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Jewish World Review
Sept. 30, 2008
/ 30 Elul 5768
Let Palin be Palin
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
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 less-appealing facsimile served up by
his handlers. "Let Reagan be Reagan," they would urge, confident that
the man himself 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, Senator Joseph Biden. The outcome - and the
fate of the GOP ticket - may turn on whether her handlers "Let Palin be
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 over three decades, as has the senior Senator
Understandably then, Sen. 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's Katie Couric which demonstrated the perils of
trying to give her an overnight public policy make-over, 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 McCain was properly taking his rival to task for the latter's stated
willingness to meet without preconditions with the leader of Iran, Obama
retorted that one of the Republican candidate's own senior advisors, Dr.
Kissinger, had recommended such engagement. The debate corkscrewed into
a "no he didn't," "yes he did" stand-off whose upshot was that Kissinger
apparently doesn't think the next U.S. president should meet with
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but does believe that his administration should
hold meetings with other representatives of that genocidal maniac's
That's pretty much what Messrs. Obama and Biden are saying now. Heaven help the
nation - and the Republican ticket - if the choice between McCain and Obama turns
out to be which of the minions of our time's Hitler we seek to appease, 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, Dr. Kissinger has staked out positions in
recent years that are not only indefensible. They are much more similar
to the stances embraced by the Democratic ticket than those of Gov.
Palin's running mate.
Take for example, Russia. Kissinger - whose consulting firm has long
had commercially lucrative relationships in Moscow - has for years urged
accommodation with Putin and his kleptocracy, even as it systematically
stifled democracy at home and increasingly threatened it abroad. (In an
earlier era, Kissinger justified appeasing the Kremlin with détente
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 séances with the former Secretary of
State. It would be disastrous for Gov. Palin to endorse it, especially
since her running mate has taken so much more robust a stance towards
the Kremlin, both before and after its invasion of Georgia.
Then there is Dr. 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, Gov. 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
Governor 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.
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JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Comments by clicking here.
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