Sarah Palin, Leader of the Opposition

Sarah Palin will have a strong impact on the 2012 race, whether she runs for president or not. She will continue to rally conservatives, and Democrats and journalists will continue to target her as a proxy for Republicans as a whole.

A new film, The Undefeated, will highlight Palin’s achievements as governor of Alaska–which are often overlooked in the media, where the focus has been on her departure from office.

It’s also important to acknowledge the role Palin has played over the past two years. She rallied the opposition to President Barack Obama during a time when opposition seemed impossible, when even conservatives wondered if Obama’s election marked “the end of a conservative era” and the beginning of a “revived liberalism.”

Palin in Madison (Credit: Christopher Tollefson)

She did more than support candidates, provide new ideas, and comment on TV. She led a revival.

Sarah Palin served, unofficially, as the “Leader of the Opposition”–a powerful position in many parliamentary democracies, even enjoying constitutional status in some of them.

If the United States had an electoral system based on proportional representation, Palin would undoubtedly hold federal office today. Instead, she resigned her state position and began to play a more active national role. Our democracy is healthier as a result.

There were legislators who took on particular issues, and governors who took on particular interest groups. But few others could have led in the all-around the way Palin did.

Palin’s core of support may have been somewhat narrow, but her reach has been broad. Many critics–in both parties–have tried to marginalize her. Yet her efforts have helped restore balance in Washington–a balance that makes both parties more accountable to voters.

Leader of the Opposition is a tough job. It is–by its very nature–a polarizing position. Some opposition leaders eventually win the highest office. And some of the most effective opposition leaders–like South Africa’s Tony Leon, for whom I worked–are only truly appreciated once they have left politics.

It’s too early to know whether Palin will turn her unofficial opposition into an official campaign. But it is not too early for even her opponents to concede that she has done her job well.


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