It’s the question above all others to those of us known as “movement” conservatives: Is it possible that John McCain’s new vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, is the long-awaited savior of conservatism? Is she someone who can assume the mantle of Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan? Or is it possible that she can jumpstart the movement without being another Reagan?
A lot of us have been waiting — and hoping. Those of us with radio shows have assured anxious listeners that someone is out there — a true believer with a passion for conservative thought and ideals who is also a great communicator. Some of us put our hope in the young governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. Some have looked to a few upcoming members of Congress – such as Sen. Jim DeMint who consistently ranks as the most conservative member of the Senate. Or to Sen. Tom Coburn who irritates his fellow senators by openly combating pork barrel spending.
Some of us have just crossed our fingers and hoped that some Reaganesqe someone was about to pop onto the scene with unquestioned conservative principles and a record to match. And then, McCain chose Sarah Palin.
To understand the euphoria that some of us conservatives feel, you have to understand the fullness of our depression in the days after McCain secured the nomination.
Most of us “movement” conservatives don’t see our political point of view as nothing more than a way to run the government; we see it as a way of life. We like to be frugal in our spending, make logical decisions about our future, be responsible for our own lives and well-being – in short, we buy in to the Jeffersonian concept of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. We don’t need a lot of help from the government. We simply want it to protect us from foreign threats and do a few other things that the Constitution says it should do.
So when John McCain ascended to the leadership of the Republican Party — pretty much as the last man standing in an exceedingly weak field — many of us were ready to throw in the towel. I even wrote a column espousing the view that four years of Obama would make the country miserable, but would force a new conservative movement. After all, the “white haired dude” of Paris Hilton videos was not a true conservative at all — much less a part of any movement.
The weird thing about all this was that the Democrats had their “movement” guy in Barack Obama – someone promising “change” and “hope.” But while Obama with his deep roots in the Chicago political establishment promised change, his policies indicated otherwise. Obama would take the country back to the days of Jimmy Carter, but so what? The young people and minorities that adore him don’t see it that way. They see a young, good-looking orator that has become a cult figure.
Conservatives don’t think like that. They want a fresh face, too. They want someone on the ticket who is young and good-looking like Obama but they demand substance. True conservatives want Ronald Reagan in a 21st-Century body. A woman? A minority? No problem. Just give them hope for a post-McCain, post-status quo Republican Party that can get the nation back on track.
And then the white haired dude pulled the Palin nomination out of his hat like a magic rabbit. The nation didn’t know her but many conservatives did. Along with Bobby Jindal, she was the talk of talk shows for months prior.
But the speculation was all about Joe Lieberman and Tom Ridge. Ridge, like McCain, represented the old guard of the GOP and he was pro-abortion. Movement conservatives saw him as a major step into the past — the same old same old. Lieberman would have been worse. The future of the Republican Party is going to lie with the vice presidential nominee and to make that nominee a liberal ex-Democrat would have demoralized the base.
But McCain pulled the surprise. Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood hit the ceiling. So did MSNBC and the rest of the establishment media. They wanted Lieberman or Ridge — certainly not an attractive woman with a record of reform, and one who happens to be a better orator than Obama.
Palin isn’t perfect and she’s no Messiah. But she doesn’t have to be. She just needs to be who she is. That just might be good enough to resurrect the conservative movement.