Tag Archives: George Will

Manning Up to Palin

2 Dec

Well, it’s about time.

Your humble writer has been waiting for a reputable national voice to harmonize with on the subject of Sarah Palin since her fortunate VP election loss. I had begun to fear that no such voice was coming. At least, before it was too late. Two years ago I declared Sarah Palin not the future. Since then it has been more a hope than a substantial prediction. Now, finally, blemishes in the immutable Republican Wall are appearing, and it seems our private political wilderness soul searching may finally turn public.

Image courtesy iMaksim.com

Conservatives have long taken unity as a point of pride. But equally cherished is Seriousness, of which Palin does not have a single bit in her entire body. Outsiders to the Republican movement can be forgiven for seeing a single monolith and criticizing it as such. But the fault lines are now publicly being displayed, and how the fractured Republican base reacts in the next year in the run-up to the next primary will be interesting to watch. Some camps to watch for and take note of:

It was The Bow Tie Crowd that drew me to Conservatism in the first place. These intellects, now mostly deceased, looked at the world with pragmatism as their ideology, and what worked became policy. William Buckley, Irving Kristol, William Safire were the greats – their (at times) adequate successors of George Will, David Brooks, and Charles Krauthammer (those who harrumphed at Krauthammer should read his very well reasoned and prescient recommendation to restructure the tax code around a gas tax – in effect, the Liberal dream consumption tax) will influence what is left of the reasoned, thinking wing of the party. Joe Scarborough’s defense of the “blue bloods” was really a defense of a more reasonable age where principles were held in a loser grip, and compromise was less of a four letter word. David Frum’s firing from the Bow Tie stronghold of the American Enterprise Institute did not bode well for the long term success of thinking conservatives. Perhaps we can reverse this trend. 

In the George W. Bush era, too many bow tie wearers branched off into Neo-conservatism. Irving’s progeny took up residency here some time ago, and Krauthammer dips his wheelchair spoke in regularly. Nostalgia for the Cold War and a “Yes We Can” attitude has been broken, humbled in wars in Central Asia that most Republicans are now questioning. Many outside of Republican circles may not realize that the neo-con movement involved large chunks of voters, not just a circle of Presidential advisors. Huge percentages of the electorate in 2002 and 2004 listed national security as their #1 issue. By 2006, that vote waned, and the movement lost steam, the Iraq Surge as the last full-throated gasp. The only national security issue I see in 2012 is how soon we are leaving Afghanistan, and at what cost. If Korea goes hot, however, please disregard everything I write in this column.

The previous boogeyman of the Left, the godful Evangelical Right, has been quietly disillusioned for some time. Note that Mike Huckabee is not a serious player, and Mitt Romney is a legit candidate. Sarah Palin spends more time burnishing her tax cutting rhetoric than publicly discussing her faith and explaining how she speaks in tongues. It will be better for the country as a whole if what is Caesar’s is left to Caesar, and the evangelicals concentrate on their faith and good works outside of the explicitly political arena.  

Which leaves us with the unhereto unmentioned Tea Party, the comic book-like hero antithesis of the Bow Tie villain. Uninformed, angry, unreasoned, and potent. Now that the grassroots enthusiasm won a (in the grand scheme of things, unimportant) midterm, the party is starting to question the rationality of letting such a force dictate the play for the upcoming grand prize in 2012. And for good reason. The Tea Party, like all emotional and ideologically driven movements, would rather take defeat over an impure victory. It is the great strength of America’s two party system that the establishment party battleships do not feel this way.

Many astute readers at this point are wondering where the vast majority of prominent Republican politicians fit in. Why, no where, of course. Mitch McConnell, John McCain, John Boehner, et al ceased having a camp a long time ago, and are now Corporate Politicians, more similar to their colleagues across the aisle than the constituency movements that organize to elect them. Those few politicians that are still part of a movement (Rand Paul) never rise to sufficient prominence to lead the party generally, though they can influence policy choices. And previous corporate politicians reduce their national chances by veering too far – intellectual heavyweight Newt Gingrich, for example, proponent of healthcare reform, has descended into Tea Party madness.

An intriguing difference between Republicans and Democrats is the opposing models their cultures use to head their movements. Democrats seek an Intellectual. Republicans look for a Leader and Manager. Conservative policy wonks would rather be on a staff or in a think tank than run for office. Democrats want their wonks (Clinton, Obama) on the top of the ticket. When elected, this means Republican Presidents have a deep bench of advisors, department heads, and policy analysts at their disposal. Democrats, not so much. At first blush, in 2000, George Bush was the perfect candidate – an empty vessel who would hire the right people and whose gut was in the right place. His appointees had more clout, credentials, and staying power than his successor, who chose poorly initially, and is seeing an exodus early. The model that has served Republicans well – pick a leader who leans on the intellectuals – is in peril. 

So where does this leave us for 2012? Is the party current capable of choosing Reagan, Bush or Bush again? Republicans are not comfortable with public disagreements and battles. We prefer to find a consensus candidate that balances competing forces – Bow Ties, Neo-cons, Evangelicals and Tea Partiers – behind the scenes. Joe Scarborough has rightly recognized that the danger in 2012 is that Sarah Palin, a vacuous movement true believer, has a shot at blowing that well crafted system out of the water. Will the rational party rally to save itself? We can hope.