Sarah Palin’s Presidential Strategy, and the Economy She Depends on

sarah palin winkMonday night, Sarah Palin watched from the audience as daughter Bristol danced on ABC. Twenty-three million other Americans joined her from their homes. Tuesday, the former vice-presidential candidate started a 13-state book tour for her new book, “America By Heart,” which has a first printing of 1 million. Her reality show on TLC, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” is in its third week. Last Sunday she was the cover story in the New York Times magazine.

It’s all part of The Palin Strategy for becoming president in 2012 — or 2016 or 2020.

Republican leaders don’t believe it. “If she wanted the Republican nomination she’d be working on the inside,” one influential Republican told me a few days ago. “She’d be building relationships with Republican Senators and representatives, governors, and state party officials. She’d be smoothing the feathers she ruffled by backing Tea Party candidates. She’d be huddled with GOP kingmakers.” When I suggested she has a different strategy, the influential Republican smiled knowingly. “That’s how it’s done – how McCain, Bush, and everyone has done it. That’s the only way to do it. But all she really wants is celebrity.”

The Republican establishment doesn’t get it. Celebrity is part of The Palin Strategy – as is avoiding the insider game. She doesn’t want to do what Huckabee, Pawlenty, Gingrich, or Romney have to do. She has an outside game.

Palin’s game plan is directly related to America’ white working class, and the economy it faces – and the economy it’s likely to continue to experience for years.

No prospective candidate so sharply embodies the anger of America’s white working class as does Palin. And none is channeling that anger nearly as effectively.

White working class anger isn’t new, of course, nor is the Republican Party’s use of it. Apart from the South, where the anger came in response to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the more widespread working-class anxiety began in the late 1970s when the median male wage that had been rising for three decades began to stagnate.

As I noted in “Aftershock,” families responded by sending wives and mothers into the paid workforce, working longer hours, and then, finally, going deep into debt. These coping mechanisms allayed but did not remove the growing anxiety.

Over the years, Republicans have channeled the anxiety into anger, through overt appeals to a so-called “silent majority” that were overlooked by Democrats and liberals; through “tax revolts” by working and middle-class families that couldn’t afford to pay more; and in subtle and not-so-subtle appeals to racist fears (Willie Horton).

But now that the Great Recession has eliminated the last coping mechanism – ending the easy borrowing, and ratcheting up unemployment – the working class’s economic insecurities have soared. A recent Washington Post poll showed 53 percent of homeowners worried about meeting their mortgage payments. Home foreclosures have slowed largely because of bad paperwork on the part of banks, but the threat remains. Housing prices are still dropping.

The white working class has not benefitted from the recent rise in corporate profits and stock prices. To the contrary, both have been fueled by foreign sales of goods made abroad and by labor-saving technologies that have allowed American companies to do more with fewer workers here at home.

Joblessness among the white working class is far higher than the 9.6 percent average for the nation. While the unemployment rate among college grads (most of whom are professionals or managers) is around 5 percent, the average unemployment rate for people with only a high school degree or less (blue-collar, pink-collar, clerical) is almost 20 percent.

All of this is spawning a new and more virulent politics of anger in the nation’s white working class, stoked by Republicans – anger against immigrants, blacks, gays, intellectuals, and international bankers (consider the latest Fox News salvos against George Soros).

According to the right-wing narrative, the calamity that’s befallen the white working class is due to the global and intellectual elites who run the mainstream media, direct the government, dispense benefits to the undeserving, and dominate popular culture. (The story and targets are not substantially different from those that have fueled right-wing and fascist movements during times of economic stress for more than a century, here and abroad.)

Sarah Palin has special appeal because she wraps the story in an upbeat message. She avoids the bilious rants of Rush, Sean Hannity, and their ilk. But her cheerfulness isn’t sunny; she doesn’t promise Morning in America. She offers pure snark, and promises revenge. Over and over again she tells the same snide, sarcastic, inside joke, but in different words: “They think they can keep screwing us, but (wink, wink), we know something they don’t. We’re gonna take over and screw them.”

The Palin Strategy is to circumvent the Republican establishment, filled as it is with career Republicans, business executives, and Wall Streeters. That’s why her path to the Republican nomination isn’t the usual insider game. It’s a celebrity game – a snark-fest with the nation’s entire white working class. Vote for Bristol and we’ll show the media establishment how powerful we are! Buy my book and we’ll show the know-it-all coastal elites a real book directed at real people! Tune into my cable show and we’ll show the real America – far from the urban centers with immigrants and blacks and fancy city slickers!

As I believe will become clearer, the Palin Strategy will involve a political threat to the GOP establishment: Deny her the nomination she’ll run as independent. This will split off much of the white working class and guarantee defeat of the Republican establishment candidate. It will also result in her defeat in 2012, but that’s a small price to pay for gaining the credibility and power to demand the nomination in 2016, or threaten another third-party run in 2020.

Once nominated, her campaign for the general election will be purely populist. She’ll seek to broaden her base to become the candidate of the people, taking on America’s vested Establishment.

More than anything else, the Palin Strategy depends on the continuing fear and anger of America’s white working class. She’s betting that their economic prospects will not improve by 2012, or even by 2016 and beyond.

Sadly, this is likely to be the case. On Tuesday, the Fed issued a gloomy prognosis. Even if the U.S. economy began to grow at a rate more typical of recoveries than the current anemic 2 percent, unemployment won’t drop to its pre-recession level for 5 to 7 years. A minority of the Fed thought this was too optimistic.

The disturbing truth is the bad economy is likely to continue for most Americans beyond 7 years — maybe for ten or more — because of a chronic lack of aggregate demand. Apart from inevitable inventory replacements and the necessary replacements by consumers of cars, appliances, and clothing that wear out, nothing will propel the U.S. economy forward. So much income and wealth have now concentrated at the top that the broad middle and working class no longer has the buying power to do so. The top will resume buying but their purchases won’t be nearly enough.

Japan lost a decade of economic growth after its real estate bubble exploded. It seems entirely probable that the United States will suffer the same fate. Our economic structure – how we now allocate the gains of growth, the yawning gap between Wall Street and Main Street, the incentives operating on large corporations to pare American payrolls and expand abroad – almost dictates it.

Robert ReichWe might change that structure, of course. But at this point that doesn’t seem in the cards. The President seems unable or unwilling to provide the clear narrative that explains what’s happened and what needs to be done, and Republicans are at this moment ascendant.

It all fits into Sarah Palin’s strategy.

Robert Reich

Republished with permission.


  1. says

    Robert Reich assumes Palin, Huckabee, Pawlenty, Gingrich, or Romney are likely to be in the primaries in 2012. Obviously,Reich is HOPING Palin will be a candidate.

    We will be in the same situation as we were in 1996 with Republicans controlling the purse strings of America with a Democrat President running for re-election. The “outside” candidate was Pat Buchanan in 1996. He did not make it out of the primaries.

    Palin is a potent force and an anathma to the collectivist socialist insiders like Robert Reich. Palin represents a desire for self-governance. That is the over-riding motivator in the TEA Party, not some mythical/ideological class war Robert Reich engages from his solipsistic world view.

  2. Joe Weinstein says

    Mr Larimer’s useless sarcasm about Mr Reich unfortunately exemplifies the frequent thinking of many people of ALL ideological persuasions. They can’t take yes for an answer from anyone who they view as an ideological opponent. Especially if their own dogma proclaims that, no matter what Reich actually says, by definition he must be a generic kind of person who never gets anything right: in this case, an out-of-touch intellectual leftist.

    But in fact Reich actually AGREES with Larimer’s assessment that Palin is a ‘capable fearless woman’, and that indeed her CAMPAIGN is proving it, in fact is proving it more capably than are campaigns of other Republicans.

    The question for the country and government is though what she is actually ‘capable’ for, and exactly what is she ‘fearless’ toward, in relation to problems not of CAMPAIGNING but of actual GOVERNANCE. Maybe it’s too intellectually elitist for Mr. L and many others to grasp, but agreeable campaign speeches and tactics do not equate to knowledge, skills and competencies for governance.

    • says

      Mr. Weinstein,

      If only the American Left had examined Barack Hussein Obama’s real core beliefs, instead of being impressed by his campaigning, eh?

      I think before encouraging conservatives to make these evaluations – we did and based on that we knew precisely why Obama would be disastrous for America – Weinstein would be wise to instruct his progressive (Humanist) fellow travelers to be a little more discerning next time around.

      Skin color and teleprompters do not a president make.

      • says

        Mr Larimer,

        I agree that teleprompters and skin color do not an effective president make.

        I also quite agree with your ‘if only’ wish for ‘the American Left’. But I disagree that it’s a job for just ‘the Left’ or indeed any other single faction to be the first (or only) to inquire into and discern each leading candidate’s ‘core beliefs’. We’ve all got to do the challenging homework in the same short available time. And even a full knowledge of discernible ‘core beliefs’ on ideology (‘leftist’ or ‘rightist’ or other) may turn out to be scarcely relevant when we are forced to choose between candidates.

        What counts is less a candidate’s alleged ‘core beliefs’ and more the recent record on what he or she apparently will do in response to real-world demands and challenges. In this regard, thanks to their Senate performance in regards Bush’ Iraq war, by mid-2008 both Hillary Clinton and John McCain came across as hopelessly subservient yes-guys, whereas Obama seemed capable of better.

        Even so, I agree that Pres. Obama IS a disaster. However I don’t recall that conservatives told us clearly and correctly WHY Obama would be a disaster.

        Indeed the disaster that I see owes little to Obama’s discernible core ‘beliefs’. It owes a lot more to his blind egotism and his rejection at the presidential level of a common-sense approach for dealing with real people in the real world.

        According to most of the noise pro or con Obama from either left or right, Obama has a big agenda. ‘Leftists’ praise Obama for his alleged agenda, and they blame nasty opponents for frustrating it. ‘Rightists’ damn Obama for his alleged agenda, and they find it ‘socialist’ and thereby evil.

        Contrary to both versions of this ‘Obama’s agenda’ story, the past two years’ record, one of flipflops and endless pre-compromises, shows that Obama has no consistent agenda at all about real stuff that matters to the country!

        One early hint occurred when candidate Obama endorsed, then later rejected, a commitment to campaign finance limits. Pres. Obama’s stimuli and financial controls were lackluster – either too much (if you figured there were no real problems) or far too little (if you looked hard at the problems). A year ago, Obama at Copenhagen was all for controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Just three months later, he was all for more emissions by burning more oil, and – more than that – extracting the oil in the environmentally riskiest way, deep-sea drilling. One month later the Big Spill was embarrassing, but (as of today) all supposedly will be OK if BP customers cough up extra bucks for the US Treasury (not necessarily for the spill’s human and other victims). Obama’s been grandstanding for nuclear non-proliferation, but meanwhile has been going through pseudo-tough slow motions in order to be sure to give Iran, N. Korea and others enough time and incentive to develop their own nuclear arsenals.

        In the real world, ordinary people try to base their assessments of others on what those others actually do. Ordinary people recognize and support friends, recognize and oppose opponents, and as needed defend themselves. As ordinary people see it: some people do have intransigeant opposing opinions that you can’t sweet-talk them out of; and some people do have nasty intents toward others, do commit aggressions, and do have to be stopped by timely force, or at least by timely credible no-bluff threat of force. As ordinary people see it, when you keep changing your story, or when what you do fails to back up what you say, you are not credible.

        All of the above common-sense has been rejected in Obama’s foreign policy as well as in much of his domestic policy.

        Don’t misunderstand. Obama HAS pushed an agenda, his own personal agenda to get an acknowledged place in history – and the profitable trappings thereof. He did get his Peace Prize and then afterwards (like Arafat) went on to keep throwing his people’s bodies into pointless conflicts so that history must also anoint him a ‘war time leader’. And for sure he’ll eventually get an impressive Presidential Library, and Institute, and Memorial.

  3. says

    Wow Robert Reich! You are so enlightened! Except I think you’re forgetting what just happened in electoral politics.

    You do realize that the whole liberal/progressive/Humanist agenda was just dealt an enormous setback, and that the voters largely agree with the beliefs of Sarah Palin?

    Just what is it about Sarah that explodes progressives’ heads?

    An independent, strong woman? I thought libfolk loved that? Or maybe they hate her because instead of just chanting the Humanist worship word of ‘Choice,’ she chose not to kill an innocent unborn baby because of a ‘defect,’ and instead gave the child life and love?

    Are you terrified of Sarah because she is a qualified, experienced politician, as opposed to a campus radical turned community organizer who never ran a lemonade stand? Palin has been a business owner, Mayor and Governor. Hussein Obama trained some ACORN workers. Woo hoo!

    Or maybe Sarah grates on libfolk because she does not pretend to be some messianic figure like the Bamsta, reading from a teleprompter with his nose in the air, telling the rest of us how we should live?

    Is it possible progressives shudder at the thought of Palin because she understands that when you create a massive hole by spending money you don’t have, the solution is not digging an even deeper hole by printing and spending even more money?

    Sarah understands that no nation ever taxed itself into prosperity, and she has pointed out that ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,’ didn’t work out all that well for the collapsed Soviet Union.

    I know that part of the allure of being a progressive is preening about ones own intellectual superiority, and since Sarah has no pretensions and does not try to speak like the Ruling Class, she is anathema to the Left.

    But really, all this fear and hostility toward a capable, fearless woman.

    I guess this is how progressives ‘celebrate diversity’, eh?

    I do not prefer Sarah Palin for the presidency. I am liking Michelle Bachman, or Lt. Col. Allen West

    But it is starting to appear to me that although they pretend to encourage women and minorities to take part in America, progressives are actually bigoted and racist.

    The ‘tolerant’ crowd is revealing itself, and old white guy Robert Reich just help to point that out.

  4. Jay Levenberg,Esq. says

    Palin doesn’t have a strategy other than to make money. I doubt she would have given up the gig in Alaska if she were actually going to run for President. I look for her to stay on the sidelines, being coy for as long as possible. She will probably endorse someone as time goes along. She makes a lot more money out of the Presidency with no headaches. I can’t believe she thinks she could win either.

  5. -Nate says

    If America votes this good looking dim bulb into office again , _anywhere_ , they’re going to get the drubbing they deserve .

  6. Beverly Franco says

    As long as the media continues to report of what Sarah Palin is doing, she will keep doing it. I think she’s loving the attention and it fits into her agenda. Eventually, we’ll all probably start believing she’s the best thing since sliced bread, even when we know in our hearts its flim-flam.
    Each time we compromise our stand, our values, we take ten steps backward into continued compromise and we wind up backing ourselves into the corners we find so objectionable.
    When a child is having a tantrum and there is a power struggle going on, we can walk away or give the attention they are seeking by their behavior.
    My point? I don’t want to hear anymore about this family. I’m not interested and could care less. To date, it hasn’t improved my life, one iota.
    thank you


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