Sarah Palin in the eye of the beholder

Since the debut of SarahPAC yesterday, there’s been renewed speculation that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin intends to make a run for the White House, perhaps as early as 2012. If such a run is indeed in the cards, where will the pundits place her on the political spectrum? The answer to that question depends on which pundit you choose to believe.

Former John McCain senior staffer John Weaver, as quoted by Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza:

“The Democrats and the far left will do all they can to grab electoral turf. And one sure way to do it is take some of the most controversial voices on the extreme right — like Limbaugh and [Alaska Gov. Sarah] Palin — and try to insist they speak for all members of the center/right movement.”

Self-described conservative Paul Mulshine, in his New Jersey Star Ledger column:

If anyone can think of a reason Palin qualifies as a conservative, please let me know. The truth is that Palin is a project of the so-called “neo” conservatives, who are actually a bunch of moony-eyed leftists masquerading as conservatives.

Patrick J. Buchanan, in an opinion piece for Chronicles magazine:

Make no mistake. Sarah Palin is no neocon. She did not come by her beliefs by studying Leo Strauss. She is a traditionalist whose values are those of family, faith, community and country, not some utopian ideology.

Michelle Goldberg, writing in the left wing magazine The Nation:

She has not always governed as a zealot; in fact, she’s a bit of a cipher, with scant record of speeches or writings on social issues or foreign policy. Nevertheless, several people who’ve dealt with her say that those concerned about church-state separation should be chilled by the idea of a Palin presidency. “To understand Sarah Palin, you have to realize that she is a religious fundamentalist,” said Howard Bess, a retired liberal Baptist minister living in Palmer. “The structure of her understanding of life is no different from a Muslim fundamentalist.”

Professional Palin critic Dan Fagan in a post on his Alaska Standard blog:

It is indisputable the governor has leaned strongly to the left with her policies in her first two years as governor.

Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi in a RealClearPolitics op-ed:

In contrast to any national candidate in recent memory, Palin is the one that exudes the economic and cultural sensibilities of a geniune Western-style libertarian.

Christopher Orr, in a diary on TNR’s blog, The Plank:

The beauty pageant queen is an enormously talented populist in a year that is ripe for populism.

The certifiably inane Joe Conason, in a Salon.com diatribe:

Palin’s phony populism is as insulting to working- and middle-class Americans as it is to American women.

A quote in an article in USA Today:

“She has governed from the center,” says Rebecca Braun, author of Alaska Budget Report, a non-partisan political newsletter. “She has in some small ways supported her religious views — for example, proposing money to continue the office of faith-based and community initiatives — but she has actually been conspicuously absent on social issues.”

The unhinged Marjorie Cohn in a post on the nutroots site AfterDowningStreet.org:

Palin is a radical right-wing fundamentalist Christian who would love to create a theocracy.

Michael Reagan, writing in Human Events:

“Wednesday night I watched the Republican National Convention on television and there, before my very eyes, I saw my Dad reborn; only this time he’s a she… Like Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin is one of us.”

So, is Sarah Palin the right wing extremist McCain staffers and leftists believe her to be? Is she the fundie theocrat secular leftists say she is?  Is she the “neocon” portrayed by careless conservatives? Is she a populist, as some liberals claim? If the governor is a populist, is that populism as disingenuous as the looser cannons on the left insist it is? Is she a leftist, as Big Oil’s useful idiots would have us believe? Is she the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan that his own elder son sees? Or is Gov. Palin a centrist, as the Alaskan pundit says she has governed? Did Pat Buchanan hit it closest to the mark of all the pundits quoted here, calling her a traditionalist?

All of those pundits can’t be right, as their perceptions of the former vice presidential candidate are diverse and often in conflict with one another. Sarah Palin certainly is no liberal, nor is she the ultraconservative perceived by the loony left. They consider anyone to the right of Gerald Ford to be an extreme right winger, for Pete’s sake. Though she had the opportunity to do so, Gov. Palin did not govern as a theocrat. She’s not a Paulist libertarian, nor is she purely populist. And she is not Ronald Reagan reborn as a woman, though she clearly has taken more than enough pages from his book to be described as a Reagan conservative.

The governor was conservative enough for Human Events magazine to award her her its Conservative of the Year honors. Yet she was libertarian enough for Libertarian Repulican to name her Libertarian of the Year because:

No single individual has done more to promote limited government, individualism and free enterprise this year than Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin is what I consider an across-the-board conservative. That doesn’t mean that she has a conservative position on every political issue. It means that on most issues, she takes a conservative stance. The governor meets or exceeds the conservative threshold on social, fiscal, federalist and security issues. Single-issue zealots will not understand, nor will those so far out in left field that they wouldn’t recognize a real conservative if the ghost of Ronald Reagan were to suddenly appear before them and softly say, “Boo!”

Sarah Barracuda does have a populist streak, but she’s more conservative than populist. OnTheIssues.org, a nonpartisan website which rates candidates based on their records and their responses to their 20-item VoteMatch issues questionnaire, describes Gov. Palin as a populist-leaning conservative. Whether she is seen as a libertarian-leaning conservative or a populist-leaning one, such a political animal may well be just what the country will be looking for after four years of Jimmy Carter-style liberalism from Barack Obama and a Democrat congress.

– JP