Realpolitik #1 – An Introduction, and the Palin Effect

Hello and welcome to Realpolitik, a (hopefully) weekly blog summarising my thoughts on a wide range of political issues. Chances are the subject matter will primarily be focussed on the United States domestic and foreign politics, as this is the area I follow most avidly. Anyway, enough by way of introduction, I’m gonna get this show on the road.

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I managed to wrangle a copy of Sarah Palin’s memoir, Going Rogue, at a local bookstore for just $5. Despite Palin now being one of America’s most recognisable political caricatures, I actually found the book to be surprisingly well-written and articulate. I didn’t find it quite as engaging as Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father, but it was still an interesting read that perhaps quashed some of the sensationalised archetypes I had floating around in my head. Without getting into an in-depth review, I suggest that you go out and buy it, or borrow it from the library; it is flawed, but it’s also a great insight into what makes one of America’s most magnetic politicians tick.

 

Sarah Palin's Going Rogue

 

In the wake of her 2008 VP candidacy, Palin is somewhat of a lonely figure, a fact that forms one of the main narratives in her book; Democrats loathe her, establishment Republicans don’t like her in-your-face, soccer mom style of politics that contradicts the GOP’s traditionalism. However, what cannot be argued is that Palin was a crucial figure in the 2008 Presidential race.

Rising from relative anonymity to a surprise vice-presidential candidature, Palin was regarded as something of a X-factor by both politicians and the commentariat. She equipped herself admirably throughout the campaign, and for most of the election race it looked as though the McCain-Palin ticket would manage to pip the Obama-Biden team when it came to election time. But then came that interview with CBS news anchor Katie Couric, and the Republican campaign went up in flames.

Since the election, Palin has become a central figure in the Republican media. She works as a commentator for Fox News, has written her aforementioned memoir, a book that spent a considerable period at the top of the NYT Bestseller List, and has already announced plans for a second book, America by Heart, which it appears will focus more on Palin’s own personal ideological stances.

But perhaps the most interesting effect Palin has had on politics since her remarkable ascension to the zenith of the Republican Party has been the remarkable effect she has had on the Republican primaries as we approach the midterm Congressional elections. The most notable benificiary of what I call the ‘Palin effect’ has been Christine O’Donnell, an unfancied Delaware Senate candidate who lost a 7% swing to Joe Biden in the 2008 Senate election.

As Biden’s former Chief of Staff, Ted Kaufman, nears the end of his period in the hotseat, the Republican primaries pitted O’Donnell against former Delaware Governor and establishment Republican, Mike Castle. In a remarkable turn of events, the Tea Party movement and Sarah Palin both announced their support for O’Donnell despite the party machine’s apprehensive attitude toward the anti-establishment O’Donnell. O’Donnell subsequently won the primary election by 6 percentage points over Castle.

Now, one needs to look no further than O’Donnell’s campaign advertisement to see why the GOP machine was so worried about O’Donnell running in what has been a safe Democrat seat for some time. Starting an advertisement with the statement ‘I’m not a witch’ is perhaps one of the most bewildering communications blunders in political campaigning. Watch the ad, you’ll be confused too.

 

She's not a witch; she's you.

 

Nikki Haley is another, perhaps more credible example of the Palin effect at work. Haley, at just 38, is the incoming Governor of South Carolina. Incredibly, she beat out former Presidential candidate and GOP favourite Mitt Romney in a run-off election after Palin endorsed her. While Haley is nowhere near as deluded as I believe O’Donnell to be, it still shows the power of a Palin endorsement. Of the 31 candidates Palin has endorsed in various elections, 20 have been successful.

To me, this points to a real problem with American politics as it currently stands. The candidates Palin endorses are by and large anti-establishment, anti-incumbency, anti-politics politicians who, much like Palin herself, run on a ‘we the people’ platform that emphasises the importance of small government and letting people run their own affairs. A small-government platform is something I disagree with, but I have no fundamental problem with it.

What I find to be a real sticking point is the quality (or lack thereof) of the candidates. Palin herself, and O’Donnell have proven time and again to be dangerously out of touch and misinformed about matters that it is vital every politician knows. The Couric interview and the O’Donnell campaign advertisement are just two examples of how these ‘soccer mom’ politicians are gaining influence in elections. Call me a traditionalist, but I honestly believe the US would be better off in the hands of a well-educated, ‘elite’ candidate who perhaps better understands the intricacies of the political issues that face a nation as diverse and multifarious as America.

I have nothing against women in politics; Condoleezza Rice, Nikki Haley, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton are all able female politicians from across the ideological spectrum. Politicians like Palin and O’Donnell, however, obscure the political agendas with sweeping, misinformed and archaic generalisations that tend to tar everything with the same brush. And this is a real problem, especially when ignorant Palin-endorsees begin to win seats in office. I hope for the sake of America that O’Donnell isn’t the new Delaware Senator.

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Alright, so that’s the sort of style and length you can expect this blog/op-ed column to be; hopefully you found it to be an interesting read, questions and comments are appreciated.

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About Rage
Australian student with interests in music, film, literature, politics, pop culture and more.

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