Friday, November 13, 2009

The 'R2' Factor: The Right Might Pine for Sarah Palin, but She's Not Ronald Reagan

NEW YORK – Pinning GOP presidential hopes on Sarah Palin will be challenging, unless the GOP closely investigates her 'R2' Factor, an all-too-crucial ability to channel Ronald Reagan.

Although she is considered telegenic, charismatic , and passionate by many on the Right, and in the media, to those outside of her core group of supporters, Palin lacks three qualities voters will likely demand throughout the next 36 months: competency, calm, and the ability to build a strong national consensus across multiple social, political, and geographic interest groups.

While many conservatives argue that Palin possesses each of these qualities in spades, preaching only to the choir will not win a general election. Instead of serving, primarily, as a beacon of hope to certain sectors of the Right, Palin must successfully convince a very skeptical public that she is capable of guiding a nation, one which is far more diverse and challenging than her sparsely-populated, but energy-rich state of Alaska, whose economy is driven, almost entirely by the extraction of resources and not the production of knowledge, the manufacture of goods, or the provision of services. Governing Alaska during the energy boom of the first decade of the 21st century is not even remotely analogous to the demands confronting Ronald Reagan's California during one of the most tumultuous periods of the 20th century.

Even though Reagan's leadership was often controversial to his opponents, it was much more difficult to argue that he lacked the basic executive experience necessary to lead a nation in a time of true challenge. Here, one could argue that Reagan's sense of calm amidst the challenges of his day, were one of his deepest strengths. Even those who opposed him, rarely failed to praise his ability to communicate with calm, confidence and consistency. Palin may be confident, but she neither conveys a strong personal sense of calm, nor instills it in others.

Finally, presidents are, generally, only as effective as their ability to build consensus, strong national consensus. Although Reagan's second term was marked by a great degree of congressional gridlock, he was, nonetheless, able to build a relatively strong national consensus in several areas, including: the containment of threats to American interests posed by the Soviet Union; a toughening of attitudes on how to fight crime; greater secularization of "morality" and "values" in the public discourse; and to a large degree, a national, and relatively long-lasting movement, towards lower taxation and limited government social spending.

Even his opponents can agree, President Reagan and his team, changed the course of a nation by seeking consensus, across geographic, social, and very often, party lines, even as he remained a polarizing figure to a great many Americans. At the core, President Reagan's greatest talents lay in his ability to communicate calmly and to build consensus on numerous national issues.

Republicans need to carefully consider whether Governor Palin possesses, convincingly, each of these qualities, in great enough quantities to win over enough non-Republicans to claim a solid victory where it counts––in the electoral college of 2012.

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