Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Sarah and the Volcano

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 3/7/09

Newt Gingrich said lately that if the Republican Party doesn’t respond correctly to the President’s “monstrosity” of a budget there could be a third-party challenge come 2012. Those comments folded in nicely with South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who challenged the administration and tried to refuse the federal bailouts, folding his hand. But this is not over for Sanford. His theme could well grow in the heartland. To his call came Rick Perry of Texas, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Sarah Palin of Alaska.

But if we are at a historical pause; that is, an organic economic shift, not to devastation but to moderation, which will stretch some ten or 15 years as some prominent economists suggest, change in our time could find its way through gradual cultural avenues rather than new over-night political venues and economic strategies. That is, change could be “heart” based and grow from the community rather than “head” based coming from Washington think tanks. It would be a transformation of values which would come gradually by osmosis; it would be intuitive and sensory like a slow-moving volcano which flows to a meandering path, rather than a direct third party confrontation.

That is why Sarah Palin’s speech to a Right to Life Group in Indiana on April 16 is important.

Student protests have hit Notre Dame for the school administration’s decision to bring in President Obama as commencement speaker on May 17. Governor Palin, who turned down or was removed from an important Republican event in June may have taken this speaking engagement just before to confront the Obama administration directly on the issues of abortion and family values rather than to wait for her party to act.

Palin will never be effective as the Republican Party’s official country bunny all dressed up for the big debate with the tall men. She is a force of nature and brings her own life force to public life. She must speak her own mind and speak with her own voice. And she speaks almost exclusively to the heartland.

The clever economist Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, made an interesting point lately. When many of the major voices were writing off the Russian economy and the ruble, Taleb took a different view. We face hard times globally, he said. The Russians are tough and endure and even flourish in difficult situations. He won’t write them off. The American heartland is like that as well.

We are seeing in our time the complete alienation of American heartland and city – the red states and the blue states. They are different worlds. The heartland today is highly adaptable to changing economic forces. The city is fully dependent on “military/educational/(entertainment)/industrial complex” spiraling out of control and global economic movements that have now gone well beyond its command. Heartland Americans do not see themselves through the eyes of Europe as Obama and the New Yorkers do. They do not strategize their lives in matrices of corporate structure and federal long-term planning, but rather work in the soft structures of church, parish, local community and extended family. Heartland volunteers for military service and a study done at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton concludes that the great majority of current soldiers on duty abroad are from the heartland. The heartland works with its hands; the city remains in its head. There is no “leisure class” in the heartland.

What Gingrich’s third party would bring is confrontation. Another version of two men fighting. That might be the immediate historical necessity, but in short time, a new third party like that will resemble a compromised version of the last men in suits.

Palin should let them come; Tyra Banks, Peggy Noonan, Sally Quinn and the others chosen by the tall men to guard the gate against such rustic outsiders. It makes her stronger and it makes the heartland which identifies with her stronger. She should speak her own mind to her own and talk to the barbecue at the Volunteer Fire Department, the local church supper and the Legion Hall. She should ignore the others and see where the volcano travels.

And she should speak at the ladies tea at Evansville and maybe to the students at Notre Dame. It is possible that something indistinguishable and unknowable today will come from this and something far more lasting will grow out of it over time, bringing with it a new vision of America.