Former Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin spoke last week at the “Tea Party Convention” in Nashville and in so doing fully embraced the populist political movement that now has the full attention of the national media and a growing segment of the American people. According to writer and philosopher Larry Anderson, in his February 7, 2010, article in Real Clear Politics (“Populist Constitutionalism and the Tea Parties”),
“The tea parties are a unique populist movement and moment in American history . . . The tea parties have more grass roots movers, shakers, and members, than any populist movement ever seen in our country.”
In his article, Anderson proceeds to compare the tea party movement to other populist movements of the past such as the prohibitionist movement (the “Noble Experiment” that sought to outlaw the production and sale of intoxicating liquor and resulted in the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1919); and the 1933 people’s movement to reject black market hoodlums like Al Capone, which resulted in the repeal of the 18th Amendment and the passage of the 21st Amendment. And then, of course, there were the populist politicians: Louisiana Governor Huey Long (who said that we should have “a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage”) during the depression; Governor George Wallace of Alabama (who advocated “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”) and his so-called “populist” American Independent Party in the late 1960s; and populist Ross Perot and his “Reform Party USA” which garnered enough votes to split the electorate, and resulted in the defeat of President George H. W. Bush in his bid for second term (and the election of Bill Clinton, an obscure Democratic Governor of Arkansas).
In my view, Governor Sarah Palin’s populism is different from those mentioned above and is more akin to the populism exhibited by former California Governor Ronald Reagan when he spoke to a young audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 1977, after being narrowly defeated in his bid to become the Republican nominee for President in 1976:
“Reagan called for bringing into the Republican fold those Democrats concerned with ‘social issues – law and order, abortion, using, quota systems – [that] are usually associated with blue-collar, ethnic, and religious groups.’ In short, he proposed a fusion between those mercantile and economic interests long associated with the GOP, who were mostly concerned with government regulations, and social conservatives, who believed the fabric of society was also threatened by big, intrusive government. . . . Then Reagan took on the GOP, telling his CPAC audience that the party ‘cannot be one limited to the country-club, big business image that . . . it is burdened with today. The ‘New Republican Party’ I am speaking about is going to have room for the man and woman in the factories, for the farmer, for the cop on the beat.”
(Craig Shirley, Rendezvous with Destiny p. 21).
It is significant to me that in her recent memoir, Going Rogue, Sarah Palin refers, again and again, to Ronald Reagan, [“Ronald Reagan faced an even worse recession. He showed us how to get out of one.” (p. 391)] [“Reagan showed courage when he stayed the course through the long recession of the early 1980s.” (pp. 391-392)] [“Reagan once recalled with amusement that economists in the 1970s never saw a tech boom coming when they made their gloomy forecasts.” (p. 392)].
Palin, as did Reagan nationally, took on the establishment of her own political party on her road to becoming Governor of Alaska, and she speaks of the Gipper when she talks about protecting the homeland: [“And our goal in the War on Terror must be the same as Reagan’s: ‘We won. They lost.’” (p. 393)]
In the last paragraph of her book prior to the Epilogue (p. 395), Sarah Palin says the following:
“The enlightened elites want to tell you to sit down and shut up. But the way forward is to stand and fight. Throw tea parties. March on Capital Hill. Write letters to the editor. Run for local office – you never know where it might lead. And make your voice heard on every single election day, on every single issue. That is your birthright.
Stand now. Stand together. Stand for what is right.”
That kind of language is Reaganesque in tone and powerful in times of stress and turmoil. Reagan was elected because the people were tired of the Carter malaise and because they felt the need for a strong leader whose vision of American was “a shining city on a hill”. I suspect that if the people ever reach the conclusion that Sarah Palin and her brand of Republican populism can thwart Obama’s march toward socialism; and that she has what it takes to protect the homeland without getting us into World War III, she will be tough to beat in the race to determine the next Presidential nominee of the Republican Party.
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