Politics & Policy

History Changer

Sarah Palin, talented understudy.

Every time I come close to despair, I derive strength from the wisdom of the American people. After listening to purveyors of the “conventional wisdom” disparage Senator John McCain’s selection of Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, I grabbed the remote control and returned to that one reliable dispenser of the public’s common sense, C-SPAN.

“Might we be dealing with a female incarnation of Theodore Roosevelt?” asked the first “caller” I happened to hear. “PULEEZ!” my inner voice-with echoes of David Gergen, Larry King, Charles Krauthammer, and others cried out.

#ad#Then as I began to ponder the possibility, a ledger popped into my mind with the names of Roosevelt and Palin placed at the head of each column. Sportsman (woman)? CHECK. Outdoors man (woman)? CHECK. Devoted spouse and parent to a bustling brood of charming children? CHECK. Environmentalist? CHECK. Grit? CHECK.

Reformer? BINGO. In fact, it was Roosevelt’s insistence on butting heads with the corrupt political machine in his state that prompted party bosses to “kick him” upstairs by adding the New York governor to William McKinley’s ticket in 1900. Roosevelt had been governor for approximately 18 months. It did not take me long to see what led John McCain to select Palin. They are kindred spirits.

There is no question that Roosevelt, as war hero, author, rancher and colorful public official stepped into the vice presidency with greater name recognition than would Palin. But did he have more experience in elective office prior to his ascendancy to the vice presidency than Palin? Hardly. Before becoming governor, Roosevelt served a little over two years in the New York assembly. And that was it.

Yes, Teddy put in a stint on the civil-service commissioner, and served as police commissioner of New York City. In both posts he, like Palin, as citizen, mayor and governor rooted our corruption and enacted reform. Unlike, Palin, Roosevelt, though his service as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and other pursuits, came to the vice presidency well versed in foreign affairs. But what Palin lacks in this area, she, like Roosevelt in other areas, as well as Truman and Lincoln (to whom Barack Obama often compares himself) she will make up through what she learns on the job and from what she is able to draw from her multiple life experiences.

As they trash McCain for selecting to run with a most talented understudy, those talking heads we see on television purporting to report what American people are thinking, missed the real story. Palin is not so much as a game changer, but a history changer. In an instant, McCain, injected into his party what it so badly needs, a new face, new energy, and a reshuffled deck — both for now and for years to come. It’s past time to retire the parade of television professional “strategists” and bring on the callers.

— Alvin S. Felzenberg is author of The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn’t): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game.

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