Skip to comments.Palin Is No Puppet: Just as Cheney didn't control George W. Bush, the neocons don't control Sarah
Posted on 04/09/2010 10:56:44 AM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
Of the many unflattering caricatures of Sarah Palin that litter the political landscape, the notion that she is a dummy or a puppet -- a mere figure for manipulation by a superior brain -- is probably the most prevalent. She has even been given a mock "endorsement," bestowed in a YouTube video by the so-called Ventriloquist Dummies of America Association, for her supposed likeness to an inert object of play.
So let's just say this at the top: Palin is not anyone's puppet. It is not true for her, just as it was not true for George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and a long list of politicians who have been accused of having their strings pulled by one puppet master or another.
The image of the politician as puppet is among the oldest tropes in American politics. When William McKinley ran for president in 1896, political cartoonists had fun sketching him seated on the knee of Mark Hanna, a reputed Svengali of that era. No less a figure than John Adams, the Republic's second president, came to believe that George Washington, as the first chief executive, had been a puppet of the conniving Alexander Hamilton, Washington's brilliant Treasury secretary. Perhaps Adams's judgment was influenced by his wife, Abigail, who once wrote of Hamilton, "O, I have read his Heart in his wicked eyes many a time. The very devil is in them."
But on this point, history's verdict is clear: Successful politicians are almost never anyone's dummy. Although it sometimes takes the passage of time and the release of documentary evidence to establish that judgment, there is virtually no case of such a figure proving true to caricature -- an empty vessel, a stick figure, a parrot.
Such portraits invariably have more to do with the manner in which ill-informed or biased journalists, jealous rivals, and self-promoting advisers mischaracterize the political figure in question than with reality. "Think about this: People sometimes think they are having an effect [on the politician] when they are pushing on an open door," noted political scientist Fred Greenstein, the author of a 1982 book on Dwight Eisenhower, The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader, that demolished the widespread belief that Ike was a lazy, figurehead president.
Now comes, predictably, the insistent rendering of Palin as a puppet, a portrayal that flies in the face of evidence that she possesses deep, if not always well-informed, personal convictions about America's role in the world. This criticism extends well beyond the political-humor crowd. It is at the heart of an anti-Palin narrative, peddled by cognoscenti in the media and foreign-policy elite, that depicts her, in patronizing fashion, as profoundly inept, like a small child unable to function without adult guidance. A typical example is Palin's increasingly belligerent tone on confronting a nuclear-weapons-seeking Iran. In adopting the view that the U.S. may one day have to bomb Iran to keep the mullahs from gaining nukes, Palin is said to be doing the bidding of the same camp of neoconservatives who campaigned for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
"Isn't it a little scary to have someone like Sarah Palin speaking words put in her mouth by ideologues?" MSNBC's Chris Matthews asked rhetorically on his show, Hardball, in February. In a recent Washington Post op-ed column, Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International and host of the CNN show GPS, said that Palin was picking up her idea to "declare war on Iran" in a confused fashion from Daniel Pipes, a neocon analyst on Middle East affairs. Zakaria parenthetically added, with a heavy sigh, "It's getting tiresome to keep pointing out her serial gaffes, but Palin does appear to be running for president."
They Did It To Reagan, Too
Even within Republican circles in Washington, there is a school of thought that Palin is a "blank page," a tempting device for would-be handlers, as a former Bush staffer told a British journalist. This impression is fed, if inadvertently, by supporters who labor too hard to vouch for her intellectual credentials. Thus, in a blog posting, the veteran GOP hand Fred Malek offered this description of Palin's performance at an Alfalfa Club dinner of Washington VIPs to which he had invited her: "It was great to see her in deep conversations with people like Alan Greenspan, Madeleine Albright, Walter Isaacson, and Mitch McConnell. For sure, nothing shallow about this lady."
Washington's impression of Palin as clueless harks back to what was once a standard Washington perspective on Reagan as "an amiable dunce," as he was memorably called by the Democratic "wise man" Clark Clifford at a party in Georgetown in 1981, the first year of the Reagan presidency. Like other "politician-as-puppet" criticisms, that one has failed to survive careful scrutiny. A rough consensus has emerged that Reagan was a conviction politician who was sometimes misinformed and often passive but who, on the big issues, knew exactly where he wanted to go.
"That misperception [that Reagan could be easily manipulated] was at the core of the underestimation of Reagan" by his critics, Lou Cannon, a prominent Reagan biographer, noted in an interview. Cannon, who covered his presidency as The Washington Post's White House correspondent, blames the media, in part, for this portrait of Reagan, whom he credits with having a "very high emotional intelligence and a very high interpersonal intelligence" -- a keen ability to read people and situations -- if not a high logical or formal analytical intelligence. "I think those of us who make our living with words, we tend to underrate people who have emotional intelligence," Cannon said.
To put it another way, political figures who can be verbally clumsy or who may seem dumb, as intelligence is conventionally judged by those with high SAT scores, may be smart where it really counts; they may well possess inner convictions that make them anything but easy to manipulate. Palin, having gotten as far as she has in a tough racket, the arena of politics, deserves not to be dismissed as a dolt but rather to be studied for what seems to be working. "My guess is that probably she is doing a lot of the string pulling," Lewis L. Gould, a McKinley biographer, said in an interview. "Often, the candidate fools you," he noted, observing that in the case of Hanna and McKinley, who was twice elected to the White House before being assassinated in 1901, "there was no doubt who was in charge. Even Hanna recognized that McKinley was on top."
The Republican As A Dummy
A subtext of the criticism of Palin, who quit her job as Alaska's governor before completing her first term and is a favorite of the anti-establishment "tea party" movement, is that the GOP is capable of little better than elevating to political prominence a leader who appeals to the least mentally equipped of the party's Neanderthal base. Thus, the attack on Palin as a puppet follows close on the heels of the incessant criticism by Democrats, and especially liberals, that Bush was little more than an ex-alcoholic frat boy, even if he did attend Yale, who was willing putty in the hands of one of the darker and more adept political masterminds ever to inhabit the White House -- Dick Cheney, aka Darth Vader.
Was W. really Vice President Cheney's tool? The available evidence suggests that Cheney's influence was at a maximum in the first term, especially after the 9/11 attacks. Taking advantage of Bush's lack of interest in policy details, Cheney operated by keeping him in the dark as long as possible on key decisions, such as warrantless surveillance of suspected terrorists, as recounted in the book Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, by Barton Gellman, a former Washington Post reporter.
But as Gellman noted in an interview, Bush, even in his first term, did not hesitate to go against Cheney when the VP was advocating what the president viewed as a politically losing proposal. Although Cheney pushed hard, he could not get Bush to agree to a plan to inoculate all Americans against smallpox in the event of a biological attack. Bush could not stomach the idea that some people would likely die from the vaccine.
"Bush really was the decider," Gellman said, with Cheney working on the "broad scope of Bush's authority." This dynamic became clear as the president gained experience and lost confidence in Cheney's political judgment. Bush ruled in favor of civilian trials for terrorism suspects, against the continued use of waterboarding, and in favor of the release of some Guantanamo prisoners to their home countries -- with Cheney on the opposite side of each of those major decisions, as he now ruefully acknowledges.
Bush was stubborn as Sarah Palin appears to be stubborn. Take, for instance, her relentless pushing as John McCain's running mate in the 2008 campaign for the McCain team to send her to Michigan to take on Barack Obama there. Stubbornness may or may not be a virtue, but it is certainly not a trait seen in puppets. "She has never listened to established opinion on anything," Matthew Continetti, author of a sympathetic book on the former governor, The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star, said in an interview. "What political adviser," he asked rhetorically, "would have advised her to resign her office" in Alaska? Going Rogue, the title of her best-selling memoir, may indeed be an accurate, if shrewdly calculated, description of her political character.
Sarah Palin's Convictions
Palin's alleged ignorance of the world beyond U.S. borders is vouched for in Game Change, the best-selling book on the 2008 campaign by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, by no less a source than Steve Schmidt, McCain's senior strategist. "She doesn't know anything," the book quotes Schmidt as telling a pair of foreign-policy aides, Steve Biegun and Randy Scheunemann, who were charged with the task of "tutoring" Palin on foreign policy after McCain picked her as his running mate. The reader is told how Palin, with the use of "study aids" -- namely, 5-by-7 index cards -- manages to digest the rudiments of global geopolitics, much like a high school student cramming for a test.
One problem with this depiction is that Schmidt, whether that quote came directly from him or from someone else, is not an objective source -- he repeatedly jousted with Palin during the campaign, and post-campaign, the two have clashed bitterly in their self-presentations to the media. The bigger problem is that Palin, notwithstanding her deficiencies in knowledge, is not without a set of beliefs about the United States and its global mission.
Convictions can come from books but also, and usually more powerfully, from life experience. One formative influence for Palin is Alaska, a huge and somewhat isolated state whose economy depends on trade with the outside world. "She is intuitively a free-trader," said one Palin policy adviser with extensive exposure to her thinking.
The adviser also said that Palin, who was not born into wealth or privilege and is accustomed to being underestimated, is instinctively drawn to a mission for a powerful, big-stick America as a protector of small states that live in rough neighborhoods, such as Israel. Although that is a standard neocon position, this source attributed Palin's perspective to her ingrained character as a "pull for the underguy" person. She "doesn't like to see a nation bullied," the adviser said, adding that Palin is not, as is sometimes said, "a religious wack job" with an affinity for the Jewish state as the setting for the second coming of Christ to Earth. "I think she has a real connectivity to the spirit of Israel. Not theological; geographical and character-based, what the Jewish people had done," the source said.
This mind-set, the adviser continued, also extends to Palin's view, popular in neocon circles and promoted vigorously by McCain, that NATO should be expanded to include the former Soviet republic of Georgia, a fledgling democracy, historically dominated by Moscow, with a largely pro-American population. In August 2008, with the U.S. presidential election just three months away, Russia exploited a border clash as a pretext to invade and thrash Georgia, as Washington stood by helplessly. In an interview on ABC News at the time, Palin publicly called for both Georgia and Ukraine to be admitted to NATO -- even if that meant risking a future U.S. war with Russia, on the principle that an attack on one member of the alliance is an attack on all members.
"I think Sarah Palin above all is an American exceptionalist. I think she believes deeply and reflexively in American power, in American greatness, and in America's moral example. I think that influences all of her foreign-policy thinking," Continetti told National Journal.
In formulating her views, perhaps most important to Palin is the emotional support she gets from the people she can trust. By all accounts, the most important adviser in her life is her husband, Todd, the so-called First Dude of Palin's governorship, who was a very active player during her term, according to recently released internal e-mails. The two are a team, with Sarah Palin the more extroverted one and Todd rather quiet, at least in public settings, but able to speak to her from the heart. "He is definitely her anchor; he is the one who, I am sure, gives her the most confidence," said a source who has observed the couple's dynamic.
Moths To The Flame
Todd Palin, who has variously labored as an Alaska oil field worker and supervisor and a commercial fisherman, is even less experienced at politics than his wife is. If Sarah Palin truly intends to seek the presidency, she will need an able Kitchen Cabinet, a trusted cadre of professional advisers that extends beyond her husband. With polls consistently showing her in the front tier of contenders for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, she can expect to attract advisers who, with good reason or not, will believe that she can be pulled in one direction or another.
This is less because she is thought to be a malleable nincompoop -- a "My Fair Lady" for a Henry Higgins-type sculptor, in a political incarnation of the Pygmalion myth -- and more because she is believed to be going places.
All political comers attract such people -- some of whom harbor fantasies of being able to use a political figure to accomplish some grand design. Palin ought to be prepared, that is, for a Col. House -- a striking example of a type representing a cautionary tale for her.
Of Edward M. House -- he was not an actual colonel, but he astutely managed to acquire the title -- a Washington politician once said: "He could walk on dry leaves and make no more noise than a tiger." He had a supreme talent for the art of political insinuation, which he applied with such skill that his chosen target, Woodrow Wilson, once remarked, "Mr. House is my second personality. He is my independent self. His thoughts and mine are one."
Or maybe that's not what Wilson said, because the source for that comment was the House camp. As is evident from House's diaries, he regarded Wilson, elected president in 1912, as a means to an end: great achievements in world affairs. "This guy had grand ideas -- delusions -- about things he could do in the world with the right instrument," John Milton Cooper Jr., a Wilson biographer, said in an interview.
House did become an intimate of Wilson's; he was there for his grieving buddy at the death of Wilson's first wife, Ellen, in the summer of 1914, in the second year of Wilson's presidency. He helped to assemble Wilson's Cabinet and to shape the president's Fourteen Points, the terms laid out by Wilson to end the First World War. But he was never Wilson's handler, and his influence waned with the president's marriage to Edith Bolling Galt, who took a dislike to House.
Reagan, too, was surrounded by would-be manipulators, and sometimes, for all of Reagan's confidence in his vision of America, the manipulators succeeded. In his book, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, Cannon persuasively renders Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger as the orchestrator of the administration's first key strategic decision in national security policy: deployment of the MX intercontinental ballistic missile, a multiple-warhead nuclear weapon. Reagan had little understanding of the strategic or technical complexities and was swayed by a Weinberger presentation that featured a four-panel cartoon from The Denver Post on the weapon's potential to fool the Soviets -- a shameless ploy by Weinberger to appeal to Reagan's fondness for visual props. At a press conference, Reagan was unable to explain the bare bones of the reasoning behind his decision, to the "derisive laughter" of the White House press corps.
Palin is now being introduced to permanent Washington's political class by Malek, who served as a co-chairman of McCain's finance committee in 2008 and as President Nixon's special assistant for personnel in the early 1970s. He has hosted a dinner party for her, and in December, Malek and the Palins attended a Gridiron Club dinner together in Washington. In an interview, Malek, who is chairman of Thayer Capital Partners, a private equity firm, described himself as "a friend" of Palin's, not an adviser, and said he felt "very resentful" about "barbs tossed at her" by McCain campaign operatives who "lacked loyalty and chivalry."
Malek attributes Palin's enduring reputation for a lack of smarts to her disastrous interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric during the 2008 campaign, when Palin appeared to be stumped by a question asking her to name any newspapers or magazines she regularly read. First impressions can be hard to overcome, he noted, likening the prevailing view of Palin to that of the fellow who shows up for the first day of work at the crack of dawn and is forever typecast as an early riser, no matter his arrival time on subsequent days.
Whether Palin ultimately proves vulnerable to the ministrations of a Col. House-type figure will be influenced in part by her character. Is she vain? Does she enjoy flattery? Hamilton cultivated a bond with Washington, starting when he was commander of the Continental Army, not only on the basis of Hamilton's dazzling mind and extraordinary energies but also because of a world-class talent for courting men in power. "I think Washington was one of the most vain men who ever lived," John Ferling, a Washington biographer, said in an interview.
Even so, Ferling added, the wily Hamilton was by no means able to dominate Washington. The aspersions cast on Hamilton tended to come either from those who personally disliked him, such as Abigail Adams, or from the camp of his great political rival, Thomas Jefferson.
Palin's ability to select wisely from the ranks of those who seek to guide her also poses a kind of intelligence test -- the sort at which all talented politicians, if not necessarily Ph.D. physicists, excel. Reagan, again, is an inviting parallel. In suggesting that Reagan possessed a high "interpersonal intelligence," biographer Cannon was drawing on a theory of "multiple intelligences" developed by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner as a counter to the debatable idea that human beings have a single, general intelligence quotient, or IQ. There are probably many successful politicians who never excelled at academic work but who qualify as highly intelligent under Gardner's terms, just as there are prize athletes, such as basketball great Larry Bird, the "Hick from French Lick," who define what it means to have a high "bodily-kinesthetic" aptitude, as Gardner puts it.
As an adept political tactician, not to mention an accomplished point guard for the high school team that won Alaska's state championship in 1982, "Sarah Barracuda" conceivably ranks high on at least three of Gardner's intelligence types: body smart (the bodily-kinesthetic dimension); people smart (interpersonal intelligence); and self smart (intrapersonal intelligence). She may not outrank other possible Republican contenders for the nomination -- such as Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Mike Huckabee -- on a Gardner-style, multiple-intelligence test, but there is nothing to suggest that she is at the back of the pack, either.
Beware The Caricature
Caricatures are a staple of today's political culture, to the point that they often seem to define the culture itself. With her singsong voice and talents that reportedly include field-dressing a moose, Palin is easily the most tempting object of caricature on the political playing field. For Tina Fey and the gang at Saturday Night Live, not to mention the liberal sophisticates at The New Yorker and the likes of Frank Rich at The New York Times, a former theater critic, Palin is a gift for the ages.
But here, too, history's verdict is clear. Even the most talented and serious-minded of caricaturists -- for caricature can be a way of irreverently highlighting a defining trait of personality -- often get it utterly wrong. Herbert Block, known as Herblock, won no fewer than three Pulitzer Prizes for his editorial cartoons, many of which appeared in The Washington Post; but he was among those fooled by Eisenhower, whom he often rendered as a Donald Duck, doltish-looking type, led by his fiendish secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, into the quagmire of war in Asia.
As Eisenhower biographer Greenstein showed in The Hidden-Hand Presidency, Ike was a calculating leader who affected a folksy disdain for grubby politics because that seemed to be a winning ploy with the American people. In a 1952 interview with Edward R. Murrow, in the backyard of his mother-in-law's house, the general-turned-candidate said he was fed up with "these so-called political associates who have taken over" in Washington -- and then, in a gem of a maneuver, he got the family gardener to talk on camera about how the Democrats no longer deserved the public's support. The true Ike, as seen during his time as supreme allied commander in Europe in World War II, a job demanding a mastery of small-p politics, was a nervous chain-smoker who barely slept.
Palin's signature "You betcha!" might serve the same reassuring purpose -- I'm one of you -- and conceivably is just as calculated. Stylistically, she appears to be presenting herself exactly as she would like to be seen -- with little of the awkwardness of, say, an Al Gore, the Harvard grad who took to wearing earth tones in a cringe-inducing bid to warm up his remote persona in the 2000 presidential race.
Harsh criticism of Palin is not necessarily "persecution," as her sympathizers maintain. Although some of the attacks are on the loony side -- the Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan has assiduously raised suspicions that Trig is her grandson, not her son, thus making Palin out to be a brazen liar and a complete phony, on top of being an ignoramus -- so it goes in American politics. Grover Cleveland, in the 1884 campaign, endured taunts that he had fathered a bastard son.
Evidently, there is something about Palin that drives her critics crazy. But if they can pause for breath, they might take a lesson from history as to the wisdom of mocking a political figure for a supposed lack of intelligence. The caricature of Eisenhower as Donald Duck did not stop him from twice defeating, in Electoral College landslides, the cerebral Adlai Stevenson, the darling of the intellectual crowd. The Georgetown set's view of Reagan as "an amiable dunce" did not keep voters from giving the Gipper landslide wins over Jimmy Carter, a nuclear engineer known for his propensity to micromanage, in 1980, and Walter Mondale in 1984. And Bush won re-election over John Kerry in 2004 despite being pilloried as Cheney's puppet.
Whereas Democrats tend to criticize GOP figures as dolts, Republicans tend to criticize prominent Democratic politicians, from Gore to Kerry to Obama, not as dummies but as reincarnated Stevensons -- elite, egghead types out of touch with mainstream America.
As results suggest, this is not an exchange with an obvious payoff for Democrats. Palin's critics would be wise to marshal the best assault they can on the basis of her convictions -- on the substance of her vision of America and her policies for fulfilling that vision. This is unimpeachable ground for an inquest. So what if she scribbles crib notes on the palm of her hand: She's doing the scribbling, and the only really interesting question concerns what she is writing down.
What is a Neocon again?
Anyone who disagrees with you, preferably Jewish.
Some just don't have anything else.
But Cheney did control Bush from the day he selected himself to be VP.
And NeoCon Randy Scheuneman was given the job of filling her up.
NeoCon 101 can be found on several websites.
Liberals think we’re a cult - - because they follow their leaders they think we follow ours.
Sad news is that they are the cult.
I just saw her speech at the SRLC and they have reason to fear her. She is not going to shut up anytime soon.
Make that ever.
Palin is controlled by neo-cons....you do not campaign for John Hussein McCain....support Michael Steele....support Illegal Alien Amnesty....and claim that she is not “being controlled by neo-cons”
And you are a PAULTARD tool and liar.
And you are a PAULTARD tool and liar.
Sorry dear Palinstinian....you unfortunately cannot handle the truth about Palin....oh, I’m not a Paultard or whatever
Don't worry. Ron Paul will save the world (as soon as he figures how to get out of that damn straightjacket).
Enlighten us with your profound wisdom.
(Mostly to make up for that ridiculous post).
Other people just make stuff up.
A neo-con is a former liberal who has never given up their liberalism.....although they may have adopted a tenet or two of conservatism
Contrary to what the MSM says....neo-cons are not Conservatives....neo-cons are nothing more than Nearly-Coms (nearly commies)
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