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Palin’ll be back

Andrew Nesi | Thursday, November 6, 2008

Well, our long, national nightmare is finally over.

No more Joe Six Pack. No more hawkey mawms. No more candidates-as-terrorists.

The election is over, and Sarah Palin is on a plane back to Alaska, ready to donate her wardrobe and become a grandmother.

For now.

In the next days, and weeks, and years, we’ll doubtless hear a few different ways to interpret this loss.

We will see the development of one of two storylines: either you will see Republicans try to return to Reaganism (claim that McCain was not similar enough to Reagan) or you will see them shift left (McCain was too Reagan-y). Do we interpret this election as a rejection of Reagan Republicanism/Palin Republicanism of the last three decades (and more)? Or do we interpret it as a rejection of McCain?

To some – especially Democrats – this is a sign of the failure of Republican ideas. It is a rejection of “the failed economic policies of George W. Bush,” as a certain President-elect might put it. It rejects trickle-down justified tax cuts and the PATRIOT Act and torture.

This is a refrain we’ve heard before, though W.’s “mandate” in 2004 was supposed to be a rejection of Democratic ideas. But, of course, the outcome of this year’s election and the state of the economy should make us question that wisdom. 2004 was not a rejection of Democratic politics and an embrace of Reaganomics.

It was a rejection of John Kerry and, at the time, an embrace of George W. Bush (How strange is that to see in print?).

Now, 2008 is not 2004 and the collapsing economy made this election more about ideas than people than the 2004 election was.

But, appropriately, to a certain breed of Republican this is a sign that John McCain simply was not a compelling candidate. McCain couldn’t decide if he was a Republican or an Independent. He wanted to have one foot in each, and ended up in neither.

What’s that mean? It means that this isn’t the last we’ll see of Sarah Palin.

Last week, a McCain campaign advisor told CNN: “She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone. She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom.”

Saturday Night Live last weekend played on the same view of Palin: Tina Fey mock-advertised “Palin 2012” T-shirts which weren’t to be worn until after Tuesday.

In her rhetoric and appeal, Sarah Palin represents some of the worst American politics has to offer.

Republicans – and Democrats – have long offered a false populism fused with “have a beer with” likability as a winning strategy. They’ve been appealing because they seem to be like you – they don’t seem caught up in the pretentious self-righteousness of academia and Washington.

But Palin relies exclusively on her ability to have a beer with you. While others – Reagan, Bush Sr., and, yes, even W. – combined their relate-ability with the underlying knowledge that they are not actually just your average Joe Six Pack from down the block, Palin’s consistent policy stumbles make no such guarantee.

Voters want people who seem similar to them, not people who are them. But by 2012 or, more likely, 2016, Palin will have a chance to improve. She’ll be able to position herself – maybe as a Senator – as your average Joe Six Pack who can speak competently on Meet the Press.

And that will allow her to run the sort of campaign that she seems to run best.

Way back when in 2000, then-Gov. Bush claims that he would “change the tone” in Washington. He was a “uniter, not a divider.” Palin doesn’t even pretend.

Her rhetoric isn’t that of the appealing bipartisanship that Bush the candidate embraced. It is that of the red state/blue state dichotomy that Bush the President embraced. She is a culture warrior through and through. There is a pro-America America (Kansas, Dick Cheney, Hank Williams Jr.) and an anti-America America (Massachusetts, Barack Obama, Rosie O’Donnell). You’re either with her or against her.

The story of Sarah Palin will likely be one with which many of her supporters are particularly familiar:

Sure, her chances at the vice presidency died Tuesday night. But give it four years, maybe eight.

She will rise again, and I can only hope she won’t be the savior.

Andrew Nesi is a senior American Studies major from Fairfield, Connecticut. In first grade, he returned from a family vacation in February to find an elaborate construction paper Valentine in his reading folder. It was signed “Your Secret Admirer” but was obviously from his friend Tracy. He never acknowledged it to her. He can be reached at anesi@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.