Sunday, July 05, 2009

What Palin Needs to Do Now

When Tony Benn left the British House of Commons in 2001 after fifty years as a law maker, he said that “he was leaving parliament to devote himself to politics”. Saraha Palin, who seems to some to immature with age, said basically the same thing on Friday. She resigned as Governor of Alaska and made it clear that she was going to devote her energies to politics.

The media don’t understand this. Palin made clear that she would be freer to campaign for values and policies she supports if she was not tied to the Governorship. She also made clear what these policies and values were - less government intervention, greater energy independence, stronger national security, and “much-needed” fiscal restraint. She wants to work the national stage and fill the leadership void within the GOP. It’s a bid for the role of the authoritative voice of the party. She will then, it seems, determine whether a run at the Presidency in 2012 is viable.

What is upsetting her, apart from the way the media are attacking the family and the partisan use of ethics to hinder her political agenda, is the lack of a clear, focused and coherent voice of opposition to Obama. Ironically, her key problem is that she is not focused, clear or coherent, as her resignation speech demonstrated. The hockey mum thinks and speaks like someone with attention deficit disorder.

Tony Benn used his exit from parliament to launch a career as a political raconteur and journalist. Renting theatres across Britain, he sat in a chair smoking a pipe and drinking tea, offered a monologue on political issues and then responded for an hour or so to questions. These sessions were sold out across Britain and he moved from being someone demonized as a radical “raving lefty” to being a sane voice of reason, especially on such issues as Iraq, education and the economy. Palin thinks she can do the same kind of thing.

She has three problems. The first is that she doesn’t really have much to say. She has never worked through an in depth political analysis of America and its future and developed a clear and well articulated strategic position on the key issues. What she has are chants and mantras. What she needs is a thoroughgoing analytic and reasoned strategic view of the policies the republicans would now pursue if in office.

The second is that, despite the adulation of many, she is a poor communicator. Just look at her media interviews and listen to her speeches. They are short, unfocused, and not thought through. True, she has emotional appeal and sex appeal, but she does not have “mind appeal”. Obama, in contrast, has real power as a communicator and is clearly seen as a thinking politician – a phrase no one could seriously apply to Palin.

The third is that she does not have a plan. Her resignation seemed to as much of a surprise to her as it was to those around her. Being impulsive does not make for sound leadership. If she did have a plan, no one appears to know what it is. She needs to surround herself with quality planners and strategic thinkers who can move her from being a hockey mum to being a leader. It will take time.

There appears to be another issue: money. Palin does have a Political Action Committee (PAC) which is fund raising for her, but she is not a wealthy person and does have some legal issues to deal with. Later this month her PAC has to report on their fiscal performance. According to some media accounts, money flooded into the account following her announcement on Friday. We will see. What is key is that she invests some of these funds in refining her thinking, her speaking and her strategy. If she simply takes to the streets with her current message, she will blow her up her chances.

There are others vying for the role Palin appears to want to play. Mitt Romney being one and also the most likely to succeed. He has money, he is articulate, he has national experience and he did a credible job as Governor of Massachusetts. He also has the support of the party elite. He could take on Obama now without coaching and investment in finding out about how the world really works. He is the natural successor to McCain. Another is Mike Huckabee, also a seasoned campaigner. Palin will have a lot to do to maneuver around these party heavy weights.

The period between now and year end will be critical for Palin. If she is really serious, she will take some time to reflect and develop a strategic and analytic set of policies and hone her communication and presentation skills. A smarter, better read and more articulate Palin will be essential if her national leadership ambitions are to be taken seriously. As she sits in Wassilla and reflects, she should start reading and thinking deeply about issues and opportunities. She should also keep quiet.

(This is my 500th Post on this Blog Site)

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