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Sarah Palin and the Seven Dwarfs

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There are those -- I won't name them, they know who they are -- who have taken to calling the slate of Republican presidential hopefuls "Sarah Palin and the Seven Dwarfs." That's unfair.

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There are way more than seven GOP politicians ready to run. I put the list right now at about 12, give or take a dwarf.

And there'd be more except that John Thune withdrew from the race a month or so ago.

Most of the rest of the GOP gang showed up in Washington a few months ago to try out their acts at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Generally speaking, the candidates spoke with one voice -- for God, guns, and Ronald Reagan. They were uniformly against health care, taxes, and Barack Obama. (Have I mentioned that the conference was about a quart low on new ideas?)

The 10,000 attendees listened to all of the speeches, then made Ron Paul, the Texan flat-earther, their choice for president. (Did I also mention that its sense of reality was running on empty?)

Ironically, the only Republican that a clear majority of Americans could pick out of a police lineup -- Sarah Palin -- failed to show up at the conference. She and Mike Huckabee, the comfort-food candidate, were busy organizing their sock drawers. Or something.

To call the Republican field weak is to understate the obvious. It's a collection of has-been (Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour, Mitt Romney), never-were (Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Mitch Daniels) and "who's he?" candidates (Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman).

The real problem the Republicans have, however, isn't the relative anonymity of their candidates -- after all, hardly anyone knew who Obama was two years before he was elected. It's the fact that no Republican who can win the general election in 2012 can be nominated. Call it the tea party effect.

Republican candidates aren't merely afraid of tea party conservatives, they're terrified. One after another, they've repudiated past votes, policies, and beliefs in fear of offending those wild-eyed people in the funny hats.

Romney? As Governor of Massachusetts he advocated and got passed a health care plan much like President Obama's. He's now against it.

Pawlenty? When he was Governor of Minnesota he backed cap-and-trade legislation, a scarlet letter to real conservatives. He has apologized for the error.

Newt Gingrich? The former Speaker of the House may be a great advocate for the sanctity of marriage, but both times this do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do adulterer got divorced, he was dumping a wife suffering from a severe illness. The first was recovering from uterine cancer and the second had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Go through the list. Everyone's got some-thing about him for conservatives to hate.

No wonder they look back so fondly on Ronald Reagan, the mythological figure bearing the name of our 40th president.

To hear Republicans talk, Reagan was George Washington, Winston Churchill, and John Wayne rolled into one.

He really wasn't. The real Ronnie wasn't as bad as Democrats made him out to be, but he was guilty of one great sin: He convinced the American people that they could have all the government they wanted without having to pay taxes for it.

He tripled the national debt during his time in office and set his party on the disastrous course the United States still travels.

Yet, given the yahoos and know-nothings the Republicans are left with today, I can see why they look back upon Reagan with fondness. He was a man of great charm.

Then again, so was Bernie Madoff.

OtherWords and retired Des Moines Register columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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