Fire In the Belly

On Thursday’s edition of her Fox News program On the Record, Greta van Susteren asked Sarah Palin if she had the “fire in the belly” lacked by Mike Huckabee, who took a pass on making a presidential run last weekend.

“My problem is that I do have the fire in my belly,” replied Palin.  “I am so adamantly supportive of the good traditional things about America and our free enterprise system.  And I want to make sure that America is put back on the right track, and we only do that by defeating Obama in 2012.  I have that fire in my belly.”

An incandescent belly can prove useful in many ways for someone who wants to influence the race without declaring a candidacy, but it’s absolutely vital for anyone who wants to throw their hat into the ring.  Palin cited the personal trials facing candidates and their families, and the unpleasant “necessary evil” of fundraising.  One should also bear in mind that defeating Barack Obama in 2012 will not be enough, for that will begin an even more bitter struggle against the system he defends, and that system does not shy from a little collateral damage in its fight for survival.

Palin sees the Republican Party’s principles as “sound,” but the “idio… syncracies of some of the characters within the party… well, they are what they are.”  I just know she was about to say something other than “idiosyncracies” there.  Check out the video over at Conservatives4Palin and listen to her say it.  Note to self: memorize that word for future interviews.

Palin defended the “appropriate role” of the media as providing “context” and holding candidates “accountable for their records” by holding their “feet to the fire.”  Belly fire is good, but foot fire can really mess up your ability to run for high office.

There was a rather notable example of the media pouring context all over Newt Gingrich last Sunday, and the ensuing week should serve as an object lesson for how not to deal with it.  If you’re a Republican, you’re going to face a tough media landscape, and your past statements will be used to construct an unhappy “context” for your campaign.  Prepare for that now, instead of complaining about it later.

If you’ve got the proper level of fire in the belly, even a past filled with contradictory statements should not be too much of an obstacle.  Gingrich said he used to be wrong about “individual mandates” and has changed his mind, but he couldn’t re-create his intellectual journey upon demand. 

There is a natural perception that someone who is passionate and sincere about such a profound change of heart would think long and hard about why he used to be wrong, and would therefore be unruffled by the sudden deployment of an old sound bite.  He shouldn’t be thrown off balance when asked to recall the terms of a debate he already had with himself.  Saying “everyone used to think that way” isn’t good enough.  Why was “everyone” wrong?

Primary voters are probably even pickier about this than the general electorate.  They are more attuned to suggestions of insincerity, especially when they have so often felt forgotten or betrayed by previous candidates.  Today’s Republican primary voters are not interested in a carefully negotiated surrender to bankruptcy… but there are popular forces which led us to the current crisis, and it would be foolish to think they will be easily dispelled.

Palin recalled Gingrich telling her earlier this year to “slow down and really think through” what she has to say.  That was sound advice.  A good, hot, enduring fire in the belly must be stoked carefully.