The true measure of a great leader lies not in a gushing dissection of her many attributes but in weighing her impact. Sarah Palin could not undo in nine weeks what the Republican Party had done to itself for the better part of eight years, but she bought them time, paid for not just with charm, radiance and a hypnotic brand of likability but with a knack for bringing out the best in those who follow her. No less an embedded Washington centrist than John McCain was able to rouse his conservative base just by adding her to his ticket.
    With the possible exception of George W. Bush early in his presidency, she has fired up the conservative base like no one since Ronald Reagan, inspiring chivalry in conservative men, and women, who know that she is tough and can handle herself, think of her as a sister they want to protect. To them, she defines authenticity, so they are upholding not just a name but a set of shared values: common sense, rugged self-reliance, traditional family, faith and the all-American notion that the everyday denizens of our country can not just beat city hall, they can run it.
    Much to the chagrin of wordy intellectuals from the left and the right, the future of conservative leadership could well belong not to the traditional political class but to Sarah Palin and other hockey moms and Joe the Plumbers from small towns far outside the New York-Washington-Ivy League corridor, united by the Internet.
    {mosimage}Even in defeat, Palin garners more press than Vice-President Elect Biden and her star power will certainly fill arenas as a fundraiser and speaker, as it did for Senator Saxby Chambliss who won the Dec. 2 runoff in Georgia. While no one credits her alone, she undoubtedly possesses enormous political capital that pays off not just for herself but for her party. She may well run for president in 2012 with four more years as governor to season her again for the national spotlight. Or, if a popular President Obama appears headed for a second term, she could wait ‘till 2016 when she will be 52, just a kid in political years.
    The left is already writing her political epitaph, some blaming her for the GOP’s defeat, when, in truth, she brought out many conservatives who might have stayed home, uninspired by John McCain. Granted, independents and moderates expressed skepticism over her readiness for high office, but in the end, economic concerns ruled and they voted against the incumbent party, for change and for Barack Obama.
    Some naysayers, mostly on the left, concede that the governor possesses charm, good looks and a large enough following to attain success as a TV talk show host. In other words, let the big boys mold public policy, little lady, and you just stay on the sidelines and look good. They used to tell her that in Alaska, too.
    With all the press coverage of her clothes and her pregnant teen daughter, the average voter may be only vaguely aware that she has laid solid foundations for ethics reform, an energy policy designed for her state to lead America to independence from foreign oil and advocacy for special needs children. Even without a spot on a national ticket, she would be a valued part of a future Republican administration.
    Provided with ambition, Sarah Palin will endure in American life because the values, of which she is both a conduit and a cradle, will endure: faith, family, skepticism of federal power and a rugged, outdoorsy can-do spirit reminiscent of Teddy Roosevelt. Even if she never holds higher office, her spot in the annals of politics is secure. Indeed, in the pantheon of conservative greats, some merit a a military salute and some merit a firm handshake. Millions would surely stand in line to give Sarah Palin a hug, as she earned their respect and affection — not a bad start for a great legacy.

Contact David Bozeman at 

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