The new conservatism, and reactions to Palin speech

(Note: more comments have been added to this thread as of 9/5 at 7 p.m, on the subject of the new conservatism.)

I will be away from the computer during the day tomorrow. But for now here is my very brief take. Sarah Palin is an interesting and talented figure. To see a woman on the national stage who is obviously capable and tough, yet also young and attractive, is certainly a novelty. As I’ve said before, she is an American original—almost like, say, an Ayn Rand heroine, Dagny Taggart, the beautiful young woman who runs a transcontinental raiilroad. But Palin (like Rand’s heroes) does not represent conservatism. She represents something that has replaced conservatism, at least within the Republican party. I don’t have a name for it yet, though I’ve been arguing intensively against it over these last several days. While there are many things to say about it, the epitome of this new “conservatism” is that under the old conservatism, and the old America, an out of wedlock pregnancy was a shame, while under the new “conservatism,” an out of wedlock pregnancy is proudly displayed before the world, at the highest level of our national life. It is impossible to feel good about this.Thus, paradoxically, the more intriguing, impressive, and novel Sarah Palin becomes, the more demoralizing, desolating, and alienating she becomes.

(Update: The reference to Dagny Taggart was, of course, only meant to suggest that Palin, like Taggart, is an attractive young woman who is tough and knows how to wield power; there is even a physical resemblance between them. Inevitably, a commenter, over at 4W, though I was saying that Palin is a Randian figure or believes in Randian ideas. Heaven save us from the literal minded who are incapable of understanding an analogy!)

Below are some comments on the convention tonight and other miscellaneous points. In other recent threads, further comments have been posted.

—end of initial entry—

Terry Morris writes:

I’m watching the RNC as I write. A few minutes ago the camera panned across a section of the auditorium zooming in on a woman’s decorated hat that I think epitomizes Republican reaction to the Palin selection. The hat had several pins on it lined in a row. A professionally done “McCain-Palin” pin, of course. But more interestingly, a pin to its left, apparently hand drawn, of a stick figure with a gloomy face. The pin read “Before Palin.” To the right of the McCain-Palin pin was another hand drawn pin. The stick figure was represented as being ecstatic. And the pin read, of course, “After Palin.”

M. Mason writes:

Sarah’s a pistol, isn’t she?

Laura W. writes:

“All of these qualities contribute to making Sarah a great leader,” proclaimed Hawaiian Gov. Linda Lingle, speaking before a banner-waving crowd to justify John McCain’s nomination a few days before this national convention of a political unknown for vice president. What qualifications was Lingle referring to at that moment in her speech? The fact that Sarah Palin had led her high school basketball team to a state championship and had won a beauty pageant in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, population 6,715. I would have been moved if I hadn’t the overwhelming impression that I was watching a speech for the high school student council, not the vice presidency of the United States of America.

Lingle didn’t need to speak for Palin. Palin can very well speak for herself. She is a terrific speaker, a woman who looks straight at the camera, never flinches and could convincingly argue that Michael Jordan would make a great president. What’s there not to like in her manner? These talents will go far no matter what she does. She is a gifted and attractive figure. [LA replies: Yes. In all our fascination with Palin, we’ve forgotten that she is now the lieutenant and promoter of McCain. Think of all the former anti-McCainites who are now pro-McCainites because of Palin. But Palin is not an independent voice. She is part of the McCain team.]

The problem was all in the background: the appearance of her 17-year-old pregnant daughter and her boyfriend, soon to be her shotgun-husband; the shameless use of her infant son, who should have been home sleeping, as a political prop; and the indefinite status of her husband (was he babysitter or cheerleader?), a man who appeared effeminate in comparison and whose working class credentials were used as a badge of moral superiority in the way Obama uses his race. [LA replies: I hadn’t thought of that. You’re right. And how sustainable is this situation, where this tough guy, Todd Palin is the accessory to his wife? How does he really feel about this? Are Republicans and conservatives really going to tell us that this represents progress?]

It’s not Palin herself that’s the problem. It’s what she represents. To me, she represents the triumph of image over substance in the Republican Party and, despite her pro-family credentials, the dangerous weakness of families in America.

Laura continues:

I’d like to mention one more thing about Palin’s speech if I may. As I said in the previous e-mail, this is a very talented woman, but I think the burning conviction is partly a show. I don’t mean she’s a fake, I just mean she has a talent for conveying burning conviction even when there’s not much there.

Let me give an example. One of the things Palin said with the most conviction, if you saw her speech and I assume you did, was that she would defend the interests of families with special needs children if she is elected. I can’t remember her exact words, but she said she would be more qualified that anyone to be this brave defender. The problem is she’s not qualified. There’s nothing substantial there. She has been the mother of a “special needs” infant for only five months. She has no idea really what it’s like over the long haul to have a child who requires unusual care due to congenital abnormality. Her conviction on this is a show.

Laura continues:

Bristol’s sister, (Willow, is it?) is a real beauty, isn’t she? She will be getting a lot of attention by photographers, I expect. It’s sad. She looks so innocent, so lovely. In a weird way, she’s tarnished by Bristol’s problem too. This may be crass, but I think it will be hard for people to look at her without thinking …. I’m not saying it’s right. It’s just the way these things work. You can remove the stigma of illegitimacy all you want, but it’s obvious wrong lingers in the human conscience. Same thing with homosexuality. Once it becomes socially sanctioned, people go wild over it, focus on it to a disturbing degree because they’re unknowingly wrestling with their own consciences.

So here’s another prediction for you: if the Palin family comes to Washington, they will be the object of indecent attention as long as Palin holds office and not just from angry liberals, but from the public at large.

I really admire you and believe your conviction couldn’t possibly stem from the thrill of being an intellectual maverick. You must care about the Bristols of the world too.

LA replies:

Thank you. but on this issue of all issues I don’t feel I’m being a maverick. I’m defending what conservatives and Americans have always thought to be true. I’m not doing anything idiosyncratic here. I’m expressing shock and dismay at the radically unconservative and untraditional views that the supposed conservatives are taking.

Tommy writes:

I agree with you, LA. Palin should withdraw on principle. I would add that Palin should withdraw for the good of the Republican Party.

Palin’s family situation is symptomatic of the Californication of the Republican Party. When they fail to act firmly, conservatives are forced to argue their merits from positions that are ever more nuanced and irrelevant to the voting public. Every dubious social and political behavior tolerated and celebrated by liberals is legitimized and moved—with seeming permanence—beyond the scope of open debate when Republicans begin justifying behaviors they once denounced of the Left. This leaves Republicans to defend a sort of grab-bag morality that strikes most voters as a product of political pandering rather than one of principle.

Palin’s withdraw might be a momentary blow to the GOP, but she would be doing conservatives and Republicans a favor in the long run by withdrawing her nomination. We already know what a Republican Party that avoids staking out moral positions looks like, and the example of the GOP in New England and California is not one Republicans seeking electoral success should follow.

LA replies:

Of course it’s too late for her to withdraw, and I never expected her to. I wrote that editorial because she OUGHT to have withdrawn, and because, notwithstanding all the hooplah of “conservatives,” her nomination represents the ruin of conservatism. I was saying that her withdrawal was the only hope for the survival of conservatism.

Jack S. writes:

I disagree with you on the Palin issue. McCain is a horrible candidate and is on the wrong side on many issues. I’ve written to you before about what I think of his undeserved reputation as a hero. A hero is a man who kills the enemy in great numbers not one who is tortured and humiliated by the enemy. Palin is an unknown and unproven commodity. Her selection to run with McCain is a cynical act of pure tokenism. [LA replies: How can you say it’s tokenism, given her obvious and impressive talents?] Furthermore I instinctively distrust all lady Republicans.The current strength of liberalism is a direct result of the infantilization and feminization of political discourse brought on by women having the right to vote. Hearing her speak in that baby voice with her singsong cadence makes me cringe. [LA replies: I understand. In the larger picture it would be better if we did not have all these women in politics. But that’s not the issue I’m dealing with here. I’m just dealing with the fact of her.]

Yet despite all of this I will vote for McCain/Palin as I think anyone who loves and is worried about America’s future should do. Rather than vote for McCain, I will vote against Obama.

While Barack Hussein Mugabe is at the gate of white America, howling for our blood, we cannot take time to debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin or how closely McCain and his new lady friend hew to conservative ideals. [LA replies: I can’t imagine anyone who is less of a howler than Obama. He may very well represent our ruin, but to call Obama a “howler” does not strengthen your case.]

Clark Coleman writes:

You have stated several times that Republicans are being “forced” to accept teenage illegitimate motherhood because of Bristol Palin. There have certainly been disturbing, fawning statements by some evangelicals, for example. But my question is, Why?

When Bill Clinton was president, Democrats were forced either to abandon him, or make the argument that character does not matter, that only policies and competence matter. If we had nominated or elected Rudy Giuliani, Republicans would have been in the same position. If Sarah Palin were pregnant due to adultery at this very moment, or otherwise engaged in personal scandal of her own making, ditto.

But I do not understand why all conservatives could not just say, “I regret the fact of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy. Now that she is pregnant, I am glad she is not aborting the child, but I want to make it clear that her premarital sex was obviously a mistake.” In fact, this was exactly my own reaction when I heard the news: Too bad she got pregnant; I wish she would put the baby up for adoption; barring that, getting married is the next best choice.

For some reason, these natural caveats went unspoken among “evangelical leaders” and “conservative” talk show hosts. Why? I don’t think you can say they were “forced” into this response. I was not forced into such a response. They have free will just like I do.

My answer is that we have a totally partisan climate in which no politician ever admits he made a mistake, and the partisan defenders of the politicians generally circle the wagons and refuse to admit any mistakes if they sense that such an admission would be used against their party’s politician. This is compounded by the disastrously evil, smiling snake that the other party has nominated for president, and Republicans’ fear of the harm he will do to the country. But they still have the free will to give a reasoned response along the lines that I gave.

By the way, did Democrats have to accept and legitimize everything that Billy Carter said and did? I realize that he was not a minor child, but there is still a difference between a candidate’s own actions and those of a relative who is not going to hold any public position, even the unofficial position of First Lady.

LA replies:

That is a very interesting comment.

MDM writes:

I have nothing very interesting to say about the issue, but I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your recent blog posts on the Sarah Palin problem. In my opinion you are right in everything you have said so far, especially when you pointed out that the nomination procedure culminating in this disgraceful situation has been more imperial than republican in character. Thanks for being such a good spokesman for us ignored traditional conservatives.

James W. writes:

I predicted this would happen. When McCain became de facto reperesentative of the Republicans (and let us remember from a very weak field), we lost.

However, there is still a match race going on, even if it is between a Trojan Horse ready for the glue factory and a wolf in sheep’s clothing—but human nature being what it is, people will still go to the betting window and holler. No harm in that, and plenty of harm in taking ourselves too seriously right at this second. Going to be plenty of opportunity for that.

And how can anyone think Palin is less qualified to be President than McCain or Obama??? How do you get under that bar? Like I said, we lost.

Jim C. writes:

You mentioned Jay Nordlinger the other day. Be sure to read all of his posts since THE SPEECH esp. 9/4 1:44 AM plus the link.

Richard P. writes:

Your comparison of Palin to Dagny Taggart is intriguing and inspired a question for me. Are we seeing what Nietzsche predicted? He believed the 21st century would be far worse than the 20th because we would see the “eclipse of all values” as the last vestiges of Christian morality fall away. Well we are seeing that without question. American Christianity is fast becoming another outlet for identity politics rather than a religion as our ancestors would have understood it. The right is beginning to take the same restaurant menu approach to morality as the left.

Say what you will about Nietzsche, but when he exclaimed “God is dead and we have killed him” it was not with glee. It was with foreboding. Whether there was a last man or an over man, horrors would follow.

LA replies:

I’m not sure how the Taggart comparison relates to identity politics, but certainly Republicans seem to be exhibiting nihililist tendencies, meaning the loss of the belief in an objective moral truth. Perhaps closer to nihilism than identity politics is the vitalism that the Republicans are adopting as part of their embrace of Palin—the idea that rural people, people from small towns, are “real people,” because their lives are messy, which implies that the rest of us whose lives are not messy, or who are not from small towns, are not “real people.” This seems to me a vitalist idea, which (again, as explained here) is a type of nihilism.

John Hagan writes:

Governor Palin seems like a thoroughly normal, American-type, and I think she is the best candidate running out of the four. The problem is that she is John McCain’s vice president. And that means whoever, or whatever she is … will be under McCain’s thumb.

Whatever value she has a transformative candidate, and I suspect she might have such value, is essentially lost in this process. In the end it is John McCain who this campaign will revolve around.

Once this euphoria over Palin recedes, and recede it will…. we will be left with the reality that the Republican party has nominated a man who literally despises the base of his own party. A man who ran back and forth during the so-called comprehensive immigration reform bill debate on the floor of the United States Senate asking Ted Kennedy instructions on how he should vote!

With leadership like this it’s no wonder conservatives have jumped the moon over the Palin pick. I like Governor Palin. I have an intuitive comfort with it. But considering the situation we are in, I just don’t think it matters all that much what happens with the vice presidency unless that vice president is in a position of power. Governor Palin, at this point in time, is just an empty canvas waiting to be colored in … and that may never happen.

So excuse me if I don’t get too excited about the promise of her.

LA writes:

Remember how Republicans made a fascist-type cult out of President Bush, oohing and aahing over the sight of him wearing a flight suit on the aircraft carrier? Now they’re doing the same with Sarah Palin. They have the photo of her wearing a t-shirt and aiming a very formidable weapon, with the caption: “She’s the one we’ve been waiting for.”

LA writes:

Richard Lowry is swooning over Palin.

By the way, has no one noticed that other than being for gun rights and against abortion we essentially have no idea what Palin’s views are on national political issues?

Phil M. writes:

I was thinking that if McCain were to win the election, this “magical mystery tour” would continue marching right into the White House and beyond. If we were thinking this Palin/Diana phenomenon is just for election image, I think we better think again. I can imagine that this show is just getting started. Once McCain realizes how easy it was for “conservatives” to fall for his running mate, he will likely parade her out when ever a tough battle over policy is expected, to get “conservatives” in line.

Of course, the solution to the Republican-McCain/Palin “magical mystery tour” is for Obama to win. BTW, Rush Limbaugh said, I think on his last week’s show, that a McCain presidency would be better for conservatives because McCain can be reasoned with, like Bush on immigration or Supreme Court nominations (read Harriet Meyers), and put pressure to change the position. I don’t think anything of the kind with McCain. McCain has proven his utter contempt for true conservatives and would be unlikely to change just because a bunch of his core differs on policy.

LA writes:

I wrote:

[T]he epitome of this new “conservatism” is that under the old conservatism, and the old America, an out of wedlock pregnancy was a shame, while under the new “conservatism,” an out of wedlock pregnancy is proudly displayed before the world, at the highest level of our national life.

And here’s an example of the new “conservatism.” Cal Thomas, a Christian conservative columnist, writes:

Abstinence is a standard that works 100 percent of the time for those who practice it. There are consequences for those who do not and Bristol Palin has joined a growing list of young women who have come to realize that too late. As to whether any of this should reflect poorly on Sarah Palin or her husband, I suspect most Americans will empathize with all concerned and say no.

It doesn’t reflect poorly on the Palins that their 17 year old daughter got pregnant? In that case, the Palins haven’t failed at anything they were supposed to do. Which means it’s not part of the job of parents to keep their underaged daughters from having sexual relations and becoming pregnant. They may try, but success is not expected. Bottom line: parents who want to keep their daughters from becoming pregnant will get no support from conservatives. But if their daughters do become pregnant, they will receive support and empathy.

Terry Morris writes:

Wow! I can certainly see how conservatives are drawn to this woman, Mrs. Palin. I hadn’t listened to her speak until her speech at the convention with exception of a few seconds while doing some business at a local bank during her speech in Dayton. But about halfway into her speech last night I turned to my wife and said, “Well, I can now see why conservatives are excited about her; she’s a talented speaker, she’s a commanding presence on stage and she captures your attention.”

As for her husband and children, my overall impression is that they form a very nice looking, well adjusted family. And while it may project the wrong image to some conservatives (and I can certainly understand why) that the baby was at the convention and that Bristol was the apparent primary care giver, I have to tell you that no more than a few years ago you would have seen the exact same thing with my family in a public setting where our youngest would have been taken care of by our oldest daughter. Indeed, this is still the case except that our youngest is no longer an infant requiring constant hands-on care. And yes, it has always been our overarching goal as parents to prepare our daughters to be good mothers in adulthood. And hands-on training is one of the best ways to do that. Also, I don’t think it caused any long term harm to the baby being present at the convention for a mere couple of hours.

What strikes me as somewhat odd with the Palins is the following:

(1) Mr. Palin’s role as supportive husband; Mrs. Palin is the dominant personality, she appears to have all the ambition, all the drive, all the energy, all the talent, and so on and so forth. Everything projects outwardly from her. One can easily imagine that she’s the primary disciplinarian, the primary rule- and decision-maker in the family, etc. And while this is by no means uncommon in modern America, is this the image conservatives want to project of the “typical” American family? I think not.

(2) The names of the Palin children. Apparently they’re named after Alaskan trees. While she and her husband have traditional names, they’ve chosen to give to their children non-traditional names. I have family members who do this, and I’ve never understood it. They name their children such things as “Sky,” and “River.” And true to the names they give their children, these family members of mine are a bit eccentric, for lack of a better term. And by the way, speaking of eccentricity, there is a fairly significant “eccentric” community in Alaska consisting of what I would describe as “hippie holdovers.” These are the people who are responsible for the five Alaskan votes that went to Ron Paul. I think this community has had an influence on Mr. and Mrs. Palin, evident in the naming of their children. In what other ways might we learn of this hippie influence on the Palins, Mrs. Palin in particular?

And so I think the face of political conservatism has forever been altered in America. We have the “maverick” John McCain and his eccentric female running mate Sarah Palin representing what’s left of political conservatism in America.

P.S. The apple apparently doesn’t fall far from the tree in the youngest daughter of the Palins. What is she, six? And yet she appears to be very self-confident, very self-assured, personable, friendly, and downright adorable. The biggest reaction of the night for my wife was when the camera captured her holding and caring for the baby, wiping down his hair. And then she does it!, she wipes her hand across her tongue then wipes it across the baby’s head. My wife’s reaction: “Oh my God!” I’d love to see Sarah Palin’s reaction to that video. LOL

The Editrix writes from Germany:

I am following the discussion at VfR, and specifically that about Palin’s pregnant daughter, with growing fascination. At one point you say that Palin “represents something that has replaced conservatism,” and that you don’t have a name for it yet. I think there is no name for it because what she is can’t be defined as a political stance. All she is, is “unconventional.” Unconventional in a world where political correctness has replaced values, and breaking a politically correct taboo requires some backbone. So a woman who chooses not to abort a child, or who has no hangups about shooting (what Americans call hunting) when guns have become a symbol for the evil in the world, or who happens to be still married to the same man, will be labelled “conservative.”

The central idea is that being conservative is a patchwork of non-politically correct items instead of a deeply ingrained outlook, a lifetime concept, a worldview.

Comments posted September 5

Terry Morris writes:

Nora Brinker’s comments are interesting. One might denominate this style of conservatism (if you’re still in search of a name) “outward looking” conservatism. As a world and life view, traditional conservatism is that to which people look (their deeply held inward convictions we’ll say) to help them to discern the good, the right, the just and to separate that from the mere appearance of goodness, rightness, justness. Modern conservatism doesn’t look inward, but outward. It looks on the exterior, and if it looks good and right and just externally, then it is good and right and just. So, whatever is presently acceptable and in vogue can be shown to be good and conservative so long as certain surviving criteria are met. Of course, eventually our current criteria will change and deteriorate until we have no standards by which to measure conservatism as opposed to liberalism, so long as our conservatism remains outward looking.

An example might be this: Feminism is good and right and just (we’ve all come to realize this now, with exception of a few holdouts); it’s just that certain feminists take their feminism to the extreme, demanding rights that they should not have—the right to murder their unborn babies. If we can just rid feminism of all the radicals then we could see how truly right and good feminism is. The same might be said of homosexuality; if we can get rid of the radical element then homosexuality is just an alternative lifestyle that we shouldn’t be condemning. After all, there are “conservative” homosexuals out there.

I dunno … maybe you can figure it out.

LA replies:

I think you’re on to something.

Dale F. writes:

The Editrix makes a very perceptive remark regarding Palin’s unconventionality. To be unconventional is not necessarily to be either conservative or liberal, and yet there is a “good” kind of unconventionality that is very much a defining characteristic of American culture. Many of our heroes, men as disparate as Ben Franklin, John Muir, Wilbur Wright, or George Patton, are defined in part by their willingness to go against conventional thinking in a good cause. It’s probably a key to understanding Palin’s appeal.

Robert Johnson writes:

“She represents something that has replaced conservatism, at least within the Republican party. I don’t have a name for it yet, though I’ve been arguing intensively against it over these last several days.”

As usual, you’ve put your finger on something. Particularly in the context of a McCain candidacy, conservatism is a tool rather than something core and elemental. Many are mildly surprised that McCain has turned to conservative issues and conservative rhetoric but are nonetheless pleased even if he has done so only for electoral tactics. It is better than nothing. The out-of-the-blue Palin pick seemed to reflect something more real, but here too we have the growing sense that social conservatism is a style that is separate from the core person. McCain dons the conservative cloak rarely and uncomfortably. Even if Palin wears that style flamboyantly (evident from her speech), even if she wears it 24—7, there is something hollow—a strange conflation of conservatism and egoist trailer trash. Palin was pregnant when she got married and now her 17 year old daughter is pregnant. It seems that “life happens” over and over again with her. I dearly hope that the latest brewing story that Palin, like Edwards, had an extramarital affair fizzles out, but would it really be so inconsistent with what we do know? In any event, it seems to already cheapen the message if this ticket carries the conservative banner. As for your quandary, I really do not know what to call this emerging stripe of unprincipled social conservative style but, the more I consider it, the more significant and widespread it seems to be. It is depressing to ask, but is this is an inevitable consequence of bringing social conservatism to mainstream national politics?

Jim F. writes:

For Palin, how about “Post-Modern Conservatism.” Deconstruction begins here!

LA writes:

Far from seeing Palin as representing a new conservatism that has no name, as I described it, Peggy Noonan says she stands for the old conservatism:

Which gets me to the most important element of the speech, and that is the startlingness of the content. It was not modern conservatism, or split the difference Conservative-ish-ism. It was not a conservatism that assumes the America of 2008 is very different from the America of 1980.

It was the old-time conservatism. Government is too big, Obama will “grow it,” Congress spends too much and he’ll spend “more.” It was for low taxes, for small business, for the private sector, for less regulation, for governing with “a servant’s heart”; it was pro-small town values, and implicitly but strongly pro-life.

This was so old it seemed new, and startling. The speech was, in its way, a call so tender it made grown-ups weep on the floor. The things she spoke of were the beating heart of the old America. But as I watched I thought, I know where the people in that room are, I know their heart, for it is my heart. But this election is a wild card, because America is a wild card. It is not as it was in ‘80. I know where the Republican base is, but we do not know where this country that never stops changing is.

September 6

Alan Roebuck writes:

Regarding the discussion at VFR about what conservatism has become: Several months ago I had published at American Thinker an essay called “Seeker-Sensitive Conservatism.” Summary: Conservative politicians tell people what they want to hear instead of truth, and they have to do that because the people have been condition by liberalism to reject the truth.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 04, 2008 02:16 AM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):