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What Palin Gets Right

Jonah Goldberg brings up a great point about the much-discussed statement Sarah Palin delivered yesterday. It was “actually the most robust, unapologetic defense of vigorous democratic debate and the American system we’ve heard from any politician since Saturday.”

Since Saturday? Actually, what really was scary about the statement was that its robust defense of America felt practically retro. For example:

Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength. It is part of why America is exceptional.

No one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent, and we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults.

Part of the reason Palin’s faults get so much attention is because a multicultural, post-everything media considers her strengths so passé. Her conviction in American exceptionalism doesn’t even have to be proved wrong to be denounced; it merely has to be highlighted, like a fashion don’t. It’s part of her perceived yokelism.

Too bad it’s precisely what the country needs right now. Since the recession hit and national morale tanked, President Obama has doggedly tried to convince Americans of the uniquely bad times we’re in; this lowers expectations and keeps blame at bay. If this is “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” how can we be impatient about recovery? But in the long term, this message is self-defeating. Potential lenders and investors hear the president go on and on about our being close to the brink and are cured of any impulse to risk capital. (On his Asia trip, he tipped his hat to the new formidable economic challenges coming from the East and cured overseas investors of the same inclination.) Promoting the meme of an overburdened, unexceptional America merely serves to prolong our woes.

Palin’s great asset, acknowledged or not, is that she not only believes in American exceptionalism; she recognizes it as the solution to our problems. Yesterday’s statement is a case in point: partisan sniping seems too vicious? Simply recall that America is nothing if not an ongoing passionate argument about the relationship between citizens and their government. Current flare-ups are dwarfed by our country’s history of animated disagreement.

If Obama would turn to American exceptionalism instead of American catastrophism, he’d attain the most important aspect of crisis leadership, which has eluded him his entire presidency: inspiration. Just imagine if he met the challenges of the recession and unemployment not by pointing out the severity of our circumstances but rather by praising America’s unique history of opportunity, innovation, and free-market principles. Americans no longer need to be reminded of the overwhelming nature of our problems. We need to be reminded of the character of our ideals and how those ideals become, in practice, defining triumphs. When Sarah Palin does this, the message gets lost in tabloid noise. If Obama did it, he might finally see that ever-elusive comeback — for the country if not himself.


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