Will the conservative civil war over Palin become a lasting feature of conservative politics?

(Note: see Clark Coleman’s advice on how to narrow rather than widen the intra-conservative divide over Palin.)

Kidist Paulos Asrat (here is her website) writes:

I think that Sarah Palin has become THE (final?) divider of conservatives vs. non-conservatives. I’m beginning to think her phenomenon is much bigger than we think.

LA replies:

A provocative thought. Could you expand a bit on what you mean?

Kidist replies:

Everywhere I turn, there is a divide between those who idolize Sarah, and the few who see beyond her image and pay attention to the difference between who she presents herself as and who she is.

I think her family’s issues was one of the biggest divides. Yet, family is one of the core foundations of true conservatism. People everywhere were excusing her (and reacting to the vicious liberal media) by saying that “everyone makes mistakes,” but few bothered to reason that those “mistakes” occurred because of the (non-conservative) structure she had set up: her career ambitions with a young family in tow; her inability to calm and control her daughter.

If people couldn’t see this major fault in her, then that means they have no problem with anything else she says, including her many non-conservative pronouncements.

So, all this isn’t just pure idolization of the woman; it is a fundamental agreement with what she stands for.

I think Sarah brought this out in a visceral way, which Bush didn’t. In a way, she is the logical extension of George Bush, but with a few more true conservatives now willing to oppose this liberalized take-over.

I think Peggy Noonan is opposing it, but maybe that’s because she was Reagan’s speechwriter, and is dismayed at this extreme exhibition of non-conservatism. Paul Mulshine is another writer who is much clearer about his objections.

The Canadians are less enamored, but that is the Canadian way (unless it is Obama!). And Jonathan Kay, at the neocon National Post, is just being an elitist when he says that “she reinforced the false stereotype of conservatives as embittered hillbillies.” Nothing about her lack of conservatism here, except that she is the “bad” sort.

On the Palinite side are the “I am Sarah Palin” group—including the very vocally “conservative” Michelle Malkin. Here in Canada, Kathy Shaidle, who stayed out of the “I am Sarah” video, nonetheless linked to a sloppy post today which says, “Sarah Palin’s resignation inspires me.”

But like I said, there are more (though still few) voices of reason, who are a little more vocal, than there were in Bush’s years. Maybe this core group of conservatives stays, and the Palinites will have to invent another name, since they will not be comfortable with “liberal.” Or true conservatives can just kick them out.

LA replies:

You write:

“If people couldn’t see this major fault in her, then that means they have no problem with anything else she says, including her many non-conservative pronouncements.”

This is what disturbed me so much last September, when I saw the Republicans and conservatives, in their total identification with Palin, essentially give up whatever remained of social conservatism, other than opposition to abortion. What you’re saying here is basically an extension of what I saw and feared then: that such a profound change of outlook and and abandonment of principle would not be temporary.

The difference between your analysis and mine is that you see the true conservatives, though a minority in the “conservative” camp, somehow still exercising control over the conservative name and even possibly expelling the Palinites; while, as I see it, the Palinites have the numbers and the force and are making true conservatives an even smaller and weaker minority than they already were.

Kidist continues:

And one more important writer, David Frum, has denounced Palin from the start. But even now, he criticizes her more for her lack of experience (and intellect) rather than her lack of conservative principles. In fact, he never once discusses her lack of conservative principles. He is more concerned with what he thinks is an electable candidate, based on polls and popularity votes, than what that candidate actually says or believes in.

“[We] are afraid that Palin’s distinctive combination of sex appeal, self-pity, and cultural resentment has a following in today’s GOP” writes Frum. Nothing about conservatism, and all about polls and “followers”.

LA replies:

Thanks for the reminder on Frum’s position. I had been trying to remember what he had said about that.

So—of course!—the charge, by self-styled populist philosophers like J.R. Dunn at American Thinker, that Frum’s attack on Palin is an expression of an “elitist Northeast Corridor conservatism,” is wrong, because Frum’s rejection of her had nothing to do with her non-conservatism. It could be called an elitist rejection of her, but not a conservative rejection of her.

In my earlier response to J.R. Dunn’s article, I simply said that Dunn was wrong that Frum is a representative of some “Northeast Corridor Conservatism” because Frum has more or less openly ceased to be a conservative. I had forgotten the specific nature of Frum’s argument against Palin which you have just brought out, and which makes the point much better.

Kidist writes:

Regarding the restructuring of the conservative camps, maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part that some conservatives will now avoid the trap they fell into during the Bush years, after seeing the extremes of idolization of a politician who was so erratic.

Probably time alone will tell.

- end of initial entry -

Laura W. (Laura Wood of The Thinking Housewife) writes:

Kidist says, “So, all this isn’t just pure idolization of the woman; it is a fundamental agreement with what she stands for.”

This is an important point. Palin is not simply a personality. She is an idea. From the moment she stepped through the gate, she presented herself as a normal all-American mom. People went gaga over this. The hockey mom routine was a sensation. They roared with approval, not just at the convention but all across the country in the aftermath of her speech. It struck a chord because of what it said about women. They can be aggressive and maternal with no inherent contradiction between the two. Things are not as bad as they seem! People who reject her for reasons other than, or in addition to, her political inexperience know this is a dangerous illusion.

LA replies:

Here is our discussion last September about “pit bull with lipstick,” with a comment by Laura, and with some readers finding my critcism of the remark overwrought. What Laura is saying is that it was even more significant than we realized at the time.

Terry Morris writes:

Kidist wrote:

Regarding the restructuring of the conservative camps, maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part that some conservatives will now avoid the trap they fell into during the Bush years, after seeing the extremes of idolization of a politician who was so erratic.

That’s all more or less going to be a wash, I should imagine. There’ll definitely be some conservatives who will have learned their lesson. That group will be comprised of experienced conservatives who have been badly burned once, but won’t be burned a second (or third, whatever the case may be) time. Then there’ll be the other group. That group will mainly be comprised of inexperienced “conservatives” who are just beginning to develop their theories of conservatism. These two groups will more or less cancel one another out, I would guess. What you’re left with is the mass of “conservatives” who are probably not very conservative when you get down to it.

Kidist is right, though, about the divide Palin creates (or should I say “accentuates”?) between conservative factions. I’ve been in a couple of consversations the last few days at separate sites where I’ve merely pointed out that Palin isn’t a conservative (no personal attacks on her character or anything like that), and the Palinites have responded by attacking my character, calling me a “liberal of an obvious liberal background,” saying that I am making points irrelevant to Palin’s political philosophy by pointing out her embrace of feminism, and so on and so forth—basically all the things we’ve discussed indicating her non-conservatism here at VFR.

The hatefulness and ire, the name-calling with which these people—these Palinites—respond would in some cases even make an open leftist blush. I’ve even pointed out to them that it is a liberal value to disallow all criticism of a favored political figure, not a conservative one. But only to receive for my trouble more of the same.

I think I know why some of them (maybe the majority of them) do it though. I theorize that since by calling into question Sarah Palin’s “conservatism,” one is obviously calling into question their conservatism by implication, and they know it, that this is why they are insulted by the slightest, most innocuous criticism of her. In other words, they don’t have a problem with being liberals, they just won’t tolerate being outed as liberals. So it’s really not about Sarah Palin so much as it is about themselves. Besides their having a lot of emotional investment in Palin (which in itself will cause people to go off the deep end to the extent that they can’t be reasoned with), they know that what she is they are. And when you point out what it is that she really is in truth, you are pointing out, by extension, what they really are in truth. That’s the reason they take criticisms of Palin so personally. That is my theory anyway.

Clark Coleman writes:

As I commented in a previous thread, Sarah Palin was popular by default: She was the only one of the four (Obama, Biden, McCain, herself) who obviously does not despise ordinary Americans. She was wildly popular because so many voters perceived that. It is a kind of identity politics of a different sort than the race hustling sort often associated with that phrase. Many ordinary Americans identify with her. Not with everything about her, but with what they found out in those first few hours after she was chosen.

What a lot of her conservative critics do not understand is that, when a voter has a personal affinity with a certain politician, rather than just an agreement on issues, the voter will get personally defensive about criticisms of that leader. So, a modest suggestion would be to begin criticisms of Palin (such as Terry Morris mentioned posting on other websites) by establishing an understanding of Palin. “I understand that a lot of us connect with a politician like Palin who does not look down on red-state, small town, suburban America the way most Beltway elites do.” That is a good opening line. Then move on to talk gently about the difference between personal identification and being in passionate agreement on a host of issues. An example of a bad opening line would be “So, what is so great about [or conservative about] Sarah Palin anyway?” The modern style of discussion, particularly on the internet, is as far from diplomatic as is conceivable.

We need to bridge the divide in the conservative camp, not widen it. As I said in my earlier comment, the identification of voters with Palin is not all a bad thing. Now we need to educate voters about true conservatism.

LA replies:

This is good advice, coming from a wise head. I can’t promise that I will always follow it, but I will try to remember it.

July 16

Terry Morris writes:

That IS excellent advice from Mr. Coleman, and for me personally it would be perfectly honest to say something like he’s suggested at the outset of such conversations since I do know that about Palin and I’m actually drawn to her on that basis myself.

I think I’ve been doing it bassackwards, that kind of statement coming from me after I’ve been attacked for suggesting she’s not a conservative. By that time I guess I’ve already created an enemy, eh? I’ll try to do better in the future applying Coleman’s advice. But if it doesn’t work for me, I’m going to hold him personally responsible. ;-)

On receiving Clark Coleman’s comment yesterday, LA wrote to him:

Good point, and, I suppose, a deserved criticism.

Mr. Coleman replied:

Actually, I did not think of it as a criticism of your entries, although it might apply. I was thinking primarily of what Terry Morris wrote about his experiences on other sites. I can picture this going on all over the internet.

LA replies:

Well, I must have a guilty conscience.

Gintas writes:

How do you tell fans of Sarah Palin that she isn’t conservative? How do you tell fans of a rock band that their band isn’t any good? She is a conservative rock star.

Mark P. writes:

I wrote about this in response to Laura W. here. My reply is on July 6.

The heart of Sarah Palin’s conservatism is the life choices she made with marriage and family and how they affected Todd Palin.

LA replies:

What does Sarah Palin’s marriage and family have to do with the presidency?

Mark P. replies:

It has to do with Sarah Palin’s conservatism.

The question hinges on what exactly makes Palin a substantive conservative. You and others have argued that there is little substance to Palin’s conservatism. Given some of her public statements and the fact that her daughter has an out-of-wedlock baby, conservatives are making a mistake supporting her. Her conservatism is, to her detractors, merely symbolic.

I argue that Palin’s conservatism is substantive because of all the choices see made in providing Todd Palin with a family. Always keep in mind that the heart of any family values social conservatism is men actually having a family. If there is no family to begin with, then much of the social conservative message is academic. Slapping the face of all modern women, Sarah Palin decided to do the opposite of what most women do Getting married at 24; having her first kid at 25; having a subsequent number of kids afterwards; living in a small town; accepting the lifestyle that her husband provides, etc.

What Sarah Palin did not do was have a series of affairs between the ages of 15 and 30 before finally “feeling like” getting married after starting some career pretending to be a man. She did not insist on moving to a more hip city like Fairbanks, Anchorage or Juneau … or New York. She did not slap Todd with divorce and a ruinous alimony/custody battle. She did not turn him into some effeminized, lickspittle beta male. Having a daughter with an out-of-wedlock baby is of little concern because this is of no embarrassment to the father in this day and age. Plus, the extended family relation model will help raise the child.

LA replies:

This all has to do with the private, family life of the Palins. The Palins’ (in some ways, not in others) more traditional family way of life is a good thing in itself, But to think that it adds in some significant way to conservatism or the conservative movement is a fantasy, as we see in the fact that her more (in some ways) traditional family life has turned out to be consistent with liberal views and attitudes on all kinds of things, including aggressive feminism (“I am Sarah Palin”), putting career in front of family, support for amnesty, and so on.

The underlying problem remains: there is this tremendous identification with Sarah Palin as a person, which her supporters then try to dress up as something politically significant and constructive. I don’t see it as politically significant and constructive. I see it as, primarily, fixation on a personality. The proof is that she could take liberal positions on issues across the board and her supporters would still stand by her. We already had this with Bush, who was very skillful, especially in the first half of his presidency, at projecting an image of himself as a pious, sincere, wholesome, manly Christian. Yet this Bush, who aroused fanatical loyalty from many conservatives, very much like what we see with Palin, led conservatism and the Republican party to disaster (exactly as I repeatedly predicted in 2004 would happen if he were re-elected). And now, having learned nothing, the same people are repeating the same error, only with MORE passion than before. It’s a classic example of the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

I guess I’m not doing such a good job of following Clark Coleman’s advice to try to bridge the differences with Palin supporters, am I? So I’ll just say this. If the Palin supporters would confine their affection for Sarah to her person, and not build her up into some great conservative leader, I would have no problem with that. I like her too and often sympathize with her, despite my criticisms. It’s this notion that she is the salvation of the country (and her supporters often speak of her in just such terms) that I can’t swallow.

Gintas writes:

“And now, having learned nothing, the same people are repeating the same error, only with MORE passion than before.”

Can a conservative / traditionalist movement be built with such people? Would they follow the lead of substantive conservatives who aren’t charismatic, or are their hearts and minds forever tainted by liberalism and the celebrity culture?

Kidist, who started this thread, writes:

I agree with Clark Coleman that civility and restraint is a good idea when forced into a discussion on such “personalized” topics as Sarah Palin.

I say “forced” because normal adult dialogue could be near impossible. My experience talking about Bush, and now talking about Palin, with a group of die-hard fans ends up somewhat acrimonious—it’s like talking to liberals about Obama.

So, if adults cannot talk like adults, why do we have to talk to them gently, as Clark Coleman suggests? That defeats the whole purpose of the conversation, which is to discuss the merits and demerits of a particular politician/person/point. If my debater cannot handle the negatives, it is not my responsibility to make it easier for him. Perhaps a fair debate of my points is the best I can offer.

I still find it really odd that Palin generates such passion. Perhaps there really is an underlying problem with elitism in the current conservative world. But, even seasoned pundits and academicians have bought into it.

Does everyone just want to idolize a “rock star” as Gintas writes? Is that our substitute for God? Is there a fundamental need that Palin is fulfilling?

See, I did say the phenomenon was bigger than we (or at least, I) thought.

LA replies:

I assume these are online rather than in-person discussions you’re describing, since how many die-hard Bush-and-Palin fans are there in Canada? :-)

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 15, 2009 01:49 AM | Send

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