The Palin Platform

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

It is a measure of the impact that Sarah Palin has achieved on the political scene that one of the first questions that seized the newspapers after the votes had been counted was how the results would affect her prospects in respect of 2012. Some were running the count of how many of the candidates she endorsed won or lost, with the Economist — which mocked the former governor of Alaska during the campaign — setting down the results as “decidedly mixed.” By the magazine’s count, fewer than half of her 60 endorsees prevailed. But what other Republican figure has installed in office so many figures who owe them the kind of debts Mrs. Palin’s picks owe her? Who else has been able to give a leg up so efficiently, sometimes with but a message via Twitter?

Yet, her success at endorsements is not the most important achievement of the ex-governor whom the intelligentsia like to dismiss as a lightweight. The fact is that Mrs. Palin has spied and branded the most relevant, the most inclusive, and the most uplifting theme for the Republicans in the coming contest — the idea of what she calls constitutional conservatism. By our lights it is a better idea than what has been called “social conservatism,” which emerged from the entry of the religious right into politics and has many beneficial effects but is less inclusive, and what has been called “libertarian conservatism,” which has, particularly in foreign policy, an isolationist streak to which many of us have a hard time rallying.

Constitutional conservatism, however, is an idea open to all Americans. It references the founding document that all legislators and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and the several states, must be bound by oath or affirmation to support. The Constitution is what new citizens swear to support and defend. The word “conservatism,” when paired with “constitutional,” connotes a desire to attend to the original intent, the principles of the Founders. It doesn’t mean that no accommodation whatsoever need be made to modernity (one of our favorites is that the Congress has the enumerated power to raise and support an army and to provide and maintain a navy but has nonetheless raised an air force). But constitutional conservatism requires a great deference to the founders and invites an effort to wrestle with what they were actually talking about.

This is an idea for our times, if there ever was one, and it was shrewd of Mrs. Palin to seize on it as early as she did. It is certainly true that others have gotten the message, and may have gotten it independently of Mrs. Palin. There is this morning a dispatch in the Wall Street Journal by John Boehner, in which the presumptive speaker outlines what the next speaker must do. Our favorite part is his insistence that every bill “include a clause citing where in the Constitution Congress is given the power to pass it” and that bills that fail to include such a clause “shouldn’t get a vote.” Mr. Boehner’s statement amounts to an incorporation of a bill known as the Enumerated Powers Act, which reflects the principle so well marked by Chief Justice Marhsall — that the powers of our government are limited to those enumerated in the Constitution.

The Enumerated Powers Act is not Mrs. Palin’s idea. It was first introduced in the 104th Congress. But it languished un-acted-upon until Mrs. Palin began barnstorming the country talking up the idea of constitutional conservatism. The clarity of the idea comes into focus at a time when the Democratic administration is lunging for expanded powers, and she has emerged in a remarkable position. She has written two books. One is a kind of autobiography and declaration of her breakout from what might be called hidebound Republicanism, the other — to be issued this month — a meditation on faith, flag, and country. This sets her up for a third book on the idea of constitutional conservatism. If she goes ahead and writes it, we predict it will have an even greater impact than her first two* — and just in time for 2012.

* * *

Even if the Alaskan doesn’t turn the idea of constitutional conservatism into a book, Mrs. Palin has marked the idea as her theme. Its great power is that it sets up a methodology for dealing with everything from — to name but a few issues — foreign policy and the war to the dollar, nationalized health care, same gender marriage, taxation, and gun control. It doesn’t always tilt the way the conservatives want; one of the enumerated powers granted to the federal government is the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization, which may yet be found to deny Arizona the right to establish its own set of policies in respect of undocumented aliens. But if it limits Arizona it empowers the Congress to act, and now it will have its chance. Meantime, two federal judges have signaled that the lawsuits by the states against the national healthcare plan will have to go to trial under precisely the idea of enumerated powers. So let the pundits puzzle over which of Mrs. Palin’s candidates prospered and which lost. The better count is which contenders for the national ticket can lay any better claim than Mrs. Palin to an idea as unifying, uplifting, and inclusive as the idea of constitutional conservatism that she has made her platform.


* The first was a mega-bestseller.

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