Hold on to your hat: the dean of conventional Beltway wisdom, David Broder, proclaims that we should “take Sarah Palin seriously.” Oh my! But she knows nothing, says Chris Matthews. She plays to the racist Tea Party crowd, bellows E.J. Dionne. She’s a dope and a bimbo, proclaims the Beagle Blogger. Nonsense, says Broder:
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.
Could it be that, as Broder says, “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'”? Uh … yeah. Broder suggests that those inclined to mock her should start paying attention. And that advice he aims squarely at the White House sneerers: “Those who want to stop her will need more ammunition than deriding her habit of writing on her hand. The lady is good.”
This sort of unconventional-conventional wisdom is precisely what drives the Palin haters up the wall. Stop taking her seriously! Remember the Tina Fey parodies — she’s a joke! Her critics have gotten used to the luxury of a shared assumption among “serious” pundits that Palin is not ready for the big leagues. They’ve become accustomed to deriding her with cheap jokes and snide references. But along the way, they stopped listening to her and watching how the trajectory of her political development tracked the emergence of a grassroots, anti-statist movement. In their haste to denigrate her gig on Fox, they missed her new-and-improved sound-bite-polished TV delivery. Now along comes the dean of the Beltway to tell them: you guys have been asleep!
Palin is not yet a declared candidate. She has many obstacles to overcome and many skeptics to win over. If she runs, she will face contenders with more business and executive experience and less baggage. If she is to become the nominee of her party, she will need to develop not just a boffo speech but more discipline and a set of serious policy proposals. But she has several years to do all that. For now, she’s winning newfound respect by those who are actually paying attention to what she is saying and how she is saying it — and not merely to the size of her breasts or the notes on her hand. And for a candidate whose biggest challenge is to be taken seriously by skeptics, that is no small thing.