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The Gipper on Sarah Palin

From “An American Life“, by Ronald Reagan:

I believe that we are going to have a woman president, possibly during my life, and I’ve often thought the best way to pave the for this was to first nominate and elect a woman as vice-president. But, I think Mondale made a serious mistake when he picked Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. In my view, he guessed wrong in deciding to take a congresswoman that almost nobody had ever heard of and try to put her in line for the presidency. We have many successful woman governors around the country who have demonstrated the potential  to serve as president, but he overlooked them. I think if the Republicans had done this with a Jeane Kirkpatrick (our UN representative), for example, there would have been a lot more sense to it; I don’t know who among the Democrats might have been a better choice, but it was obvious Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro simply because he believed there was a “gender gap” where I was concerned and she was a woman.* I don’t think they picked the most electable woman.

(*emphasis is Reagan’s)

I don’t know what to make of this in the current milieu. And, at the risk of starting another Palin grass-fire of the type that Erick Erickson has so recently conflagrated, I think it is merely instructive to ponder President Reagan’s writings.

What is interesting about this was that Reagan was famous for instructing his subordinates not to consider the political ramifications of decisions when formulating policy–that’s what elections were for–and yet he ends his remarks about Ferraro with an over-the-shoulder remark about her electability. As far as I know, this is the only reference to the word in a 723-page volume. And yet, there it is.

Reagan also says a woman governor would make a good choice as a running mate, and yet suggests Jeane Kirkpatrick as a good choice, who was at once both never a governor, but also a Democrat (even serving on the national Platform Committee as late as 1976) for most of her adult life at that point. Furthermore, Kirkpatrick was never elected to a darned thing, which, again, brings up the “electability” question. How would Reagan know if Kirkpatrick was electable when she’d never stood for election?

People, by 1984, certainly had heard of Jeane Kirkpatrick, in contrast to Geraldine Ferraro. But, people had heard of Sarah Palin before she was asked to run with John McCain in 2008; In fact, I wrote a letter to the Republican National Committee right after McCain sewed up the nomination indicating that the only way I would continue sending donations (after the disastrous selection of McCain as the nominee) was for McCain to select her specifically as his running mate. And, I’m from Michigan, for heaven’s sake.

I’d been following Palin’s career for a while at that point (at a time when Google searches for “Sarah Palin” turned up about 80,000 hits), and she seemed like a natural fit, given her clear traditionalist viewpoint, her experience in beating entrenched, good-old-boy pols with her own guts and gumption, and her expertise on energy issues (-which the feckless John McCain had shredded with his own version of Cap and Trade and Tax and Tax). At the time, we were facing gasoline at $4 per gallon, and she was rip-roarin’ for opening up portions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for gas and oil extraction.

And, I admit (with the natural marketing man in me) I liked the Arizona-Alaska potential, and I thought Palin was the physical counterpart of the old-white-man McCain, who, at that point in the election season, seemed almost certain to pick Charlie Crist of Florida, who seemed positively tan by comparison.

I’d watched Palin debate with her Alaska political opponents for the 2006 Governors race, and she seemed poised, well informed and articulate. Alaskans must have agreed, and she was elected by a comfortable margin, both in the primary, and in the general election of 2006. She was clearly a winner.

Less known to me then, and now, is her leadership ability as an executive over a large, administrative post. But, clearly, there is more “there” there than the example Reagan gave in Jeane Kirkpatrick. And since that time, Sarah Palin has become a one-woman media juggernaut, making more of a name for herself in twelve months than Ronald Reagan did in eight years on GE Theater.

As I say, I don’t know what to make of Ronald Reagan’s remarks about a woman’s candidacy for President. By the time he wrote those words, he was remarking more about Mondale’s selection, than about women candidates in general, and how Mondale’s choice of Ferraro was more of a response to a perceived weakness in Reagan, than as a specific addition to Mondale himself.

But, as with most things political, it is important to look at your wristband with the “WWRD” inscribed on it: What Would Reagan Do?”

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