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Being the chief executive of a state government is the best on-the-job training you can get for being the chief executive of the Federal government.  Many of the same elements are in play; budgetary concerns, legislative relations, muckraking opponents, the press, and a hundred other mundane challenges that the average person never hears about.

Sarah Palin had the opportunity to gain more executive experience – heck, she had the job! – and she just blew it off.  This is a problem for Palin’s fans and a boon for her detractors because Palin (to date) has given no coherent reason for her resignation.  The most likely reasons for the resignation seem to be that (1) She was unable to adequately perform the duties of her office due to the numerous (bogus) ethics complaints and attendant investigations pending and (2) She hopes to cash in on her fame by selling a book and/or giving speeches.  Unfortunately for her, Palin hasn’t personally gone on the record stating (1) and her ex-future-son-in-law has gone on the record theorizing (2).

Expanding on my theory that gubernatorial experience is the ideal training for the presidency, let’s look at Palin’s potential competition for the Republican nom in 2012:

  • Mike Huckabee served one half-term (appointed) and two full terms (elected) as governor of Arkansas. 
  • Tim Pawlenty is serving out his second term in Minnesota.
  • Haley Barbour is serving out his second term in Mississippi.
  • Mitt Romney served one full term in Massachusetts.
  • Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has less experience as governor than Palin, but by 2012 will have surpassed her.

In this sample group of sixRepublican prospects, Palin will come be the least experienced executive come 2012, and she is no longer gaining experience.  At the same time she is tied for the least legislative experience, with none.  Please, Palin backers, don’t try this at home.  Touting her mayoral experience won’t cut cheese with me.

I’ve waited this long to express an opinion on Sarah Palin’s resignation because I kept thinking that there’s more to it, that there’s a statement or revelation forthcoming that will make it all make sense.  But that isn’t happening, and if hasn’t by now, I don’t think it will.

It’s over, Sarah.  You were a longshot, but you still had a shot.  And now you’ve blown it.

Recently I read Andrei Markovits’ interesting and challenging book, Uncouth Nation – Why Europe Dislikes America.  Then this morning in church I had the opportunity to listen to a sermon based on the 73rd Psalm.  What connection could there possibly be between these two texts?

Uncouth Nation, if I may provide a ridiculously short summary, explains the why and the how of Europe’s centuries-long dislike for the United States.  Markovits offers a number of reasons for this antipathy; some are plausible and others, I might say, seem stretched.

The 73rd Psalm is a confession from the writer (Asaph, the king’s poet and minister of music) about how he was nearly undone by his fixation with the worldly success of arrogant and careless men.  Perhaps my interpretation of this psalm is the result of having read Markovits’ book.  Read a sample and see whether any of this rings a bell:

…[the arrogant and the wicked] have no struggles;

Their bodies are healthy and strong.

They are free from the burdens

common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.

Therefore pride is their necklace;

They clothe themselves with violence.

From their callous hearts comes iniquity;

the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.

They scoff, and speak with malice;

In their arrogance they threaten oppression.

They lay claim to heaven,

And their tongues take possession of the earth.

…This is what the wicked are like – always carefree, they increase in wealth.

 Psalm 73 verses 4 through 7, and 12

Oddly, I don’t remember ever reading this passage before.  What strikes me about it now, entirely apart from its spiritual significance (which is great), is that this is exactly how much of the world views Americans!  What we Americans see as a virtue (confidence, a positive attitude) is construed by others as arrogance or self-superiority.  “Psychotically optimistic” was the expression that one BBC reporter used to describe American combat troops who he met in Iraq.  This description may have seemed all the more apt to the writer in light of what he knew (or thought he knew) about the American psychological makeup.

More specifically, this passage could be (probably  has been) related to our former president, George W. Bush.  His relentless optimism and determined can-do attitude, which inspired such admiration in some people, has offended the sensibilities and turned the stomachs of many more.

Obviously this passage of scripture has all got me thinking about politics, as I am prone to do.  It’s got me thinking about the difference between reality and interpretation.  Maybe what W needed in the White House was an attitude czar; someone to help him moderate his language and his attitude to avoid offending our friends and allies.  After all, the US population comprises only about one-twentieth of the world’s population, and that means that if we have no friends, we are badly outnumbered.  Maybe what W needed more, what we Americans all need, is to remember that much of the world’s population views us Americans as the winners of life’s lottery, born lucky and determined to remain oblivious.  A little bit of accommodation and a lot of genuine humility is in order if we wish to reverse the worldwide trend that sees us that way.

It must be disheartening for Democrats to see how well Sarah Palin has been received as John McCain’s running mate.  Women love her, men love to look at her, working class people and outdoorsmen identify with her, and her popularity is (at least for now) greater than that of anyone else that either party has to offer.  All this, and most people still really don’t know much about her.

Sounds familiar to Republicans.  For the last year and a half we’ve been hearing praise and adoration for Obama based on little more than his ability to read a speech and his skin color, from people who really didn’t know anything about him.

What does it all mean?

It means that people still vote for superficials.  People are still essentially the same today as they were twenty years ago, fifty years ago, and one hundred years ago.  People know that they can’t learn everything about a candidate, so they’re looking for someone who they identify with; we look for external markers that tell us this person is genuinely what they appear to be.  When mothers and grandmothers look at Palin they see a mother of five with a daughter who is pregnant and a son who has a developmental disability.  When evangelicals look at Palin they see a mom who could have aborted her imperfectly conceived child, but chose life instead.  When outdoorsmen look at Palin they see someone who genuinely likes to hunt and fish (not one who, like Bill Clinton, sits in a duck blind for an hour, fires a round into an empty sky, and then walks out of the blind with a duck that someone else shot).  When high-achieving, competitive people look at Palin they see Sarah Barracuda, state basketball champion and mother of a hockey player.  When frustrated idealists look at Palin they see a self-sacrificing whistleblower who took on her own party and won.

That’s why the Republican base isn’t even paying much attention to what Sarah Palin says.  It’s the same thing when Obama speaks – democrats hear some indistinct mix of nouns and verbs and adverbs and pronouns and beatiful, glittering, quavering adjectives.  “Elbow, snowflake, green grass, macaroni, you and I, best friends forever,” he says.  And their eyes fill with tears because he’s tall and handsome and black and he has a deep voice and he might actually win.

Yep, they’re a different color, a different gender, and a different party, but it’s pretty much the same thing going on.  That’s politics.  Welcome to campaign 2008.

This title of this article was written more carefully than you may have guessed.

I could have asked, “Is John McCain conservative?”  But to phrase the question in that way would have given it a different meaning; it would have inquired whether conservatism is one of McCain’s personal attributes.  I think that if the question had been posed that way, one would have to answer “no, John McCain is not by nature a conservative person.”  What I’m saying is that I think that McCain is a person with a generally progressive outlook on life and a radical view of a few issues who has adopted conservative positions on important issues because in most cases his principles supercede his personal proclivities.  I see McCain as something of a mirror image to Bill Clinton in this respect – Clinton of course being a political liberal with very old-fashioned (even backward) personal attitudes about womens’ rights, race relations, and political power.

John McCain

Getting back to the original topic of this article…I consider that by inserting a one-letter word (a) we can change the question from whether conservatism is one of McCain’s attributes to whether McCain is a member of the conservative movement in government, and the answer becomes a resounding “Yes.”  McCain is not only a member of the conservative movement, he’s been an effective and dependable leader.

McCain supports enough conservative causes (pro-life, traditional marriage, strong military, lower taxes, smaller government) that his credentials as “a conservative” are beyond doubt.  His legislative voting record is rated as highly conservative by political organizations at both ends of the spectrum, and his colleagues in the US Senate see him as a strong and consistent leader in the conservative movement.

In view of his history of public service and his credentials as a man of conservative principles, I announce my endorsement of John McCain today.  I’m going to vote for McCain in the general election in November, and I hope that you will, too.

John McCain, a good man and a genuine American hero, won an unearned victory in South Carolina Jan 19 due to two factors: independent/liberal voters and Fred Thompson.

According to CNN’s exit polls, McCain led all Republicans among pro-choicers, voters born outside South Carolina, all voters who attend church less than once a week, those who are angry with George W Bush, amnesty supporters, political independents, and those who consider themselves political liberals or moderates.

Huckabee, by contrast, was the first choice among pro-lifers, those who attend church more than weekly, natives of South Carolina, those who support deportation of illegal aliens, all voters under age 65 (narrowly), Republicans, and those who consider themselves conservative or very conservative.

“But…” you’re thinking “I thought that South Carolina was a conservative place, full of evangelical Christians and Republicans!”  And you’re right.  The painful truth will be apparent to those conservatives, evangelicals, and Republicans soon enough: the conservative vote in South Carolina was split by Fred Thompson.  That’s right, fabulous Fred siphoned votes off of Mike Huckabee, allowing the liberals, democrats, and transplants to give the win to John McCain.

There’s an interesting and enlightening article about the relationship between Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee at slate.com: http://slate.com/blogs/blogs/trailhead/archive/2008/01/19/how-much-does-fred-hate-huck.aspx

The truth is, I don’t know what Huckabee Momentum is, who owns the website, or when it started.

But I got a message this evening from some stranger who asked me to write about it.  Fair enough – I would have written about it before, if I had heard of it.

It’s evidently a grassroots website, where pro-Huckabee videos and news items are posted, and which website includes a feature where one can pledge to give $25 on the unknown date in the future when ten thousand other people have committed to do the same.  So that’ll make…(doing the math)…$250,000 that would be given all at once.  It’s a nice idea, and I hope it catches on.

Thank you, mystery-man, for letting me know about www.huckabeemomentum.com.

Why do I cover Mike Huckabee’s appearances on late-night TV?  Because it matters.

Huckabee, in a funny striped tie, appeared on the Late Show with Dave Letterman tonight, after Letterman and Tom Hanks chattered for about four hours.

Huckabee and Letterman shoot the breeze

Huckabee claimed not to be nervous, saying that if he won in New Hampshire tomorrow, he would give Letterman the credit, and if he lost he would give Letterman the blame.

He also quipped that aside form a sense of duty and the desire to serve, presidential candidates are drawn to the job by the “really nice house” they’ll get to live in if they win.

Letterman and Huckabee discussed their experiences in local broadcasting, with each sharing humorous stories of on-air glitches.

Asked by Letterman whether there were significant ideological differences between Iowa and New Hampshire, Huckabee replied that “At the end, what I find is that everybody is an American.”  He went on to explain his theory of “Vertical Politics,” which states essentially that Americans will elect someone from the left or the right, as long as they believe that the candidate will lead America upward, not downward.

All in all, this appearance by Huckabee was a good one, if short, but because he was shunted to the end of the program when all but the most diehard fans and a few potheads are watching, Huckabee probably won’t receive much benefit from it.

Lake Superior is enormous and spectacular.  It is touched by three US states and one Canadian province.  On the northwest shore the Sawtooth Mountains are a breathtakingly beautiful sight.  The lake is so big it generates its own weather.  Superior is said to be the site of hundreds of shipwrecks, including the infamous wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a massive 729 foot long iron ore carrier.  Lake Superior is bigger than the entire state of South Carolina – in fact, it’s the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area.  And yet Lake Superior wasn’t so named because it’s best of the Great Lakes, but because early explorers recognized that it was the farthest north, (or highest) of the lakes.  This fact teaches us that being highest may give the perception of superiority, but it ain’t always so.  And the same is sometimes true in politics.  Politically speaking, who’s on top right now?  Among Democrats, at the moment of this writing, it’s Hillary Clinton.  But Barack Obama is hot on her heels, especially in the early caucus state of Iowa.  We know how quickly a race like this can turn, too, having seen Mike Huckabee demolish the seemingly insurmountable lead of Rudy Giuliani with a few pithy truths and a couple of well placed quips at the CNN/Youtube debate.

But as Hillary isn’t the Dems’ best candidate just because she’s on top (for now), neither would Obama be. The best Democrat running for president right now, the Democrat of Democrats, is New Mexico governor Bill Richardson.  Let me tell you why.

Richardson is an effective communicator and a true believer in the liberal agenda.  Plus, he has brownish skin.  And just look at the following list of important positions Richardson has taken:

Education:  Bill Richardson wants to increase teachers’ pay like he did in New Mexico.  According to his website, that means $60 billion dollars in cuts to the defense budget in order to increase the federal education budget by the same amount.  That way when the Chinese invade, by golly, our kids are going to be fluent in Mandarin.

Energy:  Richarson likes windmills.  They’re fun to look at and they go whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!

Health Care:  Two words: Universal and Mandatory.

Agriculture:  The governor wants to boost crop production and improve farmers’ livelihoods by conserving more farmland and teaching them to speak Spanish.  That way they’ll be better qualified to join the independent contractors of uncertain ethnic origin picking lettuce on their 25 acre family subsistence farms.

HIV/AIDS:  Richardson has a plan to combat the AIDS epidemic: he will appoint a blue ribbon panel.  Nothing stops AIDS like tying blue ribbons around gay men.  And it’s festive, too.

Abortion:  Governor Richardson is committed to keeping abortion safe and legal, easily accessible, and covered under Universal Health Care.  That way we can cut down on the number of babies born in the US.  You see, babies require lots of expensive care.  So the easiest way to keep health costs down is to abort as many of them as possible.  To that end, Richardson has already promised that when he becomes president, he will impose a Roe v. Wade litmus test on all new judges.

Medicinal Marijuana:  Oooh, Bill isn’t feeling so good.  He needs some medicine!

So if you’re a Democrat who’s puzzling over the many choices on your ballot this year, take it from me, a lifelong Republican.  Bill Richardson is your best bet.

Governor Richardson is homeless.  Let him move in to the White House!

We’re all amazed this morning to learn that Mike Huckabee has drawn even with Rudy Giuliani (18% each) in Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll.  The others – McCain, Thompson, and Romney – are all hovering in the low to mid teens, essentially in a three-way tie.  Huckabee’s performance defies the conventional wisdom, which holds that an obscure former governor of a small Southern state has no chance of hanging in with, much less defeating, the party bigwigs.  He has no money, no organization, and most importantly, no permission from the Republican elites.

But there’s a precedent.  Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter both fit the same mold.  Pouty supporters of the other Republicans probably won’t like the comparison, but the similarities are genuine.

The question about Huckabee has now morphed from “can he?” to “by how much?”!  There’s no reason that a conservative with an evangelical background, exceptional oratorical skills, and an engaging personality should settle for squeaking by.  The trend is clear: the base is beginning to come to Huckabee.  The next question will probably be of a very different nature: If Huckabee is the choice of the Republican Party at large, can he expect the enthusiastic support of the party elites?

Let me start with another question: What is a Leader?  A leader isn’t merely one who is in charge; if that were the case then every person who found him or herself in a position of authority would be a leader.  In fact, we know that there are plenty of people in such positions who couldn’t lead a dog to a bone with a rope.  They get their authority from an appointment or a commission, not by virtue of their ability to think creatively, to persevere, or to persuade others to follow them.

The best known and most basic component of leadership is the ability to persuade others, to get people to do things under command that they wouldn’t do spontaneously on their own.  I’ll call this quality charisma.  But there are other aspects of leadership that tend to get short shrift.

Perseverance, the ability to hang in there when the going gets tough, is the second important element of the leadership package.  One who sticks with a job when it’s difficult or unpopular will rightly receive extra credit when the job is finished and the followers are reaping the benefits.

Ann Clemmer, a political science instructor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, sees another aspect of leadership as acting on one’s own initiative, absent of outside instruction or support.  Describing an admired leader she says, “I think he did a lot just on his own — really on his own counsel. And in that regard I think you have to say he was a leader.”  In politics it’s generally understood that there are two sides to every argument: the majority’s and the opposition’s.  But occasionally an original thinker comes up with their own point of view and begins acting on their own initiative.  I’m going to refer to this creative independence as vision, and vision is the third major factor of leadership.

Is America ready for robust leadership?  I mean the kind of leadership that combines all three of these important elements (Charisma, Perseverance, Vision) into one package.

Institutionally, probably not.  Charisma is valued and perseverance is respected, but vision really isn’t good strategy from a competitive point of view.  In the party selection process an opponent can merely point out that some aspect of the candidate’s position is unorthodox – orthodoxy is considered a political virtue – and thereby discredit him.

But the good news is that on a grassroots basis, Americans have always been open to such leadership.  The elite have considerable influence, particularly in matters where knowledge and information are scarce, but the people believe their own eyes and ears when they have the opportunity to use them.  They have this opportunity when a politician hits the scene with the ability to talk directly to the people, appealing to what they know and feel, and making the elites impotent.  A politician who is adept at this type of campaigning is often referred to as a populist, because of their ability to appeal to the masses rather than the ostensible leadership.

Who is there in the current field of major party candidates for President of the United States who fits this mold?  A brief analysis of the major candidates follows.  (Democrats first, Republicans to follow, in alphabetical order within their own subset)

Joe Biden – Biden is the type of politician who needs to constantly promote himself.  The reason?  He lacks the charisma that is necessary to lead effectively, so he resorts to chest-pounding bravado.  It isn’t working.

Hillary Clinton – Clinton is the ultimate “establishment” candidate; she’s already spent eight years in the White House, she’s completely orthodox on nearly every issue, and she panders tirelessly to her party’s base.  The important thing is that it’s working for her.  She is a leader,  if only because people want to follow her.

Christopher Dodd – Dodd has the great confidence that is both a product and a wellspring of personal charisma, but does anyone want to follow him anywhere?

John Edwards – Edwards is a good looking, smooth talking, card carrying people pleaser.  Whether he has followers should depend on more than his hair, but for the most part it doesn’t.  People who support Edwards could be supporting anyone, but it seems to me that they choose him because his superficials make the rest of his package more palatable.

Mike Gravel – Gravel is in it for himself.  As far as I can tell he’s only running because it’s the only way he could scrape together some money and do some traveling in his retirement.  If you tried to follow Gravel, you would end up at the KOA.

Dennis Kucinich – Kucinish’s unorthodox political positions aren’t evidence of leadership as much as proof of weirdness.  The next voter who is tempted to follow Kucinich may be the first.

Barak Obama – Obama has some very tangible advantages over his competition.  Youthfulness, energy, good looks…and people do want to follow Obama.  His political positions are relatively ordinary and it’s unclear whether he has the attribute of perseverence, given his brief and charmed political career.  Stay tuned, because he may turn out to be the real deal.

Bill Richardson – Richardson seems like a very decent and sincere fellow, but people just aren’t turned on by him.  There’s no charisma, so perseverance and vision don’t really matter.

Rudy Giuliani – Here’s a guy who has charisma in spades, admirable perseverance, and sports all kinds of unorthodox positions.  Unfortunately for Giuliani, he probably won’t be the first Flatbush Italian to be President because there’s just too much departure from the Republican platform.  The popular criticism is true: he’s too similar to the Democrats to run against them effectively.

Mike Huckabee – Huckabee’s campaign has caught fire because of two important qualities: first, people like him and want to line up behind him.  Second, he’s a creative leader who is willing to depart from strict orthodoxy in service of his party’s ideals.  Whether he has perseverance to match will be revealed by the long and difficult road of the campaign.

Duncan Hunter – Hunter lacks popular appeal, and as with Richardson (above) this makes his other qualities, positive or negative, irrelevant.

John McCain – McCain’s popularity may be spent, and it’s a shame because he has proved his perseverance and virtuous unorthodoxy time and again.  McCain’s situation is ironic because he had such widespread popular appeal back in 2000, but his frequent minor departures from the party’s strictest doctrines have cost him that popularity.

Ron Paul – This man seems to be the very epitome of weird charisma.  Why do tens of thousands of Americans support him with such enthusiasm?  It’s really a trick answer, because the truth (he’s so unorthodox that his support comes mostly from outside the Republican party) proves that he isn’t nearly as charismatic as we’re led to believe.  Paul’s supporters don’t abandon other Republicans to support him; instead they come to him from the void that is modern libertarianism, thus they have no where else to go.

Mitt Romney – Romney, quite frankly, is a cold fish.  His personality is best suited for the country club scene.  He’s shown great perseverance in this campaign, alas much less in the context of his own political career.  He has changed positions on a number of issues, with timing that suggests opportunism rather than independence.  In my opinion, Romney’s political career is more the product of a desire to be important than a natural tendency toward leadership.

Tom Tancredo – See Bill Richardson and Duncan Hunter above.

Fred Thompson – Poor Fred Thompson.  There was no dress rehearsal for this presidential campaign, otherwise he might have performed much better.  Whether it’s his own personality or his Law and Order character that peope were initially drawn to, that attraction has largely dissipated.  Thompson bills himself as an entirely orthodox conservative, however he doesn’t adhere to the party platform as strictly as he would have people believe.