Sarah Palin, and The Weekly Standard's Decadal Audition for Ideological Ventriloquist in Chief


wanna live like the common people!

To his (unintentional) credit, Matthew Continetti did give us fair warning two-thirds of the way through his recent Weekly Standard cover valentine/audition letter to Sarah Palin:

A good sign of condescension is when someone tells you that "things are more complicated" than you think.

This bit of jes'-folks wisdom, in a piece so full of it that even avowed fans of the Ivy League-educated, twentysomething political reporter are embarrassed for him, came a dozen paragraphs after this attempt to rehabiliate the virtues of the allegedly Palinesque Andrew Jackson and, uh, William Jennings Bryan:

Because Andrew Jackson was the founder of the modern Democratic party, we have a tendency to look at him through big-government eyes. We draw a line that starts with Jackson, runs through Bryan, Woodrow Wilson, and FDR, and ends up at Barack Obama. But the facts are more complicated than that.


The facts about Sarah Palin's ideology are apparently not so much complicated as they are almost non-existent (at least by judging this article; I haven't read Continetti's book-length treatment, but I hear it's more of the same), so once again, a Weekly Standard star reporter is left in the position of talking about what this possibly presidential lump of clay ought to be thinking about.

So it is that Andrew Jackson's "democratic legacy" is one Palin "ought to embrace." Her "pointed criticisms of the Obama agenda and the liberal media" need to be "tied" to "a larger argument about how ordinary people with common sense can rescue the American economy and revitalize American democracy." Palin may have "Jacksonian instincts," says a man who was born during the Reagan presidency, "but she still hasn't forged her own political persuasion. Time to add flesh to the bone."

Needless to say, Continetti is public-spirited enough to offer his own flesh to Palin's bone. Along the way, in a piece that reeks of elite anti-elitism and uncommon-man common-manism, the writer lets the mask slip at the nearly conjugal moment of declaring that the beloved Tea Party rabble needs a Dear Leader:


Above all, the public is dissatisfied with the solutions that both parties have to offer. But, because today's populists lack institutional support, and because they don't have a programmatic agenda, they vent their frustrations in disorganized ways. The left-wing populists rail against CEO compensation, bank bailouts, and lobbyist influence in government. The right-wing populists attack the auto bailouts, government spending, and Obamacare. There is no central authority directing the tea party protestors. There was no single leader who ordered the 9/12 taxpayer march on Washington. Instead, you have multiple voices, with overlapping (and sometimes contradictory) antagonisms, agendas, and priorities.

The upshot is a creative and unregulated political marketplace. The most compelling figures and ideas prosper. No one has a dominant position. But it's also clear that what Michael Barone has called the "balance of enthusiasm" in politics is now squarely on the right. And yet, like all markets, the political trading post is prone to bubbles, excesses, rumors, and even the occasional conspiracy theory.

All of which creates a gigantic opening for a politician to display imagination and leadership. An opportunity for a figure who will separate the good populism (championing free-enterprising individuals) from the bad (concocting loony theories and vilifying "enemies of the people"). Someone who will give voice to the millions who don't want government aggrandizing the powerful; who don't want government risking dangerous fiscal imbalances; who do want public policies that create the conditions for a general prosperity. Someone, in other words, who can play the same role in contemporary politics that Jackson, Bryan, and Reagan did in the past.

She lives in Alaska.

Some of us, I guess

Forget Palin; let's talk about The Weekly Standard. What kind of journalistic pathology yearns so nakedly to provide the brainpower to supplement politicians' animal magnetism? And when are we going to get the mother of all internal magazine stories, the one that describes just how the same lot who breathed ideology into an emptyish vessel called John McCain 10 years ago turned on their own creation when he finally neared the finish line and doubled-down instead on the unqualified veep candidate they helped foist up on him?

Good luck finding a link to the whole thing online, but in April 1999 The Weekly Standard went through the exact same Continetti-Palin exercise, this time with David Brooks and John McCain reprising the Steve Martin/Rick Rossovich roles. Instead of Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Bryan, the historical analogue was Teddy Roosevelt (with the same comical to-be-sures about the historical analogues' virulent racism and big-government activism). In both you'll see raw yearning for a Great (Wo)Man to lead us (once equipped with the right ideology), and a bizarre fixation with what Continetti calls "the imaginative frontier," or the metaphorical nostalgia trip that came after the actual frontier had closed. Like Continetti and his oughtta-bes, Brooks is filled with references to the political brute's blank slate:

when McCain talks about his patriotism, he is groping to articulate what that is. Right now his sentiments are vague. […]

McCain has no central narrative to organize his thinking, and no public philosophy to explain America's purpose. […] [But] if you look at his policies, you can begin to imagine a national narrative and a public philosophy that might be erected around them.

You don't have to squint too closely at such prose to see not just condescension but an active anti-individualism; not just political horse-picking but straight-up preference for centralization, organized behind a benighted if holographic authority figure who can lead the common man toward a shiny collective pony. It's all kind of gross.

NEXT: How Much Does A Decade of Health Care Reform Cost? It Depends on What You Mean By "First Decade."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. ‘Needless to say, Continetti is public-spirited enough to offer his own flesh to Palin’s bone.’

    Or vice versa.

    1. +1

      That’s so much better than what I was gonna say.

    2. I say, Mr. Max, it’s generally not considered good form to win the thread with the very first comment.

  2. Jesus, even I am getting tired of this subject. I am starting to wish for Rand threads.

    Since there is literally nothing else to be said about Palin, consider this. You do actually have to appeal to people to win elections. And that means appealing to people at an emotional level. Successful politicians at the national level are not wonks. Reagan wasn’t a wonk. Clinton wasn’t a wonk. Even baby Jesus in the whitehouse right now is not a wonk. What the really good ones like Clinton and Reagan could do was make people feel like they were one of them and understood their problems.

    It may be a wonderful site to the Reason staff seeing Suderman and Welch smelling each other’s farts and writing white papers about the relevance of Austrian economics and the roll of John Galt in modern America. But that is not what gets people to vote.

    Dan Reihl made a great point about this today. The right has plenty of eggheads and plenty of self appointed deep thinkers. But sorry to tell them this, most people don’t care and don’t want to hear from them. What the right needs, desparately, is someone who can connect with the electorate. Perhaps the wonks ought to be nice to the people who can, even if they wouldn’t vote for them for President.

    1. Clinton and Obama are the definition of wonks. They also had charisma. You can have both. Actually, I think wonkiness should be a prerequisite.

      1. Clinton yes, Obama no.

    2. The right has plenty of eggheads?? Really? Name one that is actually in a position to influence policy on the ground.

  3. Since this thread is in desparate need of a thread jack. It is apparently official that the Census worker in Kenntucky faked his own suicide. I recall numerous liberal trolls on here claiming that that wasn’t true. So much for Glen Beck being responsible.


    1. I think you mean faked his own murder. People who fake their own suicides are generally more alive than that guy.

      1. Yes, faked his murder by committing suicide.

  4. Yo John, Ima let you finish, but I just want to say Matt Welch is the best Reason blogger of all time.

  5. What kind of journalistic pathology yearns so nakedly to provide the brainpower to supplement politicians’ animal magnetism?

    Journalism is that pathology.

    Except for the “brain” part. It mostly runs on built-in Word thesaurus power.

    1. I was gonna say, doesn’t every journalist who supports a (potential or actual) candidate?

  6. I wanna sleep with common people like you.

  7. Enough about bones and flesh. Where’s the hand lotion?

    1. “Enough about bones and flesh. Where’s the hand lotion?”

      In the basket.

  8. What kind of journalistic pathology yearns so nakedly to provide the brainpower to supplement politicians’ animal magnetism?

    You might ask Paul Krugman. Or Ezra Klein.

  9. You might ask Paul Krugman. Or Ezra Klein.

    AKA the “intellectual” bodyguard for the House of HohenzolleBama.

  10. I look forward to reading Welch’s Palin book when it comes out in 2011.

  11. Can you believe those hyper-liberals over at The Weekly Standard have dared to call Palin a populist?

  12. People who fake their own suicides are generally more alive than that guy.

    More alive, and in South America, living on the proceeds of the insurance settlement.

  13. So it is that Andrew Jackson’s “democratic legacy” is one Palin “ought to embrace.”

    Yeah, ol’ Andy Jackson woulda knew what to do about them Messicans! And he wouldn’t let no Supreme Court tell him what he cain’t do, neither!

    1. Jackson didn’t do anything to the Mexicans. That was Polk. Jackson knew what to do with Indians, particularly Cherokees.

      1. I’m pretty sure he was making an analogy there. You see, there was thing with Florida….

        1. The Spanards owned Florida not the Mexicans. There is a difference.

          1. Are you trying to imitate an autistic person?

          2. An analogy to the present. He’s saying Mexican immigrants are today’s Cherokees.

  14. And- as for that heaping helping of blather and codswallop: who tells these snot-nosed children they have anything to say that is actually worth listening to?

    SHUT THE FUCK UP, Junior.

  15. Matthew Continetti and Ezra Klein have got phone sex jerk n’ weep written all over them.

    1. Reminder: There is no such thing as mind bleach.

  16. If you’re going to conjure a hologram-candidate on which to project your agenda, why wouldn’t you at least pick one with a decent speaking voice? It doesn’t matter what she says, her voice is like being stabbed in the ears with knitting needles.

  17. Is there a more loathsome columnist in America today than David Brooks? I would honestly rather have a beer with Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, and Matt Yglesias than be in the same room with that four-eyed fascist.

  18. Just damn

    Awesome post

  19. This blog’s obsession with Sarah Palin is pathetic.

  20. Least # of comments on a Palin-related thread record holder?

    Known Palin Ideology:

    She’s for jury nullification.

  21. I am so, so, tired of Sarah Palin.

    Please die, Sarah.

  22. I am with Hazel…Sarah fake your own death……please just DIE already.

  23. Saw Matt Welch on CSPAN & all I can say is the guy is so bright & shiny
    his glasses are almost blinding…
    and so conservatively libertarian

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.