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2010: The Maturity Election?

Peggy Noonan‘s latest, “Americans Vote for Maturity,” bears the subtitle “Obama gets a rebuke, but so do Republicans who seem unqualified.”    While it’s a gross oversimplification of Tuesday’s events, there’s something to it.

What the tea party, by which I mean members and sympathizers, has to learn from 2010 is this: Not only the message is important but the messenger.

Even in a perfect political environment, those candidates who were conservative but seemed strange, or unprofessional, or not fully qualified, or like empty bags skittering along the street, did not fare well. The tea party provided the fire and passion of the election, and helped produce major wins—Marco Rubio by 19 points! But in the future the tea party is going to have to ask itself: Is this candidate electable? Will he pass muster with those who may not themselves be deeply political but who hold certain expectations as to the dignity and stature required of those who hold office?

This is the key question the tea party will face in 2012. And it will be hard to answer it, because the tea party doesn’t have leaders or conventions, so the answer will have to bubble up from a thousand groups, from 10,000 leaders.

Electable doesn’t mean not-conservative. Electable means mature, accomplished, stable—and able to persuade.

I truly hope that’s right.   And, while I don’t know the House races nearly well to know if it was true across the board, it does seem to be right for the statewide races — the governorships and US Senate races.  Quite literally all of the flakes lost.  (I suppose one could counter with Jerry Brown; but he not only served two successful gubernatorial terms in his youth but came back up the hard way over the last few years.)

And these paragraphs are Noonan at her best:

Conservatives talked a lot about Ronald Reagan this year, but they have to take him more to heart, because his example here is a guide. All this seemed lost last week on Sarah Palin, who called him, on Fox, “an actor.” She was defending her form of political celebrity—reality show, “Dancing With the Stars,” etc. This is how she did it: “Wasn’t Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn’t he in ‘Bedtime for Bonzo,’ Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor.”

Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin. Reagan people quietly flipped their lids, but I’ll voice their consternation to make a larger point. Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure. Then he was elected president.

The point is not “He was a great man and you are a nincompoop,” though that is true. The point is that Reagan’s career is a guide, not only for the tea party but for all in politics. He brought his fully mature, fully seasoned self into politics with him. He wasn’t in search of a life when he ran for office, and he wasn’t in search of fame; he’d already lived a life, he was already well known, he’d accomplished things in the world.

Here is an old tradition badly in need of return: You have to earn your way into politics. You should go have a life, build a string of accomplishments, then enter public service. And you need actual talent: You have to be able to bring people in and along. You can’t just bully them, you can’t just assert and taunt, you have to be able to persuade.

Americans don’t want, as their representatives, people who seem empty or crazy. They’ll vote no on that.

There are doubtless exceptions to this, but my sense is that Noonan is correct.  And, certainly, that’s my hope.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. sam says:

    “I suppose one could counter with Jerry Brown; but he not only served two successful gubernatorial terms in his youth” — Just ask Meg about the “30 years ago in California” ad.

    “Ronald Reagan was an artist” – Uh, look, I liked his movies, but Laurence Olivier he was not.

    As for the rest about him, right — even though I abhorred his politics, the man had a mind, and a mind his adversaries could engage without the contest being filled with rancor.

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  2. sam says:

    BTW, why couldn’t we say the same thing about the 2008 election? I mean, Ms. Nincompoop was on the Republican ticket, and anyone who doesn’t think that had something to do with the outcome needs to see a talking doctor.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    @sam: I thought Palin a liability from the instant I learned she was the nominee, on exactly those grounds, and wrote so at the time. Repeatedly. But the fact of the matter was that she was a Hail Mary choice by a very desperate candidate who was likely to lose no matter what.

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  4. Rob Miller says:

    I particularly loved Noonan’s revisionism over her boyfriend Obama in this column. My , my how things have changed.

    http://joshuapundit.blogspot.com/2010/11/peggy-noonan-calls-sarah-palin.html

    This ‘nincompoop’ as Noonan referred to her is directly responsible for GOP gains in this election, along with Jim DeMint. It was Palin in particular who kept the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party when she could have taken them third party for her own aggrandizement , and without the Tea Party things would be very different for the GOP today.

    Governor Palin had the ninja political skills to go from being the defeated VP candidate in one of the most inept campaigns in recent memory to the hottest political ticket in America…and she did it on her own, outside the GOP establishment.

    I and many others haven’t forgotten how Peggy Noonan shilled for Obama during the ’08 election and told us how wonderful he was going to be. Palin, on the other hand, had his number from Day One.

    So who’s the ‘nincompoop’?

    Noonan’s Palin Derangement Syndrome…well, it speaks for itself.

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  5. sam says:

    “This ‘nincompoop’ as Noonan referred to her is directly responsible for GOP gains in this election, along with Jim DeMint. It was Palin in particular who kept the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party when she could have taken them third party for her own aggrandizement”

    I don’t think that’s right at all. She was smart enough to see it’s political potential, but to suppose for a moment she or DeMint in anyway “led” that movement is fatuous.

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  6. PD Shaw says:

    sam, you may have to reccomend a doctor since I believe Palin was a slight net plus for McCain (gave him a jump in the polls, rallied a unmotivated base) and may have even saved some legislative seats in 2008. No VP could have won the election for McCain.

    But I think Noonan’s basically calling her a quitter. I don’t think running for VP in 2008 was quitting.

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  7. george says:

    “But I think Noonan’s basically calling her a quitter. I don’t think running for VP in 2008 was quitting.”

    No, arguably that was just looking to serve in a higher office. But she did quit after the election …

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  8. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Funny, Palin accomplished more, on her own than Obama had, yet she was somehow not qualified. I suggest it is because she is a woman that you, James, put her down. Shame on you. She has accomplished more than you ever will.
    When you have no arguement to defeat that of your opponent is is common among the unwashed inside and nearby the beltway to call folks crazy. The American people have spoken. Count the house democrats before and after. If you cannot notice a difference you are probably named Sam. Picking on a few loses of those who were abandoned by the GOP after they WON their primaries only shows the leadership is afraid of the people. We have another election in 2 years. If you did not get the message this time, we will make sure you get it the next time.
    James, who gives a flying fork what Peggy Noonan has to say? It is past her time and she is way past her prime. She is about as relevant as what kind of car you drive.

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  9. sam says:

    PD, are you arguing, or asserting, that the number of votes lost to McCain because of her was less than the number of votes he gained because of her?

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  10. PD Shaw says:

    Yes.

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  11. sam says:

    Well, that’s interesting. Any data I can look at?

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  12. Herb says:

    Leave it to Zels to miss the point.

    “Funny, Palin accomplished more, on her own than Obama had, yet she was somehow not qualified.”

    Noonan’s not comparing Palin to Obama. She’s comparing Palin to Reagan. Nice straw man you’re attacking there, dude.

    “I suggest it is because she is a woman that you, James, put her down. ”

    My my. I don’t know where you get the misogynist angle –same place you got the straw man maybe?– but something tells me that James has no problems with women. He’s married to one.

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  13. mantis says:

    <But I think Noonan’s basically calling her a quitter. I don’t think running for VP in 2008 was quitting

    I think you forgot something.

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  14. john personna says:

    I liked Noonan in the Reagan era. I even read her first book, “What I Saw At The Revolution: A Political Life In The Reagan Era” and liked it. She’s very sharp, and sometimes uses that edge to back the wrong things, but not in this.

    Zels, Peggy Noonan is way more qualified to be President than Sarah Palin ;-)

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  15. mantis says:

    Hey, speaking of maturity, what happened to all the voter fraud and intimidation we were told was destroying our democracy? The right was screaming about it for weeks leading up to the election, finding Black Panthers under every bed, and now? Pretty quiet. Hmmm.

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  16. PD Shaw says:

    sam, I think you would have to look at the exit polls:

    “In fact, of the 60 percent of voters who told exit pollsters that McCain’s choice of Palin was a “factor” in their final decision, the Arizona senator won 56 percent to 43 percent.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/13/AR2008111303287_2.html?sid=ST2008111403251&s_pos=

    I think you would also have to look at the overall polls that show Palin’s nomination was about the only bump McCain got down the stretch.

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  17. Drew says:

    I think everyone but Rob Miller misses the point: its hard for me to imagine she will prevail in the future as a candidate, (and she certainly wouldn’t be my choice as a candidate) but one cannot deny that she has become extremely effective as a spokeperson for a point of view shared by a significant number of people. That alone is a leadership trait.

    Further, she is only a shade less competant or qualified than our current President, who was annointed in a Hollywood/media driven frenzy – like Mick Jagger on steroids.

    I pointed this out until I was blue in the face during the campaign. All my observations were met with guffaws, because that was the popular narrative: Obama great/smart blah blah blah.

    Well, we have an incompetant President right now. And the narrative is finally turning. Evaluating horse flesh is an important skill.

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  18. steve says:

    She is effective at saying things that her base likes, especially attacking the lamestream media. She is actually superb at snark. However, she sucks at convincing anyone not already a member of her fan club about much of anything. She speaks in talking points. There is no depth to anything she says. The worst part is just her sheer intellectual laziness. One knew that Reagan had done her homework. Palin is using her television skills to bypass the acquisition of any kind of personal depth of the sort Reagan demonstrated.

    Steve

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  19. section9 says:

    No, guys. Your missing the point.

    Peggy Noonan is trying to buy her way back into credibility on the Right by attacking someone who has been fighting Obama from the beginning, and doing a good job of it.

    For her part, Peggy voted for a man whose mission in life is to undo everything Ronald Reagan worked 40 years trying to achieve.

    That was her choice, not Palin’s. That’s why Movement people are rather dismissive of Noonan these days.

    Lastly, Palin only compared herself to Reagan in the limited sense that both have done television and that that should not serve as a disqualifier to poltical ambition. Noonan was making a straw man argument, and she knew it. Palin has said again and again that she is no Reagan.

    Too bad Mitt Romney has yet to figure that out.

    By the way, have anyone of you at this site figure out who were the Establishment Graverobbers who poured $170 Million Dollars of Meg Whitman’s money into the Pacific Ocean? They were all sent out from Washington by the Romney and Bush factions. You know, the genius consultants that Sarah Palin WOULD NOT HIRE?

    Because as everyone here knows, Sarah Palin is too stupid to hire the Right People from the Beltway. She should know her Limitations. Peggy Noonan said so. So did James Joyner.

    Ask Meg Whitman. I’m sure she’ll agree.

    Does anyone here know where Meg goes for a refund? Anyone? Beuller?

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  20. anjin-san says:

    > Well, we have an incompetant President right now

    For sure. Everything was great in this country in the fall of ’08. Since then, it’s just fallen apart.

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  21. george says:

    Maybe what they’re looking for is not so much leaders, as representatives?

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  22. Nightrider says:

    For what it is worth, Peggy Noonan is the only speechwriter in the last 40 years to massively tilt the dynamic of a Presidential election thru a speech (1988, read my lips; I am that man).

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  23. An Interested Party says:

    Maturity is not endless investigations into supposed “crimes” of the Obama Administration nor is it voting against raising the debt ceiling nor is it massive gridlock and talking about doing everything possible to defeat the president in 2012…we shall see soon enough how “mature” this election has been…

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  24. sam says:

    Snicker:

    Boehner under fire: First cut should be lawmakers’ salaries

    Soon-to-be Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) is being pressed by taxpayer groups to slash the salaries of House lawmakers.

    Cutting member pay would show voters the new GOP majority in the House is going to lead by example in their efforts to rein in spending and start with their own wallets, say officials with three prominent taxpayer advocacy groups in Washington, D.C.

    “There has to be a visible gesture that people can immediately relate to,” said Pete Sepp, the executive vice president of the conservative National Taxpayers Union.

    “And cutting pay would be one of the best symbols, because unlike virtually anything else the federal government does, when Congress spends money on its own salaries and benefits, people can make a direct comparison to their own situation,” Sepp said. …

    Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said that no decision has been made to slash members’ salaries, but pointed to the promises the GOP made in its “Pledge to America” in September.

    “The Pledge to America calls for cutting Congress’ budget, but no specific decisions have been made about how that will be done at this time,” said Steel.

    Anyone think this kind of cutting will be enthusiastically embraced by the new, mature, majority?

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  25. James Joyner says:

    “Anyone think this kind of cutting will be enthusiastically embraced by the new, mature, majority?”

    Maybe. It’s a pretty cheap gesture and most Members are independently wealthy. But it’s empty symbolism that won’t do anything meaningful about the problem.

    Further, all manner of federal employees who actually need the money have their salaries tied to Congressional salaries.

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  26. sam says:

    “But it’s empty symbolism that won’t do anything meaningful about the problem”

    The argument, as I read it, is that is wouldn’t empty symbolism at all, rather it would show seriousness. I suppose the other federal employees would just have to suck it up: “needing the money”, I would think, is not an argument that has any traction with the folks who’re deadset on curtailing government spending. As to being meaningful re the problem, I can’t disagree with you there.

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  27. anjin-san says:

    I am pretty sure all the city managers in my area who make 200k+ (up to 300K+) to manage cities with populations under 100K “need” the money too. Same as firefighters who make double overtime to collect presents for kids at Christmas and university chancellors who live for free in mansions while they are busy jacking up tuitions.

    Interesting to note how quickly a Republican like James “just said no” to an actual cut in cost of government…

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  28. James Joyner says:

    Interesting to note how quickly a Republican like James “just said no” to an actual cut in cost of government…

    I didn’t say “no,” just that it’s a token gesture. Frankly, I’m sure we could fill the Congress if we paid them annual salaries of $1. I just think that, when you’re spending hundreds of billions a year, cutting a few thousand dollars isn’t going to be even a rounding error.

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  29. anjin-san says:

    it’s not a token gesture if it drives down salaries of overpaid federal time-servers.

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  30. [...] 2010: The Maturity Election? (outsidethebeltway.com) [...]

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