Oh, I know, I know: This opens me up to the hackneyed Lloyd Bentsen trope about knowing John Kennedy, and you, Sarah Palin, are no John Kennedy… To which, one hopes, she would answer, “You’re right. I never cheated on my spouse, got involved with the Mob, and my Daddy never bought me a Pulitzer Prize.”
But, the analogy is this:
JFK created a whole new set or rules, a whole new road-map to the Presidential nomination of his party in 1960. And, we may be witnessing the same thing, fifty years later, from Sarah Palin.
John Kennedy went after the Vice Presidential nomination in 1956, in a failed attempt to be Adlai Stevenson’s running mate. It wasn’t so much that he was unsuccessful (the nomination went to Estes Kefauver instead), but what he learned along the way in setting himself up for his parties’ Presidential nomination in 1960.
What he learned was this: The grandees of the Democrat Party would not, under any circumstances, allow a Catholic on the national ticket. The Dixie-crats in particular where antipathetic. But, even the East Coast Elite found the young JFK too much to take: Elanor Roosevelt, in particular, found him loathsome (as, among other things, the second son of the then-reviled Joseph Kennedy), calling him “that little piss-ant”.
Believe me, pre-1964, you went absolutely nowhere in national Democrat politics without the blessing of Elanor Roosevelt. Think of her (before her death) as Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, Barack Obama, Pinch Sulzberger and John Kerry all rolled into one big, fat ball of influence.
This put the entire power structure of the old New-Deal bosses out of reach to Senator Jack Kennedy. Now, remember, this was in the days before the ubiquitous state primary elections. Roughly half the states chose their nominee based on a caucus of the party bigwigs, New York in particular. Chatting up the friends of Elanor Roosevelt called for the retail politics that JFK and his family money had a hard time acquiring. So, JFK, having learned that his resources were better spent on the Wholesale politics of advertising, media manipulation and advance men, focused instead on the Wholesale politics– the popular elections held in Primary states.
Prior to JFK, most serious presidential politicians rather avoided the primary states. They accounted, at that time, for a minority of the delegates, and it made the election season somewhat longer and much more expensive. It required actual campaigning, movement, travel and advertising– things most presidential aspirants in the mid 20th-century had little of. JFK changed all that. Among other things, Jack Kennedy was the first to introduce the phenomenon of his own Campaign Jet, the “Caroline”. He could go as easily between Washington and San Francisco as Hubert Humphrey could go from Madison to Milwaukee.
Kennedy by-passed paying attention to Roosevelt and her tong. Instead, he spent his time in Wisconsin and West Virginia, slurping up chits in the form of donations to local races, and flooding the field with advertising and public relations. Hubert Humphrey complained that going up against JFK and his money made him feel like “a mom and pop grocery store going up against A&P”. These were the two states with early significant Primaries, and he knew he’d have a shot in heavily Catholic Wisconsin, which came first on the slate, and a week later in West Virginia, where his World War Two veteran status would come in handy. If he could make a big stink out of winning these primaries early, he’d have a shot at convincing the party leaders in the other, non-primary contests.
He won both states handily, and changed forever the way the public, and the party big-shots, looked at presidential primaries. And Elanor Roosevelt was politely shown the back of the bus.
* * *
Sarah Palin knows that any conservative won’t get an even break in the national press and media. She knows they despise not only her –and they show their contempt gleefully and openly with Sarah– they hate all conservatives. So trying to suck up to them can only lead (sooner or later) to any conservative’s Katie Couric moment. It is assured.
So, in watching her in the news coverage over the last forty-eight hours, we might be witnessing a “revolutionizing” of the way the whole process is done–; Just like JFK.
Just as JFK knew he’d never get the Elanor Roosevelt gang on his side, and he would thus have to figure out how to get the nomination without it, Sarah Palin knows she can’t use the old routes that involve the national press and media. They are off-limits to her. She must plow a new and untrod road.
I have sense, too, that this might be all very deliberate, cunning, and months in the planning. And in this thought process, she might actually be ten steps ahead of all the other potential candidates.
If I were her, and had the name recognition, the league upon league of mis-perceptions, and the financial and personnel resources, I think I might try to fashion a similar approach– that is, something that up-ends the way a nominee is chosen in totality.
In especial, I find it fascinating that all the Ed Gillespies, and the Karl Roves, and all the other antique professional party-men had already decided she wasn’t running because she was evidently eschewing the fifty-year old nostrums that simply everyone must follow to the nomination. It reminds me of the Polaroid people telling everyone not to buy a digital camera because you’ll need a computer to use it: They couldn’t see the future while it was happening in front of their faces.
Wouldn’t it be fascinating, though, to see Sarah Palin completely revolutionize the way a candidate connects with the public, and change forever the 2-year long process of finding a nominee. I don’t know what she’s got up her sleeve, but, I will say this:
It could be damned fun to watch, especially if she leaves the national, old-geezer media gasping for air in her wake… Just like Elanor Roosevelt was left by JFK back in 1960.