Sarah Palin headed toward the podium to keynote an IT Conclave conference on Saturday in India when the moderator, invoking his best Lee Corso, told Palin “not so fast.” The moderator was not finished with his introductory remarks, and Palin sheepishly sat down.
When it was her turn to come up to the podium, Palin, on the fly, apologized for “being a step ahead.”
It was a funny improvisation because Palin is often one or two steps ahead of her detractors and critics.
She focused on energy policy, about how America’s debt, particularly the notes China holds, puts the country at risk, about the interconnectedness between India and America in not only a cultural sense but in the arena of energy security, and used Mother Teresa as a broader metaphor to fundamentally stand for the protection of life.
Of course, Palin also talked about India’s history of strong women leaders, and was coy about her intentions for 2012 while noting that America was ready for a woman president during the question and answer session that followed her address.
Should she choose to run for President, these themes will be teased out more, with added layers of substance on top of that which was evident in India.
I wanted to use this space, though, to explore a broader theme that I noticed during this speech, which made me think that Palin, should she run for the GOP nomination and win, could appeal to a broader — and more diverse — general election electorate, which political analysts who trade in conventional wisdom are convinced would be her greatest handicap.
Palin told her audience that she “grew up in a very small town, perhaps like some of you (though half-a-world-away)” that was “far from the avenues of political power.” Palin talked about “Pioneer Peak,” one of the mountains close to her home that is a symbol of the pioneering spirit of the frontier and Alaska, referred to as “the last frontier.”
She then linked the frontier spirit, which loathes centralized bureaucracies, to India’s rise. Palin said that she knew Indians understood this “because in the early 1990′s, due to clear, commonsense, pro free-market reforms, India’s economy took off! You abolished import licenses; cut import duties; removed investment caps & broke the union’s grip on industry.”
Palin said that when government’s grip was lessened, Indians “unleashed the creativity & hard work of the Indian people; you turned away from a system where ‘central government’ sets targets for all sectors of the economy, to a system that lets the market set its own targets.”
And now, Palin continued, “people no longer speak of India as a ‘struggling economy’ as they would have 30 years ago. Today we speak of India as a dynamic & vibrant economy. You ’empowered individuals & in doing so, you’ve reminded America of the free, entrepreneurial model that made our country great, prosperous & exceptional.”
It is this theme that I think Palin could employ in a future campaign. She can remind Americans who think only central planners in the government have all the answers to look at America’s immigrants and remind themselves of what makes America exceptional. She can then call on Americans to restore the entrepreneurial spirit that is in the air on the frontier and in the blood of newly arrived immigrants to restore America to greatness.
As she told the Indian audience, though some people may want to think that America is in decline, “I completely reject this … I completely reject this! it represents wrong-headed thinking by our some friends and wishful thinking by our enemies. America’s demise has been predicted before. It didn’t happen then. It won’t happen now.”
Palin then said that, “when people realize even the briefest glimpse of this freedom & opportunity – even a hint that they can succeed through honest hard work – they run towards it! They embrace the promise of ‘better days ahead!’ They will sacrifice today for a better tomorrow for their children & grandchildren. With individual responsibility, drive & determination, they will work together to carve a life for themselves out of the wilderness! They’ll voluntarily contribute to help their neighbours even those half-a-world-away!”
And this, according to Palin, is the “optimistic and pioneering spirit of America’s frontier. That’s the spirit of India’s progress too.”
Palin continued, “America has long been famous for our rags-to-riches stories. Now India is, too. Take pride in this – it’s inspiring! Together, as the worlds’ largest democracies, we are a testament to the positive force of human aspirations.”
Palin was linking the American experience, particularly that of her frontier, to India’s in the speech. Such a message, in the future, can be used to link Palin’s experience as a frontierswoman to the experience of immigrants for whom America is still the ultimate frontier — it’s a free market oriented message that can withstand a potential primary without losing its shelf-life for the general election.