Twice, with Rome under threat, the Senate named Cincinnatus dictator. Both times he saved Rome, took off his toga, and went back to his fields. The story of Cincinnatus is of the model citizen politician. The American ideal is that citizen politician. George Washington embodied the ideal. Some of the founders intended him a king. Instead, he gave up control of the Army and left the White House after two terms in office.
The present day Cincinnatus model has evolved from the man who gives up the toga to go back to the field to the person who is not in politics to acquire power and prestige, but is in politics because a cause greater than himself thrust it upon him. Hollywood idolizes the Cincinnatus model. The character Dave in the same named movie posed as President. He gave up the posing, went back to small town America, and began a run for municipal office. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart is appointed to the Senate having no prior political experience. The press mocks his character. The people love him. He changes Washington.
The citizen politician is in our DNA as Americans, but over time we have ceased to see them. Barack Obama spent the greatest part of his adult life plotting for higher office. Joe Biden went to the Senate at thirty years old and stayed. John McCain, after service to the country, went to the Congress and stayed. There are very few who get in, get the job done, and get out any more. Most of those who go, go to stay — to become the status quo and tour the Georgetown cocktail circuit.
These are the people the media holds up as experienced. These are the people the media expects the public to put up for national office. These are the people who live in symbiotic relationship with the media — they feed off each other. If a politician is not a lifer, he is not fit for national office in the media’s eyes. The media have killed the Cincinnatus ideal. Servants of the public’s interests are no more and that’s the way the media likes it.
Witness the media reaction to Sarah Palin. She is the Cincinnatus ideal — the mom who got involved in the PTA and then, because of passion on a local issue, ran for office and won. She worked her way up from town council to mayor to a prestigious government appointment, then she gave it all up to protest corruption.
She went back to being a hockey mom. In 2006, she successfully ran for Governor promising to clean up Alaska. And she has. We can only push the Cincinnatus comparison so far — Palin did, after all, keep running. But she ran against an issue — taxes first and then corruption. And she worked mighty hard to solve those problems. She did not run for the acquisition of power.
Sarah Palin is a self-made woman and the media loathes her for it. She ascended without their help and she has already shown a willingness to give it all up for principles. Because the media had no chance to vet her, they now vet her publicly, examining every rumor and all innuendo aloofly claiming they are checking out her experience.
But it is not experience they are checking out.
The media is checking out Sarah Palin’s fiber and being. The media no longer understands the citizen politician and can no longer abide one because a citizen politician owes the media nothing. They do not know what makes Governor Palin tick and they perceive their own ignorance as a threat.
Thursday night, I discussed Sarah Palin with Howard Kurtz and Michael Isikoff. They were absolutely incredulous about Governor Palin’s experience. “We must make sure,” they pontificated, “that she has experience.” They, of course, do so assuming that if they do not, the citizenry cannot judge her themselves.
Witness Jonathan Alter of Obamist Newsweek. He presumes Palin has no experience and insists the media must help her inexperience manifest itself for the world to see. He writes,
Her lack of experience will only become an issue if it is manifested during the campaign. To decrease the odds of a gaffe, expect her to be carefully shielded from the questions of tough-minded reporters.
I’d imagine that Palin will dodge press conferences in favor of interviews with people like Sean Hannity, Larry King and Ellen DeGeneres. Then, when the media complain that she is being kept away, the McCain campaign will cite the half dozen or so interviews she has granted as proof that the campaign press is just bellyaching. Brief press “avails” on the plane will be useless, unless reporters ask open-ended queries designed to elicit proof of real knowledge.
They presume she has no experience and no real knowledge. That is their starting point. She must provide proof of her knowledge. They’ve never sought it from Barack Obama. But then they know Barack Obama. He has been on their talk shows. He has given them interviews. He has run a political campaign. The media relates to Barack Obama because he plays the game they are used to. In their arrogance, they reject that she is innocent of the inexperience charge until proven guilty. The burden is on Governor Palin, who has run successfully for office more times than Barack Obama, Michael Isikoff, Howard Fineman, and Jonathan Alter, to prove herself innocent with the initial presumption being she is guilty because she has not given the national media interviews.
It is quite telling that the media think Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign gives him better experience than Governor Palin’s political career. It also shows these doyens of politics have an illiterate understanding of the internal political process. Candidates, in campaigns, are largely props. Candidates show up where they are told to go. Candidates speak the words they are told to speak. A candidate’s world view shapes their campaign. A candidate’s hires direct the campaign. The candidate, himself, is the puppet. Like Pinocchio, the candidate can move himself, but the candidate has strings.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to understate a candidate’s impact on his own campaign. At the end of the day, it is ultimately his campaign. But the doyens of politics are giving Barack Obama far too many experience points for his campaign. He has campaign experience. He has no governing experience and minimal legislative experience. Sarah Palin has ample governing experience. A candidate has a strategist and campaign manager for the very real reason that he needs someone else to call the day to day shots. A mayor and governor call their own day to day shots.
Had Kurtz, Isikoff, Alter, or the other journalists presuming Palin guilty of inexperience worked on a campaign, they would realize how ridiculous it is to say Barack Obama is experienced because he beat Hillary Clinton. No, David Plouffe, David Axelrod, et al., are experienced because of this.
Any member of the media who thinks Barack Obama’s campaign experience is in any way comparable to governing experience should be fired for journalistic malpractice. There is a real difference. Those of us who have been elected, even to a lowly office like city council in Macon, Georgia fundamentally understand this. Those of us who have actually run campaigns understand the difference. It speaks volumes of the ignorance of Jonathan Alter, Michael Isikoff, Howard Kurtz, and the rest of the media that they either cannot or will not understand the difference.
But what about the core differences between the two that go to their actual experience and from which they develop experience?
Put simply, reality mugged Sarah Palin, getting her into politics. Barack Obama got into politics to, himself, mug reality. Mugging reality is what community organizers do. Community organizers agitate among citizens, encouraging them to see themselves in some way oppressed so they unite to take action. Sometimes community organizers must lie about the existing reality to reshape it. Community organizers make things worse so the people can, hopefully, make things better. As a community organizer, Barack Obama was largely unsuccessful.
Mayors and Governors, on the other hand, deal with reality. Sarah Palin, dealing with a reality that saw her taxes skyrocket in a way that hurt her family felt compelled to get involved. Get involved she did, and she fixed the problems that compelled her involvement. Where Barack Obama failed to improve his community, Sarah Palin did improve her community.
Barack Obama has not fixed any of the problems that he caused people in Chicago to perceive existed. He just keeps finding more problems and agitating for others to fix them.
That is not experience. That is passing the buck.
Sarah Palin could, I have no doubt, give this all up tomorrow. She could go back to being a wife, a mom, and a moose hunter. Barack Obama could not. He has coveted the Presidency. He has coveted power. He is just a typical politician with some a-typical sound bites.
Unfortunately for Americans, the media equates coveting power with experience. They do not understand the citizen politician. They only understand the professional politician.
Cincinnatus could not survive the modern American media.
We better pray, hope, and work to make sure Sarah Palin can survive the media.