Wednesday, February 24, 2010
IS SARAH PALIN THE 2012 VERSION OF JESSE JACKSON IN 1988?
So asks Peter Brown on the Wall Street Journal's blog:
"Sarah Palin would probably blanch at the comparison, given their widely divergent world views, but these days her political profile looks quite similar to the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s just over two decades ago.
Simply put, the two emerged as political and media celebrities backed by exceptionally strong support within the most ideological wing of their respective political parties. But both also carry substantial political baggage with the much larger numbers of American voters who decide November elections.
That profile made the idea that Mr. Jackson had a serious chance to win the presidency unrealistic. Ms. Palin’s poll ratings are actually lower than Mr. Jackson’s were then. And doubts about her ability to broaden her support past the true-believers, as numerous as they may be, raise the same questions about her chances in 2012.
To be fair to the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, her base within the Republican Party is larger and more influential in primaries than Mr. Jackson’s was a generation ago in the Democratic Party.
Nonetheless, the electorate today sees Ms. Palin much like it once viewed Mr. Jackson.
Transition to the Mainstream
He was a well-known civil rights leader who had made the transition to the conventional political mainstream in 1984 with a presidential campaign. She was a former small-state governor who zoomed to national political prominence when GOP nominee John McCain selected her as his running mate.
Current poll data show that more than seven in 10 Americans don’t think Ms. Palin is qualified to be president, including a majority of Republicans. But she commands strong loyalty among the grass-roots conservatives who have great sway in GOP presidential primaries.
Polling data two decades ago, asking voters whether they thought Mr. Jackson was qualified to be president, showed even fewer viewed him as Oval Office material.
Mr. Jackson was the candidate of the Democrats’ liberal wing and the first major African-American aspirant to seek the White House. He could count on firm support from black voters, who made up 15% to 25% of the primary vote in most of the major states, and some support from white liberals.
Ms. Palin, the candidate of the populist conservative wing of the GOP, has captured the support of many in the “Tea Party” movement characterized by anger at Washington, D.C.
Tugging to the Left – or Right
The fear among Democratic strategists in the ’80s was that Mr. Jackson would drag the party too far left through his primary candidacy, and God forbid what would happen should he actually win the presidential nomination. Many in the GOP hierarchy have similar fears about Ms. Palin.
Looking back today, the worry that Mr. Jackson might grab his party’s nomination seems out of the question.
But it is worth remembering that in the 1988 primary fight for the Democratic nomination, the contenders were often referred to as the “seven dwarfs” because of their collective lack of name recognition, and belief by some that none of them could be a good general election candidate.
That’s not unlike the current assessment of the potential 2012 GOP presidential wannabes in some quarters. Like Mr. Jackson in those days, Ms. Palin often leads the polls among contenders for the nomination because she is by far the best known.
Ms. Palin’s situation is somewhat different because at this point the idea she could win the 2012 GOP nomination does not strain credulity with many people. Still, her position reminds the rational analyst of mother’s teaching that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”