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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Palin Is No Dan Quayle

Right after expressing contempt towards Kellyanne Conway’s pity party for poor, persecuted Sarah Palin, I ran across an article by the Boston Globe‘s Joan Vennochi that comes at the supposed victimization of the Alaska governor from a different angle. Palin’s getting attention, she suggests, because everybody loves to make fun of her, even though they know she has no national political future:

The Alaska governor is everyone’s favorite foil, from the left-wing Huffington Post to the ever-posturing Mitt Romney. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee who cynically chose her as his running mate, now snubs her with relish.
They all act like she has a real chance to win the White House, when they all know the truth. When it comes to be taken seriously by the general electorate as a potential president, it’s as over for her as it was for Dan Quayle.
Quayle was doomed even after he served four years as vice president. He was the proverbial heartbeat away from the first President Bush, but could never overcome the perception that he lacked gravitas.
Palin only ran for vice president; she never made it from Wasilla to Washington. And her political problem is bigger than Quayle’s, because it extends to her family.

I realize that early critics of Palin’s gaffes often made the facile Quayle comparison. But aside from the obvious vast differences in background and bearing (whether you consider Palin’s “class background” a handicap, or, as I do, an asset, it’s nothing like that of the classic Son of Privilege from Indiana), Palin has a real and abiding political base, and Quayle never did. As Vennochi herself acknowledges after treating Quayle as a once-hot political commodity comparable to Palin, the Alaskan remains the darling of the Cultural Right, and had the lead in an early sounding of Republican sentiment about the 2012 presidential nomination.
Quayle had a brief moment of conservative approbation after his famous “Murphy Brown” remarks criticizing single motherhood, but when he ran for president in 2000, he was toast from the very beginning, finishing eighth–eighth!–in the quadrennial Ames Straw Poll of Iowa Republicans that serves as the first test of candidate viability. Long before then, of course, the entire conservative movement, including both its Washington and right-wing-cultural-populist elements, had lined up behind George W. Bush as its champion against the dangerously independent-sounding John McCain.
Maybe Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee or Bobby Jindal or somebody we’re not thinking about can wrest the movement-conservative baton away from Palin between now and 2012, but all of the above-named worthies have their own problems, and Palin’s displacement ain’t happened yet.
At present, Palin’s biggest political problem isn’t media mockery or a Quayle-like deficit in “gravitas,” but the fact that her approval rating among the people she governs in Alaska is dropping like a rock. I don’t think we can blame that on elitist media or Tina Fey.
Meanwhile, the persistent treatment of Palin as some sort of brave and suffering St. Joan of the Tundra by conservative and some mainstream media probably builds a floor under her national appeal to Republicans. So long as they love her, the rest of us have every reason to take her as seriously as she takes herself.

2 comments on “Palin Is No Dan Quayle

  1. David_T on

    I think you are underestimating Quayle’s support among conservative Republicans for much of the 1990’s. It is true that by 2000 he had largely been forgotten, and that conservatives by then had mostly settled on W as, if not entirely what they wanted, still the most conservative candidate likely to beat McCain in the primaries and to have a reasonable chance of winning the general election.
    But 1996 might have been a different story had Quayle run. A Gallup poll in 1995 showed him running a respectable second behind Dole for the GOP nomination. http://books.google.com/books?id=QJfV9LsSni0C&pg=PA23
    Now you might say, “that was just name recognition”–but Quayle ran ahead of Gingrich and Buchanan, both of whom were quite well known in 1995. Quayle could have been a serious contender for the nomination in 1996 if he had run. Of course any GOP candidate that year would have lost to Clinton, but that’s another matter. The point is that as late as 1995-6, Dan Quayle was no joke *among Republicans.*

  2. James Vega on

    There is no criticism of Sarah Palin’s limitations that could not equally well have been made of George W Bush.
    1. ignorant by choice, not circumstance – check
    2. self-righteous – check
    3. crafty beneath an “aw-shucks” exterior – check
    4. dangerously egotistic – check
    and so on.
    The relevant question is whether 8 years of Bush has been sufficient to dispell for most Americans the “Davy Crockett goes to congress” fantasy that rural roots and values – either real or totally fabricated – can somehow suffice to arm a person with the wisdom and character to make sound decisions as president.


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