A Tale of Two Palins

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Thank God for Sarah Palin. Just when I was about to claw my eyes out after the 1,001st Michael Jackson story, she throws a curve ball and gives us a real story.

She announced last week that she's had enough of the governor's seat in Alaska, though no one could figure out from her resignation speech exactly why. Either she's too much of a maverick to spend the next 18 months as a lame duck governor, or she's devoted to her family, or she can have more of an impact on Alaska outside of politics.

Puzzled pundits have been telling a Tale of Two Palins. Palin No. 1 wants to escape the constant media scrutiny that came with being the first Republican female on a presidential ticket. She just wants to stay at home, fish, hunt and take care of Trig, her baby with Down syndrome. This explanation is a bit thin, considering that since her 2008 electoral debacle she hasn't exactly kept a low profile, unless you consider a public feud with David Letterman to be a strategy to stay out of the news. But Palin No. 1 might seem plausible to those who see her as the hockey mom who's on the right side of God.

Palin No. 2 is the extremely ambitious "Sarah Barracuda" (her nickname from her days as a high school point guard) who will stop at nothing to get to the White House one day. The word is that Palin smells an opening after Republican presidential hopefuls Mark Sanford and John Ensign sabotaged themselves with extramarital affairs. Apparently presidential campaigns are three-plus years long now-rather than spend time talking about salmon and oil pipelines in the hinterlands, Palin can spend time raising money and glad-handing around Washington for a run in 2012. She will have to leapfrog a bunch of frontrunners (Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee), but it's true that you can't convince party elites that you're the second coming of Reagan if you're holed up in Wasilla, Alaska.

Nobody really knows which Palin will show herself in the next three years, but I have to say that Palin No. 2 seems the most likely. She will emerge not just because Palin has more charisma in her trademark librarian-do than the rest of the Republican cardboard candidates put together. And it's not just because Palin showed in the campaign that she can give a speech and connect with "common folk" (and by common folk, of course, we mean white people in the middle to lower classes). No, she will emerge as a contender because she has real support among real people in the conservative wing of her party.

A recent Pew poll had her at 45 percent approval-lower than her high of 50 percent last September, but higher than any of her competitors. Among Republicans she has a stunning 73 percent approval rate, a full 16 points ahead of Romney.

Her story won't get old for this slice of the electorate. She is the true flag-bearer of the conservative cause, an embattled Christian in an ungodly world, the innocent victim of relentless attacks from a hopelessly biased liberal media. She's a bootstrapper who can even top Obama's bootstrapping story, because she didn't need no fancy Ivy League education to get where she is. She can also take down a moose at 50 yards-Obama suddenly seems effete and a little pansy-like. I mean, where's his rifle?

She will play this angle to the hilt should she enter the 2012 primary, and it just might work. It won't beat the Obama juggernaut, so 2012 might just be a warm-up for 2016.

*****

Sometimes I get tired of the sound of my own keyboard clacking. You'd think that a columnist would have to be just vain enough to keep blathering away, but no, I actually would love to have a bit of debate in this space. So my editor and I got together and came up with a plan: We will open half of this space to one of you. Not a joke. I would like one of my esteemed conservative colleagues to step forward and debate me on two policy topics: health care and gay marriage. Here's how it will work. On one topic, I will start with an initial position. My foil-let's call her Sarah, for now-will have two days to write a rebuttal. Then I write a rebuttal to that rebuttal. And Sarah gets the last word by rebutting that rebuttal. Four sections published in one very entertaining column. The only rules are that there are strict word-count limits on each section, no personal attacks (I know this will disappoint some of my favorite online commenters) and you must stick to the topic at hand. On the next topic, Sarah will get the first volley.

If you'd like to bravely put yourself in this space to make this work, send an e-mail to [email protected], with "Columnist duel" in the subject line, your opening 300 words on Obama's health care plan vs. Republicans' plan, and your name, e-mail and phone number.

There are legitimate conservative arguments floating out there in the Berkeley community and they should see the light of day. My respect for those arguments, of course, will not stop me from skewering them, barbecuing them and eating the leftovers for breakfast. If no one chooses to take up my challenge-it's a 50-50 chance that will be the case-then I think that conspicuous absence will speak volumes about where conservatives on campus stand.

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Josh is readying his dueling pistol at [email protected]



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