the rate of spending was curtailed, but the overall size and scope of the federal establishment was maintained and even in some respects expanded, as it had been before and continued to be after Reagan.
The result has been what amounts to a 1½-party system for many years, with Democrats continually favoring the public sector and confused Republicans wandering between a benighted vision of big-government conservatism and the selfish charms of an earmark-induced spending addiction.
Palin’s nomination and performance revive hope that Reagan’s stunted birthing of a genuinely competitive two-party system may be resumed. But first, she must prove she can hold up to the close scrutiny that is an integral part of the national campaign trail.