At critical moments before and during Ronald Reagan's
presidency, his admirers would urge that he be allowed to be himself -
rather than the far less authentic and appealing facsimile served up by
"Let Reagan be Reagan," they would urge, confident the man would
fare well if left to his own talents and judgment. Time and time again
that proved to be the case as his common-man qualities, native
intelligence and utter decency allowed him to connect with and secure
the support of the American people.
This lesson is worth recalling now, on the eve of a possibly make-or-break vice presidential debate between Republican Sarah Palin
and her Democratic rival, Sen. Joseph Biden. The outcome - and the fate
of the Republican ticket - may turn on whether her handlers "Let Palin
To be sure, there are powerful factors arguing for doing otherwise.
While the governor of Alaska has more executive experience than Barack
Obama and Joe Biden combined, she is a relative newcomer to many
national and certainly international issues. While her state's
geography, energy resources and role in the national defense give her a
grounding - by osmosis, if nothing else - in some of the most important
foreign and security policy issues of the day, she has not been
dabbling in and debating them for more than three decades, as has the
senior senator from Delaware.
Understandably then, Sen. John McCain's campaign has sought to give
his running-mate a crash course in the sorts of issues likely to
feature in the Palin-Biden debate on Thursday night. They have largely
kept her away from the press, with the notable exception of interviews
with ABC's Charlie Gibson and CBS' Katie Couric, which demonstrated the
perils of trying to give her an overnight public policy makeover, one
that threatens to serve her, her party and the country poorly.
Of particular concern is the prospect that her head is being filled with the nostrums of one inveterate handler, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
The risks of channeling the man Ronald Reagan ran against in 1976 as
much as he did Gerald Ford was on display during Friday night's
presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama.
As Mr. McCain was properly taking his rival to task for the latter's
stated willingness to meet without preconditions with the leader of
Iran, Mr. Obama retorted that one of the Republican candidate's own
senior advisers, Mr. Kissinger, had recommended such engagement. The
debate corkscrewed into a "no, he didn't," "yes, he did" stand-off the
upshot of which was that Mr. Kissinger apparently doesn't think the
next U.S. president should meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but does
believe his administration should hold meetings with other
representatives of that genocidal maniac's regime.
That's pretty much what Messrs. Obama and Biden are saying now.
Heaven help the nation - and the Republican ticket - if the choice
between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama turns out to be which of the minions
of our time's Adolf Hitler we seek to appease, Heinrich Himmler or
Unfortunately, Iran policy is not the only place where the common
sense and moral clarity that Sarah Palin seems fully capable of
bringing to bear - the sort of clarity that was the very essence of
Ronald Reagan's personal approach to security policy -would be
imperiled by her eminent mentor. On two other issues, Mr. Kissinger has
staked out positions in recent years that are not only indefensible but
much more similar to the stances embraced by the Democratic ticket than
those of Mrs. Palin's running-mate.
Take for example, Russia. Mr. Kissinger - whose consulting firm has
long had commercially lucrative relationships in Moscow - has for years
urged accommodation with Vladimir Putin and his kleptocracy, even as it
systematically stifled democracy at home and increasingly threatened it
abroad. (In an earlier era, Mr. Kissinger justified appeasing the
Kremlin with detente because he was convinced the Soviets were going to
win the Cold War.)
The Bush administration, to its shame and now regret, followed the
advice proffered in innumerable seances with the former secretary of
state. It would be disastrous for Mrs. Palin to endorse it, especially
since her running-mate has taken so much more robust a stance toward
the Kremlin, both before and after its invasion of Georgia.
Then there is Mr. Kissinger's endorsement of the idea of U.S.
denuclearization. He has lent his name and prestige to an initiative
that would, as a practical matter, make the world a much more dangerous
place since our enemies will surely not follow our example if we get
rid of our nuclear arsenal. Here again, as with Iran and Russia, the
Kissinger position is closer to Barack Obama's than to John McCain's.
It is certainly not consistent with the national interest.
From here on out, and most especially Thursday night, Mrs. Palin
should be herself. She doesn't have to know everything and shouldn't
pretend she does. What she needs to communicate is that - like Ronald
Reagan and, for that matter, like Harry Truman - she will bring to the
job her native American common sense instead of some establishment
pedigree and lousy judgment. (See Andy McCarthy's devastating critique
of Joe Biden).
Mrs. Palin, use your platform on Thursday to embrace American
exceptionalism, defend our sovereignty and promise to build our
national power and to employ it wisely in defense of both. The public -
if not the policy establishment and the media elite - will embrace you,
as they did the Gipper. Just let Palin be Palin.