It was clear within the first few days of her nomination as vice president that can-do Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was a peculiarly divisive political figure. But who knew she would become a one-woman Republican civil war?
Here's George Will, in a Sunday Washington Post column that I shall decorate with a few reason hyperlinks:
Some of the Republicans' afflictions are self-inflicted. Some conservatives who are gluttons for punishment are getting a head start on ensuring a 2012 drubbing by prescribing peculiar medication for a misdiagnosed illness. They are monomaniacal about media bias, which is real but rarely decisive, and unhinged by their anger about the loathing of Sarah Palin by similarly deranged liberals. These conservatives, confusing pugnacity with a political philosophy, are hot to anoint Palin, an emblem of rural and small-town sensibilities, as the party's presumptive 2012 nominee.
These conservatives preen as especially respectful of regular—or as Palin says, "real"—Americans, whose tribune Palin purports to be. But note the argument that the manipulation of Americans by "the mainstream media" explains the fact that the more Palin campaigned, the less Americans thought of her qualifications. This argument portrays Americans as a bovine herd—or as inert clay in the hands of wily media, which only Palin's conservative celebrators can decipher and resist.
These conservatives, smitten by a vice presidential choice based on chromosomes, seem eager to compete on the Democrats' terrain of identity politics, entering the "diversity" sweepstakes they have hitherto rightly deplored.
An intriguing subplot in all of this has been the role of certain magazines of opinion, and what that might say about a conservative moment that once embraced a distinct style of intellectualism. Here's Mark Lilla writing about "Populist Chic" in the Wall Street Journal:
John McCain's choice was not a fluke, or a senior moment, or an act of desperation. It was the result of a long campaign by influential conservative intellectuals to find a young, populist leader to whom they might hitch their wagons in the future.
And not just any intellectuals. It was the editors of National Review and the Weekly Standard, magazines that present themselves as heirs to the sophisticated conservatism of William F. Buckley and the bookish seriousness of the New York neoconservatives. After the campaign for Sarah Palin, those intellectual traditions may now be pronounced officially dead. […]
Over the [last] 25 years there [has grown] up a new generation of conservative writers who cultivated none of their elders' intellectual virtues—indeed, who saw themselves as counter-intellectuals. Most are well-educated and many have attended Ivy League universities; in fact, one of the masterminds of the Palin nomination was once a Harvard professor. But their function within the conservative movement is no longer to educate and ennoble a populist political tendency, it is to defend that tendency against the supposedly monolithic and uniformly hostile educated classes. They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them.
I am not now and will never be a Republican (nor any other kind of political tribesman), but I have an active interest in seeing the two dominant political parties in this country embrace the maximum amount of freedom. Which, these days, isn't very maximum at all. What's particularly curious to me about this whole "We need new ideas to connect with those Sam's Club voters we never hang out with" meme is that I've seen very little enthusiasm for adopting a policy that has real juice out there in the grassroots of both parties–opposition to the ill-planned, panic-brokered, $2 trillion-and-counting bailout. The effects of which will be with us long after we remember the cruise-ship habits of star-struck opinion journalists.