The simplest explanation why Palin will never be a credible conservative leader

(Note, 2:20 p.m.: a bunch of new comments have been posted in this entry.)

I often criticize parsimonious explanations of things, because I think they are so often wrong. But here’s a parsimonious explanation I like.

Lydia McGrew, with whom I have had strong but civil disagreements about Sarah Palin, writes:

You may think I do not criticize Sarah Palin, but the first thought that came to my mind when I read your exchange about the other interpretation of Palin’s speech was this: Palin will never, ever be credible as the leader of a movement by conservatives to take over the GOP and “return to basics” as long as she fails to disassociate herself from John McCain. And she won’t. So she won’t be credible. Her position on this or that issue might change (this or that federal program, for example), but as long as she campaigns for McCain and ties herself to him, she will never lead the party to become more conservative, but rather the opposite. And she herself will be less likely to rethink any issues in a rightward direction as long as she is pulling for McCain.

LA replies:

Excellent point. And the most discrediting aspect of this as far as Palin’s own political understanding and conservative credentials are concerned is that she herself does not realize that John McCain represents the opposite of the conservative resurgence she now claims to lead.

By way of grasping Palin’s problem, consider Phyllis Schlafly’s memorable anecdote about Ronald Reagan (in whose footsteps Palin now says she is following) in the 1980 presidential campaign. Schlafly tells how Reagan kept the pledge he had made to his conservative supporters that Henry Kissinger, the man of detente, the man of slow surrender to the Communists, would have no part in a Reagan administration. Reagan understood that Kissinger, no matter how high his prestige in the party, represented the opposite of his own principles, so he kept him out of any policy making role.

By contrast, Sarah Palin does not understand that McCain represents the opposite of her supposed principles. Which leads to the reasonable inference that she does not even have those principles, or at least that she does not have them in any way that counts.

LA continues:

Imagine a Reagan who not only brought Henry Kissinger into his policy making councils, but had no conception why that was objectionable. There you have Sarah Palin with regard to her continuing embrace of McCain.

LA to Lydia McGrew:

As I remember, you have supported Palin in the past. Are you now changing that position?

LA writes:

Here’s the Schlafly anecdote, posted at VFR in June 2004 in the days following Reagan’s death (which I have to say still makes me feel very sad to this day):

Phyllis Schlafly writes of Ronald Reagan’s rejection of detente:


Reagan bought a half-hour of television time on March 31, 1976, raising what the media labeled “the Kissinger issue.” He quoted Henry Kissinger as telling Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, “The day of the United States is past and today is the day of the Soviet Union. My job as Secretary of State is to negotiate the most acceptable second-best position available.” Reagan correctly identified Kissinger’s worldview as the policy of surrendering U.S. strategic superiority of the Soviet Union, missile by missile, bomber by bomber, submarine by submarine. Reagan and his followers rejected this as unacceptable….

Of the many times I met with Ronald Reagan, I count as the most important my visit with him on March 28, 1980, in his Los Angeles office. I directly asked him, “You did promise, didn’t you, that you would not reappoint Henry Kissinger or give him any role in making our policy toward the Soviet Union?” Reagan replied, “That’s right; I did.”

Reagan kept his word to me and to America, both in the backroom negotiations during the 1980 Convention and throughout his two terms in the White House. Reagan reversed the Kissinger policy of accepting second-place to the Soviet Union and adopted the goal of victory over Soviet Communism.


Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 9, 2004 1:48 AM

- end of initial entry -

February 9 2:20 p.m.

Richard Hoste writes:

Simplest explanation? Your theory is pretty complicated actually. The simples explanation of “why Palin will never be a credible conservative leader” is her low IQ.

LA replies:

I don’t agree. “Palin has a low IQ” is not simpler than “she supports McCain.”

What exactly her IQ is, how intelligent she is, these are things people can argue back and forth. So the intelligence explanation is not simple.

By contrast, the fact that she supports McCain, the enemy of conservatism, while presenting herself as the leader of a new Reaganite conservative movement, speaks for itself.

Further, she has at least an average IQ, not a low IQ, so your statement is wrong, which not only disqualifies your explanation as the simplest explanation, but disqualifies it as an explanation, period.

Richard Hoste replies:

Palin has a low IQ for a national figure. I should’ve had a “relatively” in there to be precise.

And it is an explanation, because people with IQs of 105 can’t be expected to get out there and debate people with IQs of 130 plus and not look like fools, regardless of how good the principles of the low IQ person are. It’s ok not to be as smart as your political opponents but you have to at least be within range.

LA replies:

I accept your qualification. But I still say it’s not a simple explanation, because the statement, “she’s not intelligent enough,” is not self evident but only leads to further discussion and disagreement.

Thus you write that “people with IQs of 105 can’t be expected to get out there and debate people with IQs of 130 plus and not look like fools.”

Yet when Palin debated Biden I thought she did better than he. (Not that I’m saying Biden has 130 plus, just that she held her own with someone considered much more experienced and more intelligent than she.)

Richard Hoste continues:

Also, let me say that I’m starting to wonder whether her IQ is even average after seeing what she wrote on her hand.

Richard Hoste continues:

And one last thing. She has to support McCain out of loyalty. It would simply look awful if she didn’t after he was the person responsible for making her a national figure. You’re overrating the symbolism of supporting McCain. It’s like how Cultural Marxists like Obama can claim solidarity with and intellectual descent from the patriarchal white nationalists who founded this country. Palin can praise the old time Republicans while doing the opposite of what they did. That is, if she had the intelligence to be a national leader.

LA replies:

That’s a good point, which throws into question whether Lydia’s idea (which I agreed with) is correct. I guess the answer depends on: does she appear to be giving McCain the decent support owed to him out of loyalty, or is she associating herself with McCain’s positions? Certainly on immigration there’s no daylight between her and McCain. In her kneejerk reactiveness against “discrimination” there’s no daylight between her and McCain.

Richard Hoste replies:

Well, Biden is among the dumber of the politicians. According to Game Change the McCain team gave Palin the twenty or thirty of the most likely questions to be asked and she memorized them with answers. A smart person just learns general concepts and knows what to use when. It’s cramming for one exam instead of having a true grasp of the material. Palin was able to cram for one exam during the campaign, one debate being the bare minimum of what she had to do, and then had to be hidden from the media up to the election.

Quite simply I was blown away by the fact that she had to write the three or four talking points she always repeats on her hand for the Tea Party convention. I used to argue that she wasn’t a genius but at least above average. Now I think she’s no higher than 100.

LA replies:

For all my criticisms of Palin, when I see people say something like this, I feel they’re dumping on her unfairly and I want to come to her defense. All that was on her hand were about five words, indicating the general subjects she wanted to cover. That’s the minimum that any speaker wants to have in front of him—reminders so that he hits all his main points. For people to act as if these perfectly ordinary notes (though written on her hand) show something damning about her, is, to me, a sign of anti-Palin bias.

Jim C. writes:

If I were an ultraconservative Republican, I would still campaign for McCain. Loyalty is important, and Palin’s support for McCain does not necessarily translate into an abandonment of Reagan conservatism. See realpolitik.

LA replies:

Good point. But as I said above, I think this means we have to look more closely at what Palin’s supportive behavior and statements toward McCain actually consists of.

Paul Mulshine writes:

You’re giving her too much credit when you assume she has principles, supposed or otherwise.

LA replies:

I initially took your comment as a sign of the kind of anti-Palin bias that won’t grant her anything. But I think there’s something to what you’re saying. She has not articulated even any supposed principles. Her statements add up to vague rhetoric, aimed at hitting buttons.

Paul Gottfried writes:

The term “conservative” would not really apply to the politics of Sarah Palin. Of course I’m assuming that she does hold the views I’ve heard her express and was not merely coached to take these views at a particular time. Like McCain, her expressed views on immigration have been the same as those of George w. Bush. Moreover Palin on more than one occasion has oozed delight over anti-discrimination laws, and particularly over Title Nine, which affects female athletes. She also went ballistic on FOX over Harry Reid’s gaucherie, in noticing President Obama’s skin color. In Palin’s world “everyone practices multiculturalism.” Although her opinions on foreign policy are the standard neocon ones, she is more extreme than even the editors of the Weekly Standard in wishing to impose her global democratic values. In her debate with Biden (which she actually managed to lose), Palin seemed to suggest that the US should not deal with countries that don’t “recognize our women’s rights.” Since my view of the family comes out of the Eisenhower era, presumably a Palin presidency (God forbid!) would result in sending me into exile for being insufficiently feminist. By the way, comparing this ditz to Phyllis Schlafly, who is a brilliant woman even in her late eighties and who may have been the most principled conservative activist of my lifetime, is outrageous.

LA replies:

I was not comparing Schlafly and Palin, I was contrasting them.

Paul Gottfried replies:

True but the contrast extends well beyond the point that you raised. I was also objecting to the depiction od Palin as any kind of conservative.

Lydia McGrew writes:

I noticed that you asked whether I am still a “Palin supporter.” I find this a tough question to answer without being misleading, because I’m not sure I ever was a “Palin supporter.” I was very unhappy from early on about what I saw as the way in which her association with John McCain corrupted her, particularly in her interview with James Dobson where she said that McCain is with us on “the issues,” and ESCR just fell off the map.

I’ve never agreed with the specifics of many of your criticisms of her and still don’t. I don’t think there’s any point in reopening that discussion. It is still possible that one day I will cast a vote for her. I’m waiting and watching her. I’m very much of a purist, especially on certain issues, and I don’t mind not voting in a presidential election. I’m a miser about my vote. So I might decide when the time comes that I no longer trust her on the most important issues where I previously did trust her. So far, I’m still open to voting for her at some point, so she hasn’t completely lost my trust. But that is hardly overwhelming, excited support. I understand why people like her and even why some people are more enthusiastic about her than I am; I have some concerns about her. That’s about all I can say to answer the question.

LA replies:

Right. Without researching, I couldn’t remember your actual position on her. I remembered that our main disagreement was that I strongly disapproved of the handling of the Bristol situation, the “presentation” of Bristol and Levi at the convention and so on, and you disagreed with me on that

LA writes:

A personal note. I really wish that Sarah Palin would go away. I don’t regard her as a serious political figure. I think the Palin phenomenon is a vast exercise in silliness. I don’t like have to pay attention to her and to the “movement” she has inspired. It’s deeply dispiriting, after eight years of dealing with the political idiocy spawned by Bush-worship, to have to deal all over again with someone who is basically a female equivalent of Bush.

Yet the phenomenon is happening, and as VFR is devoted to discussing “the passing scene and what it’s about viewed from the traditionalist politically incorrect Right,” it’s hard to avoid talking about it.

Lydia McGrew writes:

I question the claim that Palin has to support McCain out of loyalty. For one thing, the McCain campaign has (or so I’ve heard) not been loyal to Palin. This would seem to remove any responsibility she might have had. But in any event, I question such a responsibility. Certainly conservatives who didn’t like McCain much but were somewhat excited about Palin as a VP candidate didn’t believe that McCain would “own” her loyalty world without end, that she could not even gradually distance herself and her positions from him should they lose the election. In fact, many of us assumed this would be possible without any dishonor to Palin and therefore thought that a McCain loss might be the best thing that could happen to her. Is it true (I haven’t had time to research it) that McCain is facing a challenge from his right now? If so, and if Palin is supporting him in opposing such a challenge, I really disagree that this is incumbent upon her as a matter of loyalty.

LA replies:

It’s a fact that McCain’s staffers, particularly his top aide Steve Schmidt, sought to destroy Palin in a most vicious way. No one has ever seen anything like it—the staff of the presidential nominee trashing the vice presidential nominee. And it’s not clear that McCain did anything to stop this campaign of personal destruction. So, yes, that would certainly lessen any obligation to McCain on Palin’s part.

Leaving aside the issue of loyalty as a factor in her supprot for McCain, I don’t think Palin has ever articulated political concepts to herself to the point of understanding that there’s such a thing as conservatism and that McCain is largely opposed to it. I doubt that she’s aware of McCain’s storied career of working with Democrats against Republican conservative initiatives in the Senate. Correction: she probably is aware of it, and she supports it, since she sees herself as a maverick, like McCain, that is, a Republican who works with Democrats against Republicans. That’s how she came to power on Alaska (not that I’m defending the Republican “old boys’ network” she defeated), and indeed the Democrats were to a significant extent her power base there, until the 2008 campaign made her a hate object for Democrats.

As with many conservatives, her notion of conservatism is basically “love of America.” The left hate America and try to bring it down (which is true). Conservatives love America and try to build it up. She sees McCain as patriotic, and therefore as a conservative.

Thus, while I said that Palin’s support for McCain may be the simplest explanation why she will never be a credible conservative leader, that doesn’t mean it’s the best explanation. The best explanation is that she is not a conservative. Or, at best, her grasp of conservatism is so shallow that it amounts to the same thing.

J.D. Hayworth, a six term Republican congressman who was defeated in 2006, is about to declare his challenge to McCain in the Senate primary.

Rick U. writes:

It seems to me that whole “Sarah Palin phenomenon” is a reflection of the lack of any real conservative leadership in the Republican Party. She was introduced as a conservative to shore up support for McCain on the right, but she has never come through on her conservative credentials. My initial objection to her nomination was simply that she lacked experience which, in my view, was the only issue that would galvanize a McCain win (I’m not sure a McCain win would have been such a good thing in retrospect, but that was my thinking at the time). I hope her fifteen minutes is just about up. She is a monumental waste of time, and useful distraction for the liberals on serious issues.

February 10

Paul Mulshine replies:

It’s the sort of thing that gets me accused of being sexist, but I see that tendency in a lot of female politicians. Every once in a while you get someone who is really tough and consistent, like the great Phyllis Schlafly, but so many others seem to operate on intuition. Our own Christie Whitman was very similar. She was unbendable on abortion, but that was about it. All of the rest was up for grabs.

It’s a good political style. Say nothing concrete and the audience fills in what they want to hear. A lot of people really want Sarah to be a conservative, and so they think she is. And they will make any excuse for her. When I pointed out that the NEA is pretty much the biggest negative political force in America today, and that she had endorsed their position, readers whould excuse it by saying, “Well her parents worked for the public schools, so it’s understandable.”

And when she opposed the single best recent Supreme Court decision as regards tort reform, they say, “Well it was good for her state” as if that didn’t prove the very absence of any principle.

By the way, I think she did a switcheroo on that in her book, but I didn’t read it.

Ferg writes:

I am going to a reception in about a month given by one of my Congressman. Sarah Palin is to be the guest speaker. I will report my impressions of that evening. I have never heard her speak, or seen her in action, I don’t watch TV.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 09, 2010 01:37 AM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):