Saturday, July 11, 2009

Words matter

I thought about writing something Sarah Palin's curious decision to resign as Governor of Alaska. Then Peggy Noonan came along today with this column from the Wall Street Journal.

It's a pretty thoughtful bit of writing, as usual. I don't always agree with what Noonan has to say, but she usually makes a good case. In this instance, I'm not sure I buy the line about the left and the media overplaying their hand with attacks on Palin's children. I don't think of either of those institutions as monoliths, and most of the criticism I heard was about some conservatives' reaction to the news about Palin's teen daughter (as in, good for her for having the baby rather than criticizing premarital sex).

Even so, Noonan does mention in passing the problem that Palin has had in expressing principles and opinions about the state of the world. That raises an interesting question.

When was the last time the Republican Party had a Presidential candidate that you would drive a good-sized distance to hear speak?

I would submit it was Ronald Reagan in 1984. Let's look at what we've had since then. George Bush ran in 1988 and 1992. Dana Carvey's impression was a show-biz version of Bush's speaking style, but it's fair to say Bush rarely inspired. If you've ever read a text of a Bob Dole speech from 1996, you know how badly he could come across. George W. Bush's problems with the language are well-known. John McCain wasn't too bad when he was shooting straight early in the campaign, but he did become a little programmed and less interesting later on.

The two best speakers the Democrats have offered in that time period are Barack Obama, who clearly knows how to put together a sentence, and Bill Clinton, whose brainpower usually was on display when he talked. Clearly the Democrats weren't overloaded with speechmaking talents in the past quarter-century. John Kerry, Al Gore and Michael Dukakis were not exactly William Jennings Bryan when it comes to speech-making. Without that edge, they might not ever have won an election.

There has been plenty of talk about how the Republican Party has to come up with some new ideas (most of this talk has come from the center and left, of course). There's always another side of the story that can be told. I'm starting to think that the identity of the party's leadership may come down to who is doing the telling.

If the Republicans can find someone out there who can express a proposed direction for the party and the country, he or she just might be able to grab the nomination for President in 2012. My guess is that such a person is operating under the radar at the present time, which means he or she is not named Romney, Huckabee or Palin.

That person will have a chance to "invent" himself or herself right before our eyes. Palin did that and did that badly in 2008, and she is almost certainly not going to be able to change the image she first projected as something of a lightweight. If you want to know what a burden that image can be, ask what Dan Quayle is up to these days.

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