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Beyond the Palin II

250px Sarah Palin portrait3 150x150 Beyond the Palin II

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One or two interesting things have happened since my last post.  Sarah Palin’s book tour was a stellar success, she has landed a new role with Fox News and her limelight in the Republican party has been dimmed somewhat by the stunning victory of Scott “Centerfold” Brown to the Senate.

But none of this changes the analysis. 

Firstly, what capabilities are required to do the job of President of the United States of America?  This is not straightforward, since there is no clear stereotype for success.  Recent presidents have been notable for their differences rather than their commonalities. 

But let’s have a go.  How about this?  A president should be able to master a tricky brief, to manage several briefs at a time and to lead the Government team, ruthlessly when appropriate.  To get there, he/she should be able to communicate well, preferably inspirationally and generating mass appeal. 

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll restrict the required capabilities to the four above.  So how does Sarah stack up?

Her ability to master a brief appears poor.  If one compares her to the supreme master/mistress of the brief, Margaret Thatcher, who was notoriously able to read briefing papers in the ministerial limo on the way to a meeting and then argue ferociously at the meeting, in total control of the issues and facts involved, Sarah is in the wrong league.  Her showing in the Katie Couric interview was cringe-worthy.  She gets a rating of 1 out of 5, and that may be generous.  In comparison, Barack Obama gets a 4, maybe 4.5.  Even George Bush gets a 2.

 The same applies to her ability to manage several briefs at the same time.  To do that, you need both intellectual depth and breadth.  And, preferably, again like the redoubtable Margaret Thatcher, a phenomenal memory.  Sarah gets a 1 again, but there is no need to despair just yet.  After all, it would be hard to have rated Ronald Reagan with anything above a 1, yet he has gone down in history as a successful president.

 Next comes leadership, and here Sarah looks on firmer ground.  She gained her managerial spurs as Mayor of Wasilla for two terms, before moving on to the Governorship of Alaska.  In both positions, she took on vested interests zealously and, at times, ruthlessly.  Controversies abound, but one thing is not in question.  She is unafraid to lead.  She gets a 4 – where Obama, incidentally, would have scored a 1 or 2 pre-election, since he had never presided over an organisation before.

 It was, of course, in leadership where Reagan made amends.  He was able to assemble a strong team around him, which he managed deftly and led ideologically.  Could Sarah do the same?

 Sarah looks best when it comes to communication.  Her performance at the Republican convention in Fall 2008 was nothing short of sensational.  She had been squirreled away in her hotel suite for three days, hidden from the world’s media, still reeling from Senator McCain’s announcement of his running mate.  The pressure on her was overwhelming.  She was immense.

 Her speech was targeted bang on middle America’s key concerns over Obama:

  • She portrayed herself as the average American, a world apart from the Harvard-educated and sometimes aloof Obama.  She even cracked that infamous gag at her expense: “What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull?  Lipstick”
  • She stressed her managerial experience.  She was someone who got on with the job, who ran a governor’s office and a family of five at the same time, unlike Obama, “a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform”. Ouch!
  •  She laid into Obama’s messianic aura: “But when the cloud of rhetoric has passed … when the stadium lights go out, and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to the studio lot — what exactly is our opponent’s plan —after he’s done turning back the waters and healing the planet?  He plans to make government bigger … take more of your money”.  Prophetic words, think many, when it comes to healthcare reform.

 But even more importantly was how she said it.  She used every trick in the public speaking book.  The prolonged, confident eye contact.  The pauses, the variety in pitch, pace and volume.  The talking over the applause.  But she went beyond the book.  This, after all, was Miss Congeniality in the Miss Alaska pageant of 1984.  She seduced America.  With her librarian spectacles, the Dusty Springfield hairdo, the crinkling of the nose, the sideways glances, the winking.  She even blew the country an outrageous kiss at the end of the speech.  One commentator described the performance as “political Viagra”.

 The speech transformed the Republicans’ poll ratings.  McCain went from dead cert loser to a hopeful.  History will never know what could have happened if they had kept Sarah away from Couric.  Sarah gets a 5 for communication and mass appeal.

 So, does Sarah seem to have the capabilities required for the job of president?  Here are her scores, with Obama’s in brackets: Brief mastery 1 (4); Brief multiplicity 1 (4); Leadership 4 (2); Communication 5 (5). 

 If each capability is given an equal weighting, the total of her capability scores comes to 11 out of 20, compared with Obama’s 15.  That averages out at almost 3 out of 5, which is relatively high for any new job.  If communication were to be given a higher weighting, since that is what is needed to get into the White House, as opposed to how the job is done once in, her overall score would rise further.  So too would Obama’s, since he is also an excellent communicator, but it would raise her credentials against other Republican candidates with lesser communication skills.

 Capability is one of two criteria to be taken into account in assessing potential competitive standing in a new job.  The other is experience.  Here Sarah’s three years as Governor give her some credibility, but will be overshadowed next time by Obama’s four years as a senator and four as president.  While a Governor’s responsibilities count for much in terms of domestic politics and managerial experience, the business attended to can often be parochial, as distinct from the world affairs debated and legislated upon in Washington.  Furthermore, Sarah’s abrupt , premature departure from her gubernatorial role may not help her cause.  In terms of experience, she rates no more than a 2, compared to Obama’s former 3 and, by the time of the next election, 5.

 Sarah is currently out of a job.  Let’s assume she is looking, like millions of other Americans out of work, at a range of potential new jobs, of which one is President.  She follows the Backing U! process and identifies a whole range of jobs she is passionate about.  She does a screening exercise on the dozen or so jobs with most passion.  On the top job, the one she desires most of all, the presidency, the screening shows a tentative 3 out of 5 for capability and 2 out of 5 for experience. 

 That is pretty high.  Many other new jobs – eg current affairs TV commentator, sports journalist (her original goal) – may well yield screening ratings for Sarah lower than that.  The president job looks like a starter.

 And what does she have to lose?  If she doesn’t make it, she will go on to make a fortune from the next book, the speeches, the movie script, the endorsements, the TV show…

 Let there be no doubt.  Sarah will run for President.

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