Populist theme is working for Palin

February 11, 2010


— The snows that obliterated Washington last week interfered with many scheduled meetings, but they did not prevent the delivery of one important political message: Take Sarah Palin seriously.

Her lengthy Saturday night keynote address to the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville and her debut on the Sunday morning talk show circuit with Fox News’ Chris Wallace showed off a public figure at the top of her game — a politician who knows who she is and how to sell herself.

This was not the first time that Palin has impressed me. I gave her high marks for her vice presidential acceptance speech in St. Paul. But then, and always throughout that campaign, she was laboring to do more than establish her own place. She was selling a ticket headed by John McCain against formidable Democratic opposition and burdened by the legacy of the Bush administration.

Blessed with an enthusiastic audience of conservative activists, Palin used the Tea Party gathering and coverage on the cable networks to display the full repertoire she possesses, touching on national security, economics, fiscal and social policy and every other area where she could draw a contrast with Barack Obama and point up what Republicans see as vulnerabilities in Washington.

Her invocation of “conservative principles and common-sense solutions” was perfectly conventional. What stood out in the eyes of TV-watching pols of both parties was the skill with which she drew a self-portrait that fit not just the wishes of the immediate audience, but the mood of a significant slice of the broader electorate.

Freed of the responsibilities she carried as governor of Alaska, devoid of any official title but armed with regular gigs on Fox News Channel and more speaking invitations than she can fulfill, Palin is perhaps the most visible Republican in the land.

More important, she has locked herself firmly in the populist embrace that every skillful outsider candidate from George Wallace to Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton has utilized when running against “the political establishment.”

It doesn’t always win. There are more John Edwardses and Mike Huckabees than I can count. But it wins more often than you’d guess and for a greater variety of people, especially when things are not going well for the country.

Palin’s final answer to Wallace showed how perfectly she has come to inhabit that part. When he asked her what role she wants to play in the country’s future, she said:

“First and foremost, I want to be a good mom and I want to raise happy, healthy, independent children. And I want them to be good citizens of this great country.

“And then I do want to be a voice for some common-sense solutions. I’m never going to pretend like I know more than the next person. I’m not going to pretend to be an elitist. In fact, I’m going to fight the elitist, because for too often and for too long now, I think the elitists have tried to make people like me and people in the heartland of America feel like we just don’t get it, and big government’s just going to have to take care of us.

“I want to speak up for the American people and say: No, we really do have some good common-sense solutions. I can be a messenger for that. Don’t have to have a title to do it.”

This is a pitch-perfect recital of the populist message that has worked in campaigns past. There are times when the American people are looking for something more: for an Eisenhower, who liberated Europe; an FDR or a Kennedy or a Bush, all unashamed aristocrats; or an Obama, with eloquence and brains.

But in the present mood of the country, Palin is by all odds a threat to the more uptight Republican aspirants like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty — and potentially, to Obama as well.

Palin did not wear well in the last campaign, especially in the suburbs where populism has a limited appeal. But when Wallace asked her about resigning the governorship with 17 months left in her term and whether she let her opponents drive her from office, she said, “Hell, no.”

Those who want to stop her will need more ammunition than deriding her habit of writing on her hand. The lady is good.

— David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. davidbroder@washpost.com


WilburM 7 years ago

As someone said in commenting on this Broder column, the old guy has finally "jumped the shark." This is just nonsensical, and offered without a shred of evidence. Laughing off her notes on her hand?

In his day, Broder was a great voice; he just isn't that any more.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

Palin has nothing to offer but bubbly recitations of talking points-- and the style of her delivery doesn't mean that she doesn't need to understand how the world works if she's actually going to improve the lot of the teabaggers who are all gaga over her. She clearly doesn't understand, nor does she appear to care about anything other than whether the speaking fees keep rolling in.

georgiahawk 7 years ago

Tom, step outside of yourself, take a good look at the person that you are defending. She is not that smart and will aspire to nothing more than being a puppet. I know that elitism is a negative characteristic in the "I am proud of my stupidity" politics of the tea baggers, but, think about it, do you really want her to be the pres? Would you be proud of the image she portrays to the rest of the world? Would you feel safe with her decision making skills?

I do not fear Palin, I fear the stupidity of those that would think that she has what it takes to be pres! This is not junior or senior high school where you make fun of the smart kids, this is real life with real consequences. I may be an elitist in your world, but I don't want the stupid running our country, I want the best and the brightest!

Randall Barnes 7 years ago


BorderRuffian 7 years ago

Perhaps Palin came off as having less experience or direct knowledge of many of the things that Gibson and Couric used to crucify her with. What amazed me, however, was how quickly she learned. It matters less to me how well a person's resume appears; it matters much more to me a person's potential to adapt, learn, and bring good ideas to fruition.

Our nation's politics have gotten to the point where there is so much less interest in doing what is right, using good common sense, and getting out of the politics-as-usual rut than there is in consolidating power in one or the other partisan party and driving out their opponents.

Palin said, "“And then I do want to be a voice for some common-sense solutions. I’m never going to pretend like I know more than the next person. I’m not going to pretend to be an elitist. In fact, I’m going to fight the elitist, because for too often and for too long now, I think the elitists have tried to make people like me and people in the heartland of America feel like we just don’t get it, and big government’s just going to have to take care of us."

It's about time! There is way too much elitism in government and politics, too much of the good old boy/girl system, and not enough honest efforts to actually streamline government, down-size it a bit, and make it work for he ordinary citizen.

Perhaps Palin's vulnerability is that she doesn't come off across as hard-nosed, hard-bitten, shrewish, and dangerous - like perhaps Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. Personally, I see that as a quality. I want someone I can relate to, who just might have the ability, having not grown up among the blue-blooded elite, to understand the issues of the type of folk who actually do make up the vast majority of Americans - the common folk who work for a living, raise kids, and perhaps do indeed play soccer or hockey.

BO came into office proclaiming, "Yes We Can," and quickly shifted to whining, "It's not my fault." He came into office touting change as his byword, and now lays his inability to bring change - even with a Democratic supermajority - on the backs of everyone who has come before him.

I'd support Palin who might seem less flashy, but who really could go "rogue" with politics as usual, and get to the business of representing real Americans.

Besides, she's hot!

Ricky_Vaughn 7 years ago

TomShewmon (Tom Shewmon) says…

Palin now has the looney left in a state of neurosis. Expect the attacks from them to go off the charts. We just saw one with the obnoxious feminist, Eve Ensler suggesting Palin is dumb and had not 'fully evolved'. Yes, the left will organize a massive and nasty campaign against Palin henceforth like never seen before. Their obsession with her has turned to outright fear.

It's your personal obsession with the woman that scares me, Tom.

Ricky_Vaughn 7 years ago

rando1965 (Anonymous) says…

paulin would do better than the illeagle we have in office now.atleast she is american made.

That makes you one of those crazy "birthers"...

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago


So Palin is for "common sense" and against "elitism," even though she fails to tell us specifically what that means-- or give us anything else but empty soundbites.

How is that any better than "hope and change?"

meggers 7 years ago

I don't see how anyone who watched the speech could come away thinking Palin is presidenital material. Even setting aside the fact that she had to write her core issues on her hand, in order to remember them, she came across as stilted, catty, lacking substance, and downright immature. Using non-words like "lamestream", "hopey", and "changey" strikes me as anything but presidential.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

The correlation between those who supported Dubya right up to the bitter end and those who think Palin is presidential material is likely somewhere in the upper 90% range.

BorderRuffian 7 years ago

Meggers: you bring up an interesting point - the appearance of being "presidential." What exactly does "presidential" mean, how does it benefit America to appear "presidential," and just when did this apparent image of American Royalty become more important than having the substance to make wise presidential decisions?

somedude20 7 years ago

TomShewmon (Tom Shewmon) says… "Palin now has the looney left in a state of neurosis."

you can keep her because a) she is not very bright b) can not lead toilet paper to her bum c) not very good looking d) that voice, good god! e) lady is shady

Hope you follow her long walk off a short pier

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

"just when did this apparent image of American Royalty become more important than having the substance to make wise presidential decisions?"

No one fits the definition of "American Royalty" more than George W. Bush, and he clearly lacked the substance to make wise decisions. Nothing Palin has done up to now exhibits any particular substance, either.

And while Obama clearly has plenty of the right substance, it's not at all clear yet that he is using it to overcome the big-money, corporate corruption that pervades nearly all levels of government, particularly in Washington.

puddleglum 7 years ago

TomShewmon (Tom Shewmon) says…

Palin now has the looney left in a state of neurosis.

more like a state of euphoria!

that gosh darn looney left is in the white house-you betcha!

Please God, please give the republican presidential ticket to sarah palin.

I will never make fun of shew-shew I will be nice to others I will vote republican from now on I will join great white hopes Once I become govenor, I will excuse Brownback for all of his embarrassing behavior. I will send Phil Kline to high school also.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 7 years ago

"Palin is perhaps the most visible Republican in the land"

And as one who has historically voted Repubican, that concerns me. The GOP better find someone else. Her only chance at the White House is if Obama doesn't lift us out of this recession in four years.

ferrislives 7 years ago

rando1965, what's an "illeagle"? Is he a type of eagle that I haven't heard of yet?

jaywalker 7 years ago

Wow. Couldn't stomach reading any more after half way through that heinie-smoochin' column. Haven't seen nor heard about it, maybe Palin showed well in Nashville, but come on! Is all that gloss really justified? That's the fluffiest piece I've ever read on her, way over the top no matter how 'good' she appears to Broder.

ferrislives 7 years ago

I think that it's great that Palin is the purported leader of the GOP/Tea Party. As long as the GOP focuses all of their attention on Palin, instead of focusing on a more intelligent choice such as the newly elected Senator Scott Brown, they'll be doomed when it comes to Independents and Democrats.

On a lighter note, here is the Palinism of the day:

"But ultimately what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy." --Sarah Palin, explaining the $700 billion government bailout of Wall Street to Karie Couric, CBS News interview, Sept. 24, 2008

geekin_topekan 7 years ago

Palin=Britney Spears meets the Aryan nation. I do hope she runs,God that would be hilarious!

Shew and BarryP. and a handful of others style, is what the democrats have to look forward to if she runs. That is, plenty of cheap shots and no stance on anything other than what is already law.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

"Palin=Britney Spears meets the Aryan nation."

Best description I've heard yet, geekin.

beatrice 7 years ago

"Please God, please give the republican presidential ticket to sarah palin."

I couldn't disagree more. I want Republicans to be smarter than that. Our nation needs Republicans to be smarter than that.

I'm also quite convinced that the "hopey changey" thing is working out for us far better than more of the same or whatever the message was coming from McCain / Palin.

Finally, consider that she had to write the words "Energy," "Tax Cuts," and "Lift American spirits" on her hand! How does a populist politician not know those ideas off the top of her head? And she actually had to consult her hand in a Q&A session! Democrats won't fix all the nation's woes, and some Republicans will get into office. If Palin is truly the best Republicans have to offer, then we really are just screwed.

somedude20 7 years ago

rando1965 (Anonymous) says… "paulin would do better than the illeagle we have in office now.atleast she is american made"

you sir are not only dumb but stupid as well. rock on with your bad self

cowboy 7 years ago

Oh good lord , Palin is dumber than a bag of hammers

tolawdjk 7 years ago

Populism works for her because nothing else does.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

That makes no sense, comrade-- Malcolm X was likely murdered by the Nation of Islam. Or are you saying the Obama is suicidal?

beatrice 7 years ago

“paulin would do better than the illeagle we have in office now.atleast she is american made”

We have a sick bird in office right now?

CRR, snappy comeback. However, you know that Malcolm X actually was, for a time, a member of the nation of Islam, don't you? Are you trying to say that Spears is actually a member of the Aryan nation? I don't believe that to be true.

Also, the President of the United States of America spells his first name Barack, with a "c". Thought you might want to know how to spell our President's name, since you so often post on political stories. We wouldn't want you appearing to be a complete fool. (If you need to write it on your hand so you remember it, feel free. We won't tell anyone.)

ralphralph 7 years ago

I don't think Palin's populism is a "theme", but a voice that is speaking for the millions of people out there who are not Harvard lawyers, who are working their butts off and getting farther behind, and who know enough to realize that they are being screwed, but don't necessarily know enough to figure out who is screwing them or how.

President Palin? Wow, I don't think so.
A place in the debate for a populist voice? Sure.

I don't understand the vigor of the attacks on Palin, unless she really is landing more punches than I would have thought likely.

anon1958 7 years ago

Man I hope no one stops the Palin express. The world needs all the unintended irony and humor it can scrape up.

There is also the huge advantage that as long as Palin exists we can ridicule her and then by extension we are also poking fun at people like shewmon and the comradredneckrooster.

It is just more efficient to have high profile morons like Palin to kick around and remind us that for every Palin there are a few hundred thousand idiots that back her up and delude themselves that some kind of revolution is on the way and they will have a meaningful role in it.

sfjayhawk 7 years ago

Thank god we have palin around, without her there wouldn't be many people in politics to laugh at. She is a total spectacle of hilarious ignorance! Its actually hard to distinguish between palin and the reality tv programs that allow white trash to embarrass themselves for the worlds consumption.

Shane Garrett 7 years ago

In these times 'I'll keep my God, my freedom, my gun and my money. The rest of you can keep da change!

BorderRuffian 7 years ago

Porch_Person writes: "Barack Obama isn't “half-Arab”. He's American (caucasian) and Kenyan."

Dual citizenship?

(laughter and guffaws)

As far as I know, since he was born in Kenya, and there is no record of Naturalization, he still IS Kenyan.

O, how I yearn for the days when presidents were 100% American and not Kenyan and American, or ANY other conbination.

georgiahawk 7 years ago

Porch, don't waste your time on Comrade's stupidity. You can tell she doesn't have the brains to construct an original thought. Once I saw how long her rambling went on, I scrolled down. Not once have I ever read anything she had to say and thought that it was well thought out.

Paul R Getto 7 years ago

Roland Martin has an interesting perspective on some of her recent comments, particularly how she picks and chooses who can use the word 'retard.' Apparently Pilonidal Cyst (aka Rush L. ) can and others cannot. Can't provide the link, but it's pretty easy to find the column.

jimmyjms 7 years ago

Sarah Palin isn't scary. It's the idiots that would hand her the keys to the car that are scary.

salad 7 years ago

Well, she's a nutty nut, that's for sure, but if the same sheeple who handed us 8 years of Bush/Cheney-frat-boy-govt. give us a Palin administration, then the country deserves what it'll get.

EXks 7 years ago

Paris Hilton-Palin, that gift of gab that keeps on giving...LMAO!!!!

Regressvie evolution, Palintology, glen beck tin foil hat syndrome, the holy trinity of the gop

a_flock_of_jayhawks 7 years ago

The polls now show how the "populist theme" is "working" for Palin.

All I could ask is that she keep up the "good work".

jaywalker 7 years ago

"Sarah Palin isn't scary. It's the idiots that would hand her the keys to the car that are scary."

That's true and it made me laugh. Good one, jimmy.

meggers 7 years ago

I agree, Paul. Her hypocrisy is stunning. Here's Stephen Colbert's take on the r-word fiasco:


yourworstnightmare 7 years ago

Palin is a sloppy, angry, selfish populist. Just like the populists of 100 years ago. The populists that the GOP fought against.

The GOp's embrace of populism will be their continued downfall.

As David Brooks pointed out, populism can win battles, but it will not win the war. It will score points in arguments but will not carry the day.

Palin is having her populist moment now. Let's see where shee is two years from now.

yourworstnightmare 7 years ago

For Palin and many republicans, it is about the campaign, not about governing.

Republicans are extremely good at campaigning and getting elected, using their angry populism.

They can't govern for beans, though. Chiefly because they are not interested in governing. If Palin was truly interested in governing, she would not have quit midway through her term as Alaska governor.

EXks 7 years ago

In Paris-Hilton Palin's world, anyone that made it out of the 6th grade is an elitist know-it-all!

Regressive evolution, Palintology, glen beck tin foil hat syndrome, gop's holy trinity

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years ago

Palin is not dumber than a bag of hammers. My hammers are a whole lot smarter. She belongs to a party that pushes family values, and is globe trotting around spewing her "youbetcha" drivel.

She has a small child at home and a daughter that has a small child with no husband.

Family values????????

She was elected to lead the State of Alaska and crapped out on her electorate.

She was very responsible for John McCain losing the election, sensible people are terrified at the notion of "President Palin"

She can see Russia from her porch.

There is not enough "lipstick" to hide her colossal incompetance at nearly everything.

And some people want her to be president??

The sky is falling!!!!!!!!

Tom is actually dumber than that bag of hammers.

She is actually dumber than a pile of dirt and rocks.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years ago

New Poll!!! 71% of Americans feel Palin is unfit to be president

59% have an unfavorable opinion of Palin

I stick with my pile of dirt and rocks theory, Tom

ralphralph 7 years ago

What does a vice-president do? Whatever it is, if Biden and Quayle can do it, it's not really worth doing.

The dearth of alternatives on the right of center is alarming.

a_flock_of_jayhawks 7 years ago

There's really nothing to worry about with flash-in-the-pan Palin. About the worst she can do politically is sit at the sidelines and make dumb comments like she is now. She's proven that she can't run a successful campaign for national office, practically throwing everyone under the bus that works with or for her in a heartbeat. There's no way she could put together a leadership team much less lead it. I'd say that she might be able to bag a congressional seat, but she'd have to move out of Alaska to do that at this point.

Nothing more to say about her. She'll either move on to something else or fade away.

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

"She's going to be around for as long as the looks hold out and she'll make a lot of money."

She's 46 & will be 47-48 when, and IF, she runs for President. The bloom will be long, long, long off that rose by then and all the makeup and plastic surgery needed to keep her plausible will not be a pretty sight.

mr_right_wing 7 years ago

I will not vote for Obama, and I cannot vote for Palin...someone else please step forward before it's too late!

Let me just kindly say this; Sarah, you have a family at home, go to them....didn't being a Govenor rob you of enough time with them?? Priorities.

beaujackson 7 years ago

The president's cabinet, chief of staff, & other appointments are critical for a quality govt.

Obama has an "F" in this category.

He is now the laughing stock of most world leaders.

The Emperor has no clothes.

Too bad for the USA

Paul R Getto 7 years ago

"She's 46 & will be 47-48 when, and IF, she runs for President. The bloom will be long, long, long off that rose by then and all the makeup and plastic surgery needed to keep her plausible will not be a pretty sight." === Some truth to that; as I've said, if she looked like Golda Meir, we never would have heard of her. Fox News can have her; that's where she will do the most good and make the most money.

BorderRuffian 7 years ago


Tsk, tsk, tsk. In a former remark I made, I merely took from what you already stated, then followed your (admittedly flawed) reasoning to its conclusion. And YOU call ME racist. Shame on you. You fail in your argument, then resort to false characterization. Shame! Dispute and argument here is welcome, even when heated. Name calling and false characterization is inappropriate and gives you the appearance of being small-minded and childish. I trust that is not the case.

And to follow up on another remark of yours that somehow missed the mark - by a lot, I note that the appropriate definition from Websters that best describes "elite" in this particular context is: "3.a group of persons exercising the major share of authority or influence within a larger group: the power elite of a major political party."

The way "elite" has been used throughout this discussion has to do with a group of persons who, through access to greater resources and power, exerts a powerful influence over the rest of the larger group, often with an air of entitlement and superiority.

Equally disturbing is your own use of the word: "elite means the best." Perhaps when used in reference to Olympic athletes, but when used in the political context, elite is being referred to as the "ruling class," of the wealthy and empowered. You betray your own sentiments with your own definition. If we should be ruled by the elite, "the best," the inference strongly suggests that the rest of us are of less than equal status and are therefore of little regard. You labeled me earlier as a 'racist,' yet, that is exactly the attitude you portray in regarding ANY American citizen as of less than equal status.

To label a group of people, or individuals as elite or "best" says that you consider them better than everyone else, perhaps even classifying yourself among those, and that the rest of us are peons of little regard.

Again, shame on you.

BorderRuffian 7 years ago

porch_person (Anonymous) says…

"BorderRuffian, Just say that you weren't aware of what “elite” means. No need to work up a long-winded rationalization. We're not going to believe it anyway."

So you do not deny you are racist AND elitist?

(laughter and guffaws)

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