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Sarah agonistes

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Professional politicians and political journalists don't waste energy on political corpses. They reserve their energy -- positive or negative -- for viable politicians.

Thus, an intriguing part of the Sarah Palin phenomenon is the intensity of response to her every word and move -- from both Republican and Democratic Party professionals and from the conventional media. The negative but sustained passion being expressed by the professional Washington political class against her tends to belie its almost unanimous assertion that she is washed up.

I happened to be on CNN on Friday just as the story was breaking of Mrs. Palin's resignation as governor of Alaska, and for the next hour, I was the only on-air guest -- Republican, Democrat, journalist, politician -- who was not overtly contemptuous and dismissive of Mrs. Palin and her political future. On Sunday, as a panelist on ABC's "This Week," I was similarly situated.

What is it about Mrs. Palin that elicits such furious bipartisan Washington dismissiveness? After all, the polls show her to be tied with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee for the very early lead in the Republican primary. As an outspoken conservative with about 80 percent favorable rating amongst Republicans and a high-40s percentage favorable plurality among independents, objectively she should be seen as quite competitive nationally (compared to other Republicans, particularly given that Republicans generically are weak, and she has been so viciously targeted by the media).

Mrs. Palin draws by far the biggest crowds of any current politician other than, perhaps, the president. She was the only news phenomenon capable of knocking the Michael Jackson story off the cable news lineups. Impressively, while President George W. Bush was able to elicit a Bush derangement syndrome from liberal Democrats and President Obama has succeeded similarly with many conservatives, only Mrs. Palin has induced simultaneous derangement form both Republican and Democratic professionals.

At a time when governments around the world -- left, right and center -- are failing to gain the public confidence and even the winning Democratic Party in the United States struggles to match independents for the leading political category (while the Republican Party struggles to get to 25 percent to 30 percent market share), it might behoove those same party professionals who have been failing to connect their parties to the public to pause before calling Mrs. Palin an incompetent politician. Conventional wisdom may not be reliable in unconventional times -- or for unconventional politicians.

For instance, as the story was breaking Friday, fellow panelists were pointing out, on the air, how stupid Mrs. Palin was to put forward her big story on a late Friday afternoon before a three-day holiday weekend. Everyone "knows" one buries a story that way. It became my grim duty to remind my interlocutors -- in case they had not noticed -- that all the cable news shows were dropping their programming to switch to wall-to-wall coverage of the Palin announcement and that we were, at that moment, telling a national audience that the story we were discussing was being buried. The story persisted and expanded over the weekend, and my guess would be that if any political topic came up at America's millions of Fourth of July backyard barbecue parties -- it probably was about Sarah Palin. So, who's the fool?

Well, I have had the honor of working for two politicians before they rose to their heights (as well as during their heights) -- Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. And though they were vastly different men, both were considered, for different reasons, to be beyond the political pale in their earlier political years. If only Mr. Reagan could behave more like George Herbert Walker Bush, and if only Newt Gingrich could behave more like Bob Michel, maybe they could succeed better at elective politics.

So, last weekend, the professionals were confidently sneering that Mrs. Palin had made a fatal mistake by giving up the governorship of Alaska, because everyone knows an aspiring candidate for higher office clings to his or her current office while running for the next one.

Well, I'm not so sure being an incumbent is an advantage if the world seems to be going to hell and government is seen to be at least part of the cause for that journey. And though many a conventional politician might be seen as a quitter if he resigned from office -- I have a very strong hunch Mrs. Palin is constitutionally incapable of being seen as a quitter. Because she is not. She is constantly taking on the biggest challenge on her horizon.

Now, I am not endorsing her or predicting she will run or that if she runs she is likely to win. Let's wait a couple of years before getting to those questions. If Mr. Obama is seen by the public to be a great success as president in 2012, he probably will get re-elected.

However, if he is not seen as a great success, the public may be looking for a straight-talking candidate from the heartland who calls for and truly believes in limited government, maximum personal freedom and fiscal responsibility.

They may be listening for someone who knows how to talk to us - rather than at us or down to us.

They also may respond favorably to a candidate who does not respond favorably to the Washington political class - nor it to her.

Tony Blankley is the author of "American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century" and vice president of the Edelman public-relations firm in Washington.