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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Reagan’s Vision Took Time to Develop

January 13, 2010

Politicians are flocking to the cable news networks in an effort to keep themselves in the public eye - with the hope they may stay relevant to the voters, and  pick up a handsome pay check as well.

The latest politician to make the leap is former Alaska Governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who signed up this week to appear as a regular political contributor to Fox News Network.

Some are saying this is a good political move for Ms. Palin, who has a large conservative Republican following. It certainly will keep her front and center before the voters - but whether it will help her grow politically remains to be seen.

History shows that developing a committed policy position on complicated issues requires more than access to a television broadcast network. It usually requires being a voracious reader and the ability to articulate thoughts and opinions in a way that solidifies one’s personal and political world view.

As a regular contributing pundit, Ms. Palin will be asked to voice her opinion on a variety of subjects immediately as the news occurs, and pundits are often seen as shooting from the hip in this type of format.

In contrast, Ronald Reagan spent years internalizing his positions long before he was ever elected President. He was able to comment on public policy in such depth that no one doubted he had spent considerable time developing his opinions.

While Reagan’s critics said he did not understand complicated issues, this has long been dismissed by political historians.

It is now known that Reagan’s thoughts and ideas were formulated through relentless personal research and the reworking of issues in his own mind based on his personal life experiences. Reagan poured over articles and materials on foreign and domestic policy, and took copious notes to use in future writings and speeches.

Reagan did not rely on staff or advisers to tell him what to think. He spent a great deal of time alone in his thoughts, and outside of his wife Nancy, he was not one for using sounding boards to test his ideas or positions.

Pundits and politicians are known to surround themselves with a cadre of staff bringing them information and statistics that they can reuse during an interview on television.

This is one reason politicians are often seen as shifting positions. They forget what they have said in past interviews because their focus is on what they have been told by staff instead of knowing what they truly believe.

There is no doubt that Ms. Palin will bring high ratings to Fox, however no one should look for an interesting and/or in-depth opinion from her - not because she’s incapable - but because the forum simply does not require it.

Reagan on the other hand spent hours developing positions on everything from tax policy to the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT), without the single input of an adviser. He left an exhausting trail of policy positions written in his own hand, as well as other manuscripts that were often used in speeches and in his nationally syndicated columns and radio broadcasts.

 His writings also remain relevant today, including the following which he wrote in July, 1977 on national health insurance, "Those who brought us the postal service and Amtrak are anxious to provide medical service of the same high caliber".

Most politicians want to emulate Ronald Reagan, but fail to realize how much time the former President spent researching and developing his positions over a lifetime.

Ms. Palin will soon realize, as others have before her, being named a cable news contributor is not likely to speed up this process.