Let Palin be Palin
By Daniel M. Ryan
Perhaps because he was stung by conservatives calling him a Beta male, perhaps because his disappointing poll numbers are finally getting to him, perhaps as a combination of the two, President Obama is letting the public know what kind of Alpha he really is. In mid-April, he invited Paul Ryan to a function and then roundly criticized him when at the microphone. That's indicative of what kind of Alpha Obama is: a scold, who likes to secure dominance by calling someone on the carpet and making an example of him. To put it mildly, this isn't the kind of leadership style that endears one to the typical American. Americans are more likely to flip the bird at such a character. Enter another charismatic, this one a Republican who's quite different from Obama otherwise. Sarah Palin's latest adventure in "going rogue" does involve subtly flipping the bird, but not to President Obama directly: she's twitting her real and disguised critics in the mainstream media. Her "One Nation" tour was not run by the mainstream media in advance; it got them following her instead of her ingratiating herself to them. Her instincts are good: flipping the bird, subtly, is what's called for. Her down-home irreverence works. It's an example of why, to borrow a phrase used late in the 2008 campaign, Republican politicos are best off letting Palin be Palin.
The contrast between the treatment shows the difference in how pundits treat charismatics of different parties. A Democrat, like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, gets lionized and praised with sometimes embarrassing effusiveness. He's compared to a knight in shining armour, who needs aught but praise to get him ready for the battle. On the other hand, Republican charismatics like Ronald Reagan or Sarah Palin are often sized up as if there's something wrong about them. Democrat charismatics never attract self-appointed handlers, while Republicans often do. Any advice-giver to a Democrat charismatic is likely to cover up said advice in a protective coat of fawning. On the other hand, Republican charismatics attract unsolicited advice like gold does gold-diggers. You don't have to wait long for some pundit or operative to write about what Mrs. Palin is doing wrong, and why she should change her ways. Strangely, some of them come from liberals trying to cultivate disinterestedness. President Reagan faced the same thing, not only before he became President but afterwards. There have been enough of them to rate a new term: "concern trolls."
A concern troll is the type of character that used to be known as a "buttinsky." The fact that Republican charismatics attract them, but not Democrats, says something about the tilted playing field of politics. Expressed cynically, the art of politics is directing tax money to buy political power while appearing selfless through not pilfering. This model works better, and is more pervasive, than many realize. There are two variants in American politics: using tax money to make the voters feel generous through subventions to disadvantaged groups, and/or to their representatives, and using tax money to try to rev up the general economy. Democrat politicians are masters in form at both, even if the results don't square with the promises. Unlike Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans, Democrat officials don't let their consciences be perturbed by the fact that it's taxpayers' money that they're doling out. They don't question themselves when they pose as generous givers when in fact they're parcelling off money appropriated from others. (I've yet to meet the person who, when paying less than the full assessment, gets a letter from the IRS which asks him nicely to please pay the full amount next year.) The fact that the Democrats are entirely comfortable with doling out funds extracted from taxpayers, while Republicans' consciences are pricked, makes Democrats the better professional politicians. This tilt in the playing field does tend to make Republican charismatics seem vulnerable, and attracts protectiveness as well as the less benign concern trolling.
Moreover, Republican charismatics tend to be out-of-the-box campaigners while Democrat charismatics are not. The Republican breed seems riskier. Democrats follow a stable pattern: they're excellent speechifiers and charming face-to-face campaigners. Other than that, they're system people. They don't mind being handled, and work well with handlers for that reason. They're dependent upon the staff, and they mostly don't mind being so. President Obama's now-notorious gaffeing without teleprompter clearly indicates his dependency.
On the other hand, a Republican charismatic is more independent of his or her handlers. It's charisma that comes from the base up, by direct bonding with ordinary people. It isn't confined to speechifying and campaigning; it's an amalgam of personal style and inner character. That's why Republican charismatics are more like genuine celebrities than are the Democrat variety.
Consequently, the former are more independent of their handlers than the latter. Professional handlers, including the Republican variety, tend to be put ajar by such people. Unfortunately, as with many a profession, a guildish streak exists in the profession of campaign management. A proven amateur is harder to trust than a fellow professional or a politician that works well with professionals.
It's a shame that this trust barrier exists, because Sarah Palin is easygoing; she wears her authority lightly. She tends to wield authority like a teacher, the kind who lets all students have their say if need be. Let me be the first to say it: should Sarah Palin become President, diligent members of her Cabinet who liked school will find her a pleasant boss. She'll be very unlike Bill Clinton, who needed George Stephanopoulos as his morning punching bag.
Once again, Republicans need to hear it: let Palin be Palin. Her snubbing of the mainstream media on her One Nation tour was a subtle response to President Obama revealing his inner scold. Her kind of irreverence makes for a good paper to Obama's rock. Although she has made a few gaffes, she's far from being a slob. The way to handle a charismatic like Sarah Palin is to trust her, and run guard for her if needed. As a side benefit, Republican strategists and handlers would be far less the worry-wart.