Conservative Palin critics are attacked as not a part of America

J.R. Dunn at American Thinker launches a war against “Northeast Corridor conservatives,” whom he describes as elitist, out of touch with the real America and with real conservatives, and reflexively hostile to Sarah Palin:

[A] small but influential number of conservatives—almost exclusively from the New York-Washington axis which we will term the “Northeast Corridor”—could not comprehend Sarah Palin or what she represents, any more than the liberal-left could….

[S]o isolated had the Northeast Corridor conservatives become, so deeply embedded in their Jamesian parallel universe (which can best be pictured as kind of a conservative version of the old Steinberg New Yorker cover, with E.35th St. and Allen Jay Lerner’s townhouse looming as the center of the earth while, off on the horizon, we see a dot labeled, “Nascar races”), that they couldn’t recognize her clear conservative stance, couldn’t recognize her personal courage, couldn’t, in the end, be bothered to stand with her when she and her family were victimized by the most repellent political attack of our epoch.

Nothing is more aggravating—or more cowardly—than an article that severely attacks certain parties without naming them. And Dunn doesn’t name a single one of these sinister Northeast Corridor conservatives. He describes them by geography rather than by any intellectual designation, and on initially reading the piece I frankly had no idea whom he meant. He names three of their intellectual antecedents: Russell Kirk, Whitaker Chambers, and Allan Bloom, all of whom, he said, had a Platonic view of America and were disdainful of its real culture and virtues. But of those three only Chambers lived in the Northeast corridor; Kirk lived in a rural community in Michigan, and Bloom taught and earned national fame as the University of Chicago. Also, Kirk and Chambers with their appeal to a Christian social order are associated more with paleoconservatism, and Bloom with his focus on universal democracy is much closer to neoconservatives. Well, then, is Dunn talking about neocons? “Northeast corridor” certainly sounds like a swipe at them. But the neocons have been passionately supportive of Palin; and American Thinker itself is a neocon publication. Well, then, could Dunn be talking about the paleoconservatives? Several writers at Chronicles have criticized the Palin nomination (see links in this entry). But Chronicles, once the leading paleoconservative organ, now is characterized by an indecipherable ideology that, as Paul Gottfried has pointed out, can only be called Catholic rather than conservative. Further, Chronicles is so marginal to the concerns of American Thinker and so lacking in influence that I doubt it is even on Dunn’s horizon. View from the Right has been more consistently critical of the Palin nomination than any other conservative publication, but, once again, Dunn describes the Northeast Corridor group as influential, so he surely doesn’t mean me.

Whom, then is he talking about? AllahPundit, who has criticized the ridiculous “sexism” charge that Palin supporters have used? But AllahPundit, with his sassy pseudonym, his blog HotAir, and his reliance on YouTube, can hardly be called anti-populist. What about Heather Mac Donald, who wrote a critical article about Palin in City Journal? But Mac Donald, who has expressed strong hostility to religious belief and whose intellectual roots are in literary postmodernism rather than Platonism, hardly fits the Kirk/Chambers mold. How about David Brooks, who in his recent op-ed criticizing the nomination waxed philosophical and evoked the need for an elite? Now we’re getting warm. The trouble is that Brooks, who started out years ago as a member of the neocon camp, hasn’t been considered a conservative for years. Even Richard John Neuhaus, who hates drawing definitional lines around conservatism, finally suggested a year ago that Brooks may have passed beyond conservatism. Still, Brooks, though not a conservative, is generally called one, and, given his surprisingly strong attack on Palin earlier this week and his support of elitism, as well as his office location on West 43rd Street in Manhattan, it’s a good bet that Dunn is thinking of him. George Will (residing near Washington), who in his single column on Palin some weeks ago appealed to the authority of Burke and the Federalist in invoking the need for experience, would also seem to fit the bill. Of course for years many conservatives have thought of Will, with his complete acceptance of the modern Provider State, as no longer a conservative. Still, Dunn is probably thinking of Will. Then there is David Frum, who has criticized the nomination, I think on the basis of lack of experience, and Dunn probably means him as well. And there’s Peggy Noonan at the Wall Street Journal, who was caught off-mike putting down Palin.

So, there are three or four writers who would seem to conform to Dunn’s profile of Northeast Corridor conservatives. But this leads us to the next question. Since these writers don’t make up any identifiable intellectual contingent and have nothing particularly in common besides having criticized Palin, why does Dunn invent a whole new category for them, portraying them as this out of touch elite, alienated from and not a part of America, that must be swept aside?

Here’s my theory. Dunn and his editor, the thuggish Thomas Lifson, are exercising the same kind of tactics of intimidation that the McCainites employed when they made the left-wing-style “sexist” charge against leftist opponents of Palin. The McCainites are a mob, using liberal slogans (“sexist,” “elitist,” even “Platonist,” which in the minds of moderns is tantamount to “fascist”) to shout and scare opponents into silence.

And that, I think, is what conservatism will become under a McCain presidency.

Indeed, it is an index of how low this McCainized conservatism has already gone that American Thinker, a neoconservative publication, has adopted the classic anti-neocon and anti-Semitic tropes in singling out for attack a “tiny,” “influential,” “alienated,” “elitist,” “Northeastern” intellectual contingent and reading them out of America.

I understand that many sincere and intelligent conservatives think that Obama is such a threat to our society that McCain must be elected no matter what. Though I don’t agree, I am not going keep arguing the point with them. If McCain, as the lesser of two evils, must be elected, so be it. However, if it is truly the case that McCain is the lesser of two evils, then he is an evil. Therefore, once he is elected, the people who voted for him only as the lesser of two evils should oppose him. And that will include opposing the bullying tactics his camp will use to suppress dissent, just as I am opposing them now.

- end of initial entry -

Carol Iannone writes:

The Dunn piece reminds me of Conrad’s Lord Jim when the merchant says to Jim, “There’s too much pride in your humility.” That is, this business of seeing elitism in conservative opposition to Palin and seeing Dunn’s own brand of conservatism as more populist and genuine is getting to be a sort of arrogance and pride in itself. Kind of like in The Philadelphia Story when the “man of the people” turns out to be resentful and snobbish about NOT coming from the upper crust. It’s what the conservatives have been doing for years in opposition to liberalism, citing popular support for their side vis a vis the liberal elites. (Except when it came to immigration. The fact that a majority of the American people wanted immigration lessened never seemed to cut any ice with the conservatives who wanted uninterrupted mass immigration and put down every argument against it as nativist and racist.)

The surprise has been in seeing Dunn’s side surrender almost everything they ever believed in order to support Palin. To hear them say, for example, “HOW DARE YOU question the ability of woman with Palin’s family responsibilities to be vice-president and maybe president; you wouldn’t ask that of a man”—this undercut the right’s own case for the differences between the sexes and the demands of motherhood as being in potential conflict with demanding careers. And by the way, equating the presidency with just another demanding career was itself a stretch. Some of the opposition was to Palin’s being chosen because she is a woman and the fact that a man with her resume would not have been chosen. This is in keeping with the right’s disdain for affirmative action and identity politics. Palin’s remark about the glass ceiling also conveyed the left-wing idea that women have been kept back and are finally poised to get justice, and conservatives were rightly disturbed at that since they do not share that view of America. I could go on. The conservative opposition to her was quite principled and it’s the conservative support of her that needs explaining.

And let’s not kid ourselves. We know what these same conservatives would have been saying had someone with Palin’s situation and level of experience been nominated by the Democrats. And they would have been warding off charges of “sexism” rather than—another surprise—wielding them.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 18, 2008 09:00 AM | Send

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