Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fear and Loathing: Sarah Palin and the Conservative Intellectuals

Allahpundit took his Friday "Quote of the Day" from David Frum, provoking lots of irate responses from Hot Air commenters, including one who posted this:
The only thing more disgraceful than the liberal treatment of Palin was the treatment she got from some so called conservatives. And it should be pointed out that this site was very negative towards Palin. This post set the tone for what followed.
The link is to Allah's first foray into Palin pessmism on Aug. 29 -- the day Palin was announced. But that's just Allah being the Eeyore of the conservative blogosphere. You can't hate him for that, folks. Depression is a disease, and there's no point arguing with Allah when he is mired in darkness.

Of course, in a truly dire situation, depression is a synonym for realism. The inarguable fact is that the Republican Party hasn't been in such utter disarray in 15 years, perhaps even 35 years, if you want to go back to the Gerald Ford era. The problems of the GOP are multilayered, and each layer contains an apparently insoluble problem.

The biggest problem of all is a lack of leadership. If you've listened to Rush Limbaugh in the past couple of years, you've heard him say a thousand times that the problem with George W. Bush is that he never was, never wanted to be and never could be, The Conservative Leader.

You can go back to Dubya's original signature issue, No Child Left Behind (the subject of a write-up in Friday's Washington Post), which was (a) not conservative, and (b) never going to work. NCLB was nothing but pandering to soccer moms who sincerely want to believe in a Lake Woebegone world where "all the children are above average."

The same unconservative belief that informed NCLB -- that human beings are so many lumps of clay who can be magically transformed by the proper government interventions -- has also, when you think about it, informed U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. military did an excellent job of destroying the regimes of the Taliban and Saddam, but then "mission creep" set in and the idea took hold that we would transform these nations into modern democracies (complete with women's suffrage) essentially indistinguishable from Belgium.

Unfortunately, the State Department failed to supply adequate quantities of the one ingredient necessary for this project: pixie dust.

More than 200 years ago, Edmund Burke said of the French Revolution:
The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.
If Bush had minded that single maxim of Burke's -- and this is just one of many conservative truths that have been ignored for eight years -- he might not have done a lot of the things that have since led to disaster. Which brings us back around to Sarah Palin.

You see, one of the reasons Palin horrifies so many conservative intellectuals (and Allah seems to be one such) is their fear that she embodies all that was wrong with Dubya. You have to go back to 1999-2000 to recall how the conservative movement got into this disastrous cul-de-sac known as Bush 43. If you are a Republican, think back to the debates between Gore and Bush, think about the issues as they were discussed then, think about how Gore was hobbled by the stain of Clinton's scandals, and how Bush's basic job was to convince Americans that (a) he would restore dignity and decency to the White House, and (b) tax cuts are good for the economy.

Even with such an apparently simple political task, Bush placed second in the popular vote. The Republican "brand" (as it is now fashionably called) was already damaged in 2000, and even then it was apparent that Dubya hadn't brought any pixie dust from Austin.

What exactly was the GOP's "brand damage" problem in 2000? Well, under Newt Gingrich, the Republican Party was stuck with the image of being "mean-spirited," "divisive" and "partisan" (note: Democrats are never harmed by accusations of partisanship). Therefore, in an attempt to reverse-engineer the "triangulation" method that Dick Morris had taught Bill Clinton, Bush was marketed as a "compassionate conservative" who could address the concerns of "soccer moms" in Republican ways.

Bush spent seven months and three weeks trying to put that agenda into action, when suddenly Mohammed Atta et al. changed everything. In the two ensuing election cycles -- 2002 and 2004 -- Team Bush won big on the national security issue. Beyond tax cuts and Supreme Court fights, the domestic agenda receded into political irrelevance. And who cared? As long as the GOP was kicking butt every election year, any conservatives who complained were ignored (or denounced as "unpatriotic").

Yet somewhere between Bush's historic triumph in November 2004 (when he became the first president since 1988 to be elected by a popular-vote majority) and November 2006, the wheels fell off the Permanent Republican Majority. Suddenly, as if awakened from fairy-tale slumbers, conservative intellectuals began to regret that George W. Bush was not one of them.

Think about it. Peggy Noonan, Christopher Buckley, David Frum -- what is the thread that connects them? All worked as speechwriters: Noonan for Reagan, Buckley for Bush 41, Frum for Bush 43. While these Republican wordsmiths had all praised Dubya's machismo magnificence when he was contrasted with such pompous rivals as Al Gore and John Kerry, the bloom fell off that rose after 2006.

That born-again, down-to-earth, drawling Texas thing -- somehow, it had once made Bush seem like Gary Cooper in High Noon. But as the disasters mounted and the poll numbers headed southward, that Gary Cooper glow faded and these conservative intellectuals turned on their TVs to behold, with unspeakable horror, President Jethro Bodine.

Thus their reaction to Sarah Palin. While the Republican Party grassroots looked at Palin and saw an American Margaret Thatcher (except much sexier), the conservative intellectuals looked at her and saw . . . Vice President Ellie Mae Clampett.

Shootin' her some vittles! Takin' care of young 'uns. Let's go a-swimmin' in the ce-ment pond!

You see? The fear and loathing of Sarah Palin among (some) conservative intellectuals is a subconscious reaction to their belated recognition of Bush's weaknesses. The liberals who bashed Bush as being "in a bubble" and "out of touch" had a point. Since 1999, Bush really has been encased in a hermetic capsule of expert advisers. And this capsule was purposely constructed with the eager assent of the conservative intellectuals because, deep down, they never really believed he had it.

By "it," I mean what Ronald Reagan had, that finely-honed political sense, that keen instinct for the right word, the right stance -- the "vision thing," as Bush 41 once said.

Reagan had that, had it in his very marrow, in every molecule of his being. As much as the Noonans, Frums, Buckleys and David Brookses of the GOP wanted to believe that Dubya had that Reaganesque quality, he never did. He was . . . just another Bush.

Looking back, these intellectuals realize they deceived themselves, projecting onto Dubya qualities he never had. So now they see the GOP grassroots enthusiasm for Sarah Palin and, with all the cynical disillusionment of the ex-True Believer, they say, "Don't kid yourself."

Just as the conservative intellectuals once projected their hopes onto Dubya, now they project their disappointments onto Sarah. But the fault is theirs, not hers. And Sarah has something the intellectuals don't have -- an army. Brother, I've seen that army.

So you can take your David Frums and your David Brookses, and let Sarah take that army and, by God, we'll see whose Republican Party this is.

UPDATE: Fellow insomniac Ed Driscoll:
She certainly could have been a fine vice president if McCain hadn't "suspended his campaign", permanently, in retrospect, in late September. But does that make Palin the next Gipper?
Does she have to be, Ed? What Would Reagan Do? Well, I think the first thing is, he'd tell us, "Stop looking for the next Ronald Reagan, you morons!" Why not just do the best we can with what we've got? Whatever Sarah Palin's faults and shortcomings, she's still got more natural political talent than any Republican candidate whose name is currently being floated for 2012. Don't overthink it.

UPDATE II: John Cole blames Sarah for "whip[ping] up McCain/Palin crowds into something that resembled a modern day Triumph of the Will." This is nothing but undiluted Team Obama spin, as I explained last month in the American Spectator:
The tactic of blaming Palin for "racist anger" toward Obama developed as a theme during the fall campaign, evidently based on post hoc ergo propter hoc thinking within Team Obama. Threats against Obama increased as the campaign heated up after Labor Day, and since this followed the Aug. 29 announcement of the Alaska governor as Republican running mate, Palin herself was scapegoated.
That claim was distilled in a November article in the London Daily Telegraph with the misleading headline, "Sarah Palin blamed by the US Secret Service over death threats against Barack Obama."
The Secret Service never said any such thing and the Telegraph's story didn't actually say that they had said it. Rather, Telegraph reporter Tim Shipman was paraphrasing a Newsweek account of the campaign that quoted Obama adviser Gregory Craig in mid-October expressing concern about "the frenzied atmosphere at the Palin rallies." The same paragraph of the Newsweek story asserted (without attribution) that the Obama campaign had been "provided with reports from the Secret Service showing a sharp and very disturbing increase in threats to Obama in September and early October."
It was the Obama campaign, not the Secret Service, which suggested a connection between the "frenzied atmosphere" around Palin and the threats. Obama himself appeared to believe there was such a connection, raising it in his final debate with John McCain.
That accusation evidently stemmed from an Oct. 14 newspaper report that an audience member at a Palin rally in Scranton, Pa., shouted "kill him" when Obama's name was mentioned. The Secret Service investigated but was unable to corroborate that account, as Newsweek subsequently reported, and yet the alleged threat has entered the colloquial what-everybody-knows version of the campaign.
And for an Obama supporter to be flinging around Triumph of the Will comparisons -- oh, that's rich.

UPDATE III: A reader helpfully points out, "Reagan never looked like this":

"Frenzied atmosphere," indeed.


  1. RSM,

    Your analysis on the Palin v. Wizards of Smart is enlightening and perhaps may just have hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, the Wizards aren't so smart... and as such, they fail to see that a party united behind Palin ticket where she has been more seasoned by at least 4 years and the experience of the last race will land us the keys to 1600 Penn. Ave again. She is the ONLY reason that RINO McCain got as many votes as he did. I was at the Saxby rally in northeast metro Atlanta and that fact was self-evident. Perhaps she will pick John Kasich as VP (though a Kasich run would be nice, too)...


  2. Back in October I wrote that Peggy Noonan cast Palin as Bush. Noonan was anxious lest she once again toss her credibility after another failed presidential experiment. There was a sense of "never again" in her unfair attacks on Palin. She's sadly blind to the fact that Palin is not Bush.

    And she keeps gazing off into the sunset looking for the receding spirit of Reagan. Unfortunately, the Reagan of memory slowly becomes the Reagan of Legend. And the real Reagan is lost in a vaseline-on-the-lens Frank Capra chimera.

    I wrote a letter to the editor in response to Noonan’s “Failin’ Palin” column, but it wasn’t published. I wrote:

    The left is attempting to paint Palin as George W. Bush in a skirt, and some members of the right are buying into it. She is not George W. Bush. Palin governed as a strict fiscal conservative. Bush did not. Palin's populism is based on American values of self reliance and local autonomy. Bush's populism was grounded in what he called "compassionate conservatism" -- which translated into big government spending programs which were really only a more efficient variation of LBJ's Great Society. Palin doesn't promise goodies and programs. She simply promises to put government back on the side of the people by reining in spending and making sure taxes are low. That's basic Reagan Revolution conservatism.

    The idea that Palin, who came from nowhere and had no wealthy or famous father or husband, was anything like Bush is preposterous. She worked for everything that she had. Her life has been defined by stone cold sobriety and discipline. Her governing philosophy was summed up in the words of her gubernatorial inaugural address:

    “Take responsibility for your family and for your futures. Don’t think you need government to take care of all needs and to make decisions for you. More government isn’t the answer because you have ability, because you are Alaskans and you live in a land which God, with incredible benevolence, decided to overwhelmingly bless.”

    That isn’t Bush Republicanism. That’s Reagan Republicanism: self-reliance and optimism.

  3. Great analysis, Stacy.
    That was a terrific read.

  4. If you don’t want your candidates to be viewed as ignorant rednecks, stop trying to pander exclusively to ignorant rednecks. Problem solved.

  5. As a hardcore Obama Democrat I sincerely hope that you continue to believe that Palin is your last great hope (rather than what you're hoping for, a fine distinction) and continue marginalizing yourselves as the party of know-nothing rednecks, feedding us your moderates and intellectuals until there's nothing left but a permanent Republican minority.

  6. But as the disasters mounted and the poll numbers headed southward, that Gary Cooper glow faded and these conservative intellectuals turned on their TVs to behold, with unspeakable horror, President Jethro Bodine.

    Actually, I think a better analogy would be that with Bush, people thought they were voting for Uncle Jed (unschooled but calm, wise, kind, and a peacemaker at heart) and they ended up with Jethro (not just unschooled but dumb, arrogant, and full of crazy half baked schemes that he thought were brilliant but which always ended in disaster).

    Palin as Ellie Mae also misses the mark. Ellie Mae was kind. Se could kick the snot out of Jethro if she had to, but mostly she was devoted to gentleness. Palin came off as an attack dog. She was more Granny than Ellie Mae, and remember, Granny's schemes rarely if ever prevailed. A lot of the plots of that show involved Jed trying to mitigate the damage of Jethro and Granny's crazy ideas and antics.

    In short, if you want to learn how to do the down home thing right as a politician, you need to be more Jed and less Jethro or Granny.

  7. Don't dismiss the possibility that Palin is in fact an uneducated hick and that it didn't sell because no one wanted it.

  8. Great read, RS! As close as you have come yet to explaining Palin in relation to the overall Republican disarray.
    But you still run into the problem, as other Palin fans do, of confusing her popularity as a political figure with her being a viable candidate for the higher offices of government. I liken it to the popularity that Rush Limbaugh enjoys; yet no Conservative in their right mind would think of Rush as the potential leader of the free world.Then again...
    As a student of the great myth that is Conservatism, this Palin phenomenon is the one that intrigues me the most. I feel there is a great effort among Conservatives to finally throw Bush under the bus in hopes of disassociating Palin to the disaster known as Dubya. But the comparisons are accurate. The scary part is that Bush, even in hindsight, still comes off as smarter and more competent than Palin has in the short time she's been in the spotlight.
    What is it about Palin that just drives Conservatives into a frenzy? I think she's a symptom of the Republican/Conservative crisis. I predict that in the years leading to 2010, Palin will become a footnote in Conservative history as more qualified and capable candidates emerge in your party. In the meantime, I assume Palin supporters will go along with the joke until, like GW, she too will end up under the bus.
    It's the only way you guys will save face.

  9. Just wondering, do you have any inside knowledge on whether Gov. Palin is going ot be going back to junior college to brush up on her knowledge of the basic workings of the Federal Gov't.? Seems to me that's the thing she needs the most if she really wants to try again in 2012.

  10. I'm not sure that analysis gets it. Maybe partially, but not in full. As it applies to Frum, Brooks, Noonan, and significant portion of their ire comes down to pure class snobbery. These guys think that one needs to be educated at Harvard (remember Frum's critique of Harriet Miers centered on the fact that she didn't attend an elite school), has to be able to send a thrill up their respective legs by quoting obscure philosophers like Reinhold Niebhur (as Brooks wrote about Obama), and so forth. The could project their hopes on W. because, regardless of how Texan he might come off, he still had the blue blood in him. Palin clearly doesn't have that blue blood in her, and thus she's an interloper in their self-anointed aristocracy. For all their talk of believing in true meritocracy, they really don't - they believe in their own little blue blood aristocracy, which trumps conservative principles.

    Furthermore, all of those you mentioned were from the Northeast corridor, and none of them is all that conservative. Frum has demonstrated on a number of occasions that he'll readily sell out conservatism if he perceives that it will help win elections. Brooks has always been a moderate squish and has never demonstrated anything close to a solid commitment to basic conservative principles. He's always written in such a manner as to say to liberals that "hey, I'm not one of *those* conservatives." Allahpundit hates religious conservatives and is always more worried about how conservatives appear to liberals (see his reaction to any controversial Ann Coulter statement) than he is about conservative principles in general. And Noonan's columns demonstrate somewhat of a dilution of conservative principles over the years, as she focuses more on writing what appears to be detached, whisipy wisdom than really sticking to solid themes or principles.

    In short, everyone you mentioned is part of or is more comfortable with the country club Republican set, those that in the pre-Reagan days gave us (to borrow from Phyillis Schlafly) an echo, not a choice. Palin may not be Reagan, but in the struggle between the country clubbers and the rock ribbed conservatives, there is no doubt that she would side with the latter and do so proudly without apology. And a rock-ribbed conservative that could actually win an election scares them far more than liberals do.

  11. Or, thirteen28, it could be that they bash Gov. Palin because Gov. Palin really IS an ignoramus who wears her ignorance as a badge of honor. But hey, you guys keep hanging on to her...

  12. Go Sarah. We dem's really do want you to run.

  13. Rock ribbed inflatable doll is closer to the truth than the viable candidate some of you imagine her to be.
    Think of her as the conservative response to Ron Paul.
    Sure she has a small following. But what made Reagan a powerful force was his ability to reach demographics that the quaint Palin could never dream of.
    In fact, had she run for governor anywhere but Alaska we wouldn't be here talking about her.
    And to further make the point for us all is the Ziegler conspiracy theory documentary. If Ziegler's point was to vindicate Palin then he failed miserably.The premise that McCain/Palin lost because of the media further proves the point that the Conservative movement suffers from a lack of accountability.

  14. Who has the ignoramus when Biden is on the trail saying 'a three letter word, jobs. J-O-B-S.. jobs.'

    The guy has stolen more intellectual property than Carlos Mencia has stolen jokes.

    not to mention the hair plugs and the botox.

  15. Sorry Palin fanboy, she lost, get over it.

  16. Palin can´t resist WHINING. The latest video is 9 minutes of it, trashing 3 women and some very catty remarks.
    I doubt the GROWTH that Palin needs will occur in 4 years.

  17. "Who [w]as the ignoramus when Biden is on the trail saying 'a three letter word, jobs. J-O-B-S.. jobs."

    You're actually using THAT as a comparison to the dumb stuff that Gov. Gidget has said???

    That's so sad....

  18. Some of the Palin haters here should remember that every candidate makes a few verbal slipups... except Obama was given the benefit of the doubt virtually every time.

    In any case, we'll make our own choices from here on out. You guys "helped" us pick "crazy uncle John," so I'm not so sure your advice is to be trusted.

  19. Palin apologists should keep in mind that verbal slip-ups have nothing to do with why she is so polarizing.
    Of course, that Palin fans cannot recognize her flaws is no surprise.I see that Palin supporters are at pains at trying to figure out what it is about this woman that turns so many people off, including many Republicans.
    But Conservatives are hopeless in so many ways, and this is exemplified in the belief that somehow Democrats had something to do with McCain's nomination. This conspiracy theory originated with Rush Limbaugh when in a moment of desperation at his inability to influence the nomination process, he had to find someone to blame. This gave way to the pathetic " Operation Chaos" garbage. Nice going loser! At least he was able to profit off of the idiots who listen to him by way of the stupid coffee mugs and bumper stickers he was able to pawn off on an unsuspecting audience.Maybe this explains the Palin fandom?

  20. ...ergo proctor hoc.

    Hope you fix that. The point you're making is so pivotal and important, the typo distracted me. Not that this is the biggest problem in the universe just now, but still.

  21. Sorry I missed this when you originally posted it. I really have to say that I agree with the general message you are presenting here. I do think there is something to your argument about why the Frums, etc, dislike her. Too many in the Palin army chalk it "all" up to "fear" of her solid conservatism. I have to share something about what is that has built the "army". Those of us in this "army" have watched her every OFFICIAL move in Alaska. We've seen how she has fought against the handout mentality in the legislature there. We've seen how she has kicked butt in dealing with the oil companies. We've heard her discussion of energy policy and doubt anyone knows this issue better than she does. We've come to understand the Missouri Plan on Supreme Court appointments in Alaska and understand her role in the Exxon Valdez decision. We know how committed she was to making the absolute best of the reality of being a staunchly conservative governor dealing with the Obama administration. We know a thousand times more about this woman than most conservative bloggers could even hope to get their minds around............and that's why we are in her army........not because of Kool-Aid but because of her record and the very serious and conservative manner in which she has governed in Alaska. Being told that we are ignorant Kool-Aid drinkers by people, particularly our conservative compatriots and particularly from those who know only about 2% of what we know about Governor Palin is the reality we live in now. The people you refer to in this post can't see the forest because the trees are getting in their way. They simply need to pay closer attention to what Palin's capacity is to govern by looking very very closely at her record. Then, if they don't see what we see, then I would argue that they don't really appreciate what a mess we're in right now and what it will take to get us out of it.

    Thanks for your time and consideration.

  22. Sarah Palin, and I know, exactly what America needs.

    america needs to believe in itself as an exceptional nation; to undergo a broad fundamental spiritual revival; to stand as one against the forces of new liberalism, and from the spiritual conversion innovate a new technology revolution.
    Dr. Wayne R White