Sarah Palin, warning that America is on a course to economic "ruin," was received warmly Friday night in a speech in honor of the Reagan Centennial in Santa Barbara. But many conservatives continue to see her as a flawed messenger of the modern meaning of Reaganism.
Those doubters don't appear to include Palin herself. Although she lauded Ronald Reagan as "one of a kind" in her keynote, she also sprinkled the 30-minute talk with hints that, if there is indeed another Republican close to the Reagan mold, that individual might be walking among us in the form of a certain ex-governor of Alaska.
Palin told of asking former Reagan aides for tips about his leadership style, and of riding horses at the Reagan ranch Friday where "you could distinctly feel his spirit." Describing herself as a "western conservative in the spirit of Ronald Reagan," she also implored Americans to "reconnect" with the Reaganesque principles of limited government.
"Those values will lead us back to prosperity," she said, adding that they stand in sharp contrast to Washington's recent big-spending ways. "This is not the road to national greatness, it is the road to national ruin," she said. "American Exceptionalism is not exceptionally big government."
Many eyebrows were raised when it was announced a week ago that Palin had been designated as the keynote speaker for the weekend's festivities at the Reagan Ranch Center's celebration of Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday on Feb. 6. But this was not the "official" celebration organized by the Reagan Library.
Instead, Palin was speaking at a two-day event organized by the Reagan Ranch Foundation, an arm of a conservative organization named Young America's Foundation. The YAF began as an off-shoot of a group of college Republicans who formed at Vanderbilt University in the late 1960s. Their connection to Reagan? They raised the money to purchase and preserve Rancho delCielo, the ranch in the sky in the mountains above Santa Barbara where Reagan spent nearly a year of his two-term presidency.
But even if the Reagan Ranch Foundation has established its conservative chops by saving the Reagan spread, many Americans -- including many original Reaganauts -- believe that Sarah Palin is about as far from The Gipper as one can get. Nonsense, reply Palin's defenders: she hails from a generation of Americans inspired to the cause of conservatism by Reagan, and her choice is wholly appropriate.
Former Reagan speechwriter Ken Khachigian was one of those who defended the choice of Palin, telling reporters this week that she was a teenager when Reagan became the 40th president of the United States, and was among a generation of young Americans who, as they came of age, found that their "lives and philosophy and political fortunes were shaped by the Reagan era." Khachigian added: "She can reflect on that as well as anyone could."
In the other camp was one former Reagan White House aide who told Politics Daily privately that Palin had neither Reagan's style nor depth -- and that she most certainly lacked his experience. "Reagan was governor of the most populous state in the union for eight years," this Reaganite said. "Palin was governor of one of the least populous states in the union -- and she resigned halfway through her first term."
This former Reagan advisor said he wasn't even sure Palin would be a Reagan supporter today. "He might be too pragmatic," the aide said. "He'd be seen by many of today's conservative Republicans as a moderate, a compromiser."
Stylistically, Palin differs from Reagan, too. Self-deprecating humor, Reagan's stock-in-trade, doesn't seem to come naturally to her -- and the Friday night speech had little of anything resembling Reagan's wit. Her rhetorical hyperbole is not Reaganesque, either. At the Reagan Ranch, she suggested that the Obama administration's skittishness about off-shore oil drilling is not only "dangerous," but "insane" -- a word President Reagan reserved for events such as the suicide attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon. Moreover, Reagan would never have employed a crude and jargony phrase such as "WTF moments," which Palin did last week.
On the other hand, Reagan surely would have liked that line about American Exceptionalism not equating to exceptionally high federal spending. He also might have appreciated -- and secretly agreed with -- something Palin mentioned about him on Friday night:
"Today there (are) a lot of people looking around for the next Ronald Reagan, but he was one of a kind and you are not going to find his kind again," Palin said. "And the Gipper wouldn't want us to spend our time on that anyway."
In an effort to encourage the same level of civil dialogue among Politics Daily’s readers that we expect of our writers – a “civilogue,” to use the term coined by PD’s Jeffrey Weiss – we are requiring commenters to use their AOL or AIM screen names to submit a comment, and we are reading all comments before publishing them. Personal attacks (on writers, other readers, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, or anyone at all) and comments that are not productive additions to the conversation will not be published, period, to make room for a discussion among those with ideas to kick around. Please read our Help and Feedback section for more info.