Fluency is as Important as Policy in Future GOP Candidates
Political junkies just can’t help it. The next presidential race has already begun. With “Palin 2012” bumper stickers sweeping the Lower 48, the enthusiasm for a Governor Sarah Palin candidacy continues unabated. And what a snow machine ride it was! From the First Dude to moose hunting and designer eyeglasses, it’s been fun. As thousands of members of Team Sarah can attest, the affection and enthusiasm for Ms. Palin is undeniable and well deserved. You betcha, her campaign rallies electrified the base. Yup, she has become a GOP star. Darn right, Palin fans cheered as Sarah held her own in the V.P. debate against wily old D.C. “Can I call you Joe?” Biden. Saturday Night Live member Tina Fey’s dead-on impersonation of Palin drew record ratings; little wonder, then, that SNL showcased Sarah 2012 T-shirts. There is no question that the cast of SNL would view another Palin candidacy as manna from heaven. So would Jan Leno and David Letterman. Ditto Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Why? Following the Couric interview, a “Palinism” is now defined on the web as, “The combined use of logical transposition, misconjugation, repetition, and stock phrase insertion when answering a straightforward question.” While it’s true that every candidate is going to be scrutinized, Governor Palin seemed a particularly juicy target. And doggone it, as much as I hate to say it, that is a big red flag.
If Republicans are serious about winning, we are going to have to be ruthless in our appraisal of potential candidates. While a caribou-hunting woman is appealing, a 2012 Republican victory depends not only on embracing the correct policies, but on the selection of the most convincing candidate available who can promote those policies. “Eloquence” is not an adjective that many use to describe Senator John McCain or Governor Sarah Palin. And that is a problem.
Emotionally, Sarah Palin connects with conservatives. Nor can anyone seriously question her intelligence. Her assets, however, are negated by of her awkward communication. And the GOP cannot endure another campaign cycle with a substandard communicator for a candidate. It wouldn’t be fair to our constituents. Eight years of President Bush, and one Katie Couric interview, have taught us that the hard way.
If there was even a shred of doubt before this presidential election, no one can now dispute that Republicans are held to a higher standard than Democrats. Typical media types studiously ignored President-Elect Obama’s gaffes, including his reference to 57 states; Vice President-Elect Biden was a veritable gaffe machine. No matter. They are Democrats; they get a pass. Fairness has gone out the window, and Republicans must deal with it. No use whining. GOP candidates must be top notch, above reproach, articulate and fluent. If they misspeak, their message gets lost in translation. And boy, oh, boy, did Republicans lose their message this time around. The difference between Sarah Palin and Ronald Reagan is a whole lot more than just lipstick.
For the last eight years Republicans have endured “Bushisms.” Thanks to W, we have new imaginary words such as strategery and misunderestimate. Mr. Bush’s mispronunciation of the word “nucular” has been a running joke. When Governor Palin said “nucular” twice in one interview, it was a bad omen indeed. Never mind that President Bush’s leadership has protected our homeland against another terrorist attack; his reputation is toast. Popular culture portrays George W. Bush as an object of ridicule. It is a travesty, but it is reality. History will redeem President Bush. But when Governor Sarah Palin hit the national scene, she started her very own lexicon of unique phrases and unusual sentence structures. And while folksy language may have endeared her to some, they provide irresistible fodder to the Tina Feys of the world. The Palin/Couric interview makes Dan Quayle seem like a genius in comparison. While Palin’s policies and principles rally the base, it’s not enough. We must communicate our message to the entire electorate. If we continue to choose the wrong messenger, we will continue to lose. Lipstick or no lipstick.
As Republicans jostle for position, one thing is obvious: Communication must be the number one priority. The GOP’s success depends on the candidate’s eloquence. Sure, we must go back to basics. President Reagan’s proverbial three legs of conservative policy: fiscal, social, and defense, are necessary for victory. But what good will that do if the candidate bungles the message? How can the GOP recover if every winning policy that we put forth is drowned out by ridicule and condescension from the media because of a flawed messenger? It is imperative that our candidate of the future possess the proverbial three legs of the stool plus one: fluency in communication. President Ronald Reagan was the last Republican candidate with that ability.
When Senator McCain chose Governor Palin as his running mate, we all rejoiced. She brought energy, enthusiasm, and excitement to the McCain campaign. Her policies as Governor of Alaska, such as energy independence, limited government, accountability, and integrity clearly resonate with voters. She perfectly embodies the three legs of conservatism. The question we must ask is this: Is Governor Palin able to communicate these winning policies effectively? Will her message be garbled by her syntax? Was it simply a matter of her candidacy being mishandled by the McCain staff? Or is she damaged goods for all future campaigns. Time will tell.
For heartbroken Republicans, this election was hard to swallow. From an overcrowded primary emerged an unlikely candidate in Senator John McCain. He is a true American Hero. And while we did our best to get him elected, his policies have been inconsistent. Coupled with the lack of a coherent message which was then filtered through a biased media, it is amazing that the loss wasn’t worse. One does have to wonder, though, how Republicans might have fared had their message been clear, the messenger been articulate, and the superiority of our vision been apparent? We will never know. But as we prepare for 2012, there is no question that we must learn from our mistakes. Whomever we choose for our GOP presidential candidate, whether it be man or woman, hockey mom, Hispanic, Black, Asian, or Native American, one thing is certain: he/she must be a skilled communicator, articulate, even eloquent. And he/she must know how to pronounce the word nuclear. That is the least that we should expect.
© Denise K. McNamara 2008