The Scary Thing Is: We Really Mean It

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In Peggy Noonan’s weekend Wall Street Journal column she congratulates Gov. Palin on what she judges to have been a strong (though not substantive) debate performance. At the same time, however, she still sports bruised feelings from the reception that she and other “conservative critics” of Palin received in recent weeks:

We saw this week, too, a turn in the McCain campaign’s response to criticisms of Mrs. Palin. I find obnoxious the political game in which if you expressed doubts about the vice presidential nominee, or criticized her, you were treated as if you were knocking the real America—small towns, sound values…. As for the dismissal of conservative critics of Mrs. Palin as “Georgetown cocktail party types” (that was Mr. McCain), well, my goodness. That is the authentic sound of the aggression, and phony populism, of the Bush White House. Good move. That ended well.

Well, I’m sorry that her feelings are bruised, and its true that cultural slights can be rather cutting, but there’s a disagreement of principle at play here as well as simple payback. (And there is payback. Don’t imagine that all those middle-American conservatives haven’t noticed how the “Georgetown cocktail party types” talk about “Rush Limbaugh conservatives” or “talk radio crazies”. Some of this is simply a matter of people enjoying the chance to see the shoe on the other foot.)

So far as I can tell from personal observation, the reason people are swooning over Palin’s “authenticity” is not really that she rides snow machines and shoots moose (though it’s true that many of us men have a soft spot in our hearts for attractive women who dig male past times) but rather that she seems set apart from many politicians in that she says what she believes and believes what she says. Key among these: she says she’s pro-life, she’s a member of Feminists For Life, and shows good signs of living her convictions. Further, people believe that she’s serious for the simple reason that like many of the people they know in their own churches and neighborhoods: she just seems like an ordinary person who says what she believes — not like a politician who says she he’s focused grouped.

Now in a lot of ways, I would imagine that I could play elite metropolitan one-upsmanship with Peggy Noonan all day long. Despite my Texas address, I hate country and generally listen to classical, I have a fondness for very small cars, enjoy 18thcentury essayists, drink single malt scotches and classic cocktails, etc. But these are very much surface preferences, and I think none the less of people with different ones.

The thing is, Noonan (and some other inside-the-beltway elite conservative writers — doubtless also people who could be accused of belonging to the Georgetown cocktail party set) seems to assign undue affection to those who share surface characteristics– a certain elite, Washingtonian aire– with her. Exhibit A is, of course, her school-girl crush on Senator Obama. She doesn’t support him, of course, being a good Republican. But she likes his style so much that she argues against most criticisms of him. “He’s so good — too bad he’s not ours” seems to be her attitude.

More relevant to this recent article was her comment just after Governor Palin’s selection as the vice presidential nominee was announced, when she wondered why a more experienced woman such as Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson was not selected. Well there’s a very obvious reason for that, which it rather shocks me to think that Noonan (herself a serious Catholic) did not think of: Sen. Hutchinson supports Roe v. Wade and has opposed various pro-life measures such as parental consent laws. Had McCain selected her as his running mate, he probably would have seen his donations and poll numbers drop rather than rise, and a certain segment of the base decided it was time to sit things out.

But, of course, Hutchinson has been in the Senate for fifteen years now. So she’s more qualified than a two year governor.

This is the thing about outside-the-beltway social conservatives which many conservative elites do not quite seem to get: We really care about what politicians views are on the topics dear to our hearts — and we care very little about how charming they’ve made themselves over the years in network green rooms and DC cocktail hours.

I’m sure that many other Palin supporters share my wish that she was in her second term as governor instead of her first, and that she had been dealing with foreign policy enough on a daily basis to know when Senator Biden is saying something patently untrue. I wish she was the sort of person who relished thinking on her feat and was able to hammer out conservative principles persuasively from the podium. But while I would like Gov. Palin rather more if she possessed these qualities, her lack of them does not make me inclined to support someone else depsitethe fact that that other person disagrees with me on issues which I consider profoundly important.

Which is why I and many other social conservatives find ourselves willing to settle for and even be enthusiastic about a vice presidential candidate who at least agrees with us on the issues and brings that agreement onstage with an authentic and charming persona which manages to make a connection with audiences in a way that few politicians can.

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  1. Palin is a conviction politician and she has superb political skills. Since most politicians have only one true conviction, holding office beats working for a living, and since most of them at best have mediocre political skills, they of course look askance at Palin.

  2. Well said.

    I have always liked Peggy, but she has shown her true colors during this election like a lot of other elite conservatives… this has been an interesting political year.

  3. I’m grateful Palin has the convictions. In terms of applying those convictions, however, do you believe that Palin would be an effective champion of the social issues either as vice president or president?

  4. I do Kyle. The focus on special needs kids alone, especially Down’s Syndrome kids who are being aborted into extinction, would be a powerful pro-life statement. I believe the pro-life cause would be Palin’s special “brief” in a McCain administration.

  5. I think Peggy has to get some gratuitous “digs ” at the Conservatives. She seems almost embarrassed when she excoriates Democrats and tries to “even” the score by doing likewise to the GOP.
    I would like to see the elite commentators just express true Conservative sentiments instead of playing to the liberal left.
    It is a complete waste of time and effort to do so. They hate us and always will.

  6. I do think Palin will be effective, for the same reason she has been effective in Alaska, and the same reason she is attractive . As the article states ‘she says what she means, and means what she says.’

    Noonan’s ‘feelings’ are irrelevant to the vast majority of conservative voters. They are irrelevant to the success of the next gov’t, and the future of America. Irrelevant, self-centered and unhelpful. Hope that wasn’t too harsh.

  7. I think some of the backlash or hurt feelings that may have resulted from said backlash were more the result of Noonan’s hot mike comments disparaging Mrs. Palin the same day she wrote a column talking about how people in the media elite don’t get her because they are trapped inside the “media bubble.”

    I always appreciated her as a good writer whose commentary seemed to reflect the way I look at things. My challenge with her since has been whether I’m reading what she thinks or what she wants us to think that she thinks.

  8. Yeah Noonan shocked me when she floated Hutchinson. I think she’sevolving leftward”, sort of the way David Brooks has although Brooks was never a social conservative. Go figure.

  9. When Sarah says “it’s time to take the gloves off and put the high heels on”, do you guys get all excited, like all the other conservative males I read who haunt the blogosphere and sing her praises?

  10. Mark DeFrancisis,

    We just implemented a Comments Policy and you may have not read the warning on your previous comment.

    Any more unconstructive and ingenuous commenting on your part and you will be moderated. If you continue, you will be banned from commenting on this blog.

  11. Mark,

    No, she’s just a talented politician we happen to agree with. One of the great vices of partisan discussion, which I’d advise you beware of if you don’t want to find yourselve both becoming tiresome and having your comments edited, is assuming that one’s opponents must necessarily be stupid, evil or base.


    I guess I both understand and don’t understand that reaction to him: I do wish that we had a conservative star who was both intellectually rigorous and charismatic in bringing his (or her) ideas to the people — both of which I take it to be characteristics that people judge Obama to have.

    The thing is, he doesn’t actually strike me as all that thoughtful or intellectually rigorous, though he does stike me as thinking himself to be so. In many ways, he strikes me as having a very standard set of aquired beliefs of the sort one easily soaks up by osmosis in an environment full of liberal Ivy Leaguers.

    So while I wish that we had someone conservative who possessed the virtues that progressives seem to think Obama has, I’m not all that clear that he has the virtues he’s purported to.

  12. TSO,

    When Peggy said that about Hutchinson, I was shocked. I was thinking to myself; Peggy doesn’t get it. I remember that column (the one where she asked why not Hutchinson as VP) describing the inside the beltway mentality, and at the same time – she was expressing the beltway mentality. And I didn’t think Peggy was one of those Rockerfeller Republicans.

    That is why i stated it has been a very interesting election cycle in the sense – Conservatives really never had a candidate in the primaries or one that could get the conservative base excited.

    Palin does this… it is one of the craziest things I have seen.

    Man, I hope she wins the VP.

  13. PS – how do I get a picture to represent me…

    Tito, if you can do that… I would like Charles V or Henri de la Rochejaquelein or Reagan


  14. Darwin,

    While Obama may or may not be intellectually rigorous or thoughtful in some absolute sense, compared to other politicians I’d say he measures up pretty well.

    In any event, while intellectual rigor is nice, it’s not the most important attribute a politician can have. Given the choice between a candidate who has a high level of intellectual rigor but who is not “charismatic in bringing his (or her) ideas to the people,” and a candidate who lacks intellectual rigor but who is effective in explaining his political ideas to the public in a compelling way, I’d much prefer the latter.

  15. Blackadder,

    That’s where I basically have to say that I don’t have the objectivity to judge. Admittedly, I mostly read Obama’s speeches — I’ve only ever heard his convention speech and debate performances — so maybe I lose something that comes with the delivery, but mostly he strikes me as putting out really inane progressive platitudes. However, I recognize that it could well mainly be that I disagree so stongly with his worldview and policies that what may be an “inspiring” presentation just doesn’t appeal to me.

  16. Well, Darwin, you could probably go find some of Obama’s speeches on youtube, and see both his charismatic, eloquent moments and also his moments of stuttering. For the most part, his delivery is excellent yet as you say, his content leaves something to be desired.

    So, I can see where Blackadder is coming from: Obama’s eloquence (for the most part) is appealing and stirs something inside people. Kind of reminds me of a snake oil salesman. Indeed, he is very polished.

    But this polish really tends to rub me the wrong way. Slickness tends to be a red flag in my mind. On the other hand, Mrs. Palin strikes a chord with common people, whether they agree with her policy stances or not. They recognize her authenticity. The folksiness of her delivery is somewhat charming, in my mind. She speaks like we speak, albeit with a different accent. I was particularly taken with her “There you go again, Joe” retort. So what if she is winking at me?!

  17. Have you noticed something else about Sarah? She goes completely out of her way to avoid using profanity. She says things like “gosh darnit” as if long accustomed to avoiding its more colorful substitute. A lot of “bible-believing” Christians are this way. Back where I come from, I’ve met those who would even consider “gosh darnit” to be a little over the top, at least around the children. I’m not kidding about this. I’m not saying she is without fault. She got where she is by being a very shrewd woman. Maybe a little too shrewd on occasion. But all told, I suspect Washington could use a breath of fresh Alaskan air.

    I just hope she affects the status quo before it affects her.

    (Are you guys sure that wink isn’t just a nervous tick or something?)

  18. (Are you guys sure that wink isn’t just a nervous tick or something?)

    No, nor was she intimating a deeper relationship with any viewer(s). She was challenging her opponent, you know, the one with such depth and character, to attempt the same thing. Sort of mean spirited of her, I admit. Botulism poisoning is nothing to laugh at, even if it’s self-induced.

  19. As I ex-Republican, I think David Brooks hit it bulls-eye today:

    “[Sarah Palin] represents a fatal cancer to the Republican party. When I first started in journalism, I worked at the National Review for Bill Buckley. And Buckley famously said he’d rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. But he didn’t think those were the only two options. He thought it was important to have people on the conservative side who celebrated ideas, who celebrated learning. And his whole life was based on that, and that was also true for a lot of the other conservatives in the Reagan era. Reagan had an immense faith in the power of ideas. But there has been a counter, more populist tradition, which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely. And I’m afraid that Sarah Palin has those prejudices. I think President Bush has those prejudices. ‘

  20. I am neutral to slightly positive about Palin. She can communicate well (when she has something to communicate), and that’s one of the most important skills a politician can have. At the same time, she seems woefully unprepared for national office. I know the VP primarily just needs to be able to sit politely through the funerals of foreign dignitaries, but her interview answers on the bail-out and Alaska’s proximity to Russia were atrocious, and, like Obama, she does not have the experience a P/VP should have.

    I think she is smart, but I am not sure she has a coherent political philosophy, or has much knowledge about the issues with which she should be familiar. It has been a strange 6 weeks since she was selected. I was initially happy with the pick because of her record and personal story, then shocked/outraged by the backlash against her, then happy with the convention speech, then horrified by the interviews. Now, I don’t know what to think about her. I am not impressed by her message, but that is probably the McCain campaign’s fault. I don’t understand the folk-hero status she seems to have with conservatives, but I understand even less the contempt and scorn which she attracts from most of the media.

    To bring this back to Noonan, I think (although I coul be wrong) Noonan feels (as I do) that Palin is both talented and unready. She wouldn’t agree with David Brooks that she’s ‘a cancer’, but she can’t say honestly that Palin is an ideal candidate for VP.

  21. Well I am not disappointed….

    I think Sarah ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I also wanted to test out my avatar.

  22. Darwin,

    With any luck, Jindal will be ripe by the next election. He’s wonkish, well-spoken, competant, and a true conservative.

    I really admired his handling of the hurricanes this season – he demanded excellence from his staff, held frequent press conferences fresh from his own briefings, and worked well with federal, local, and private agencies. …If it comes to 3 AM phone calls, I think this nation would be in good hands.

    Anyway…that’s who comes to mind when I hear people say they wish conservatives had ‘an Obama on our side’. And unlike Obama, if Jindal runs in a future election he will actually have executive experience to point to.

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