Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tea Parties and Wal-Mart: Where Is Conservatism Going?

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal included an opinion by respected neoconservative Norman Podhoretz entitled "In Defense of Sarah Palin." The point of that editorial is that just because Palin is being attacked by the intellectual elite as being dumb is not a reason not to vote against her; in fact, the author embraces those attacks as a reason to vote for her.

I don't want to write a blog about Sarah Palin. Please do not comment here with your personal views for her or against her - there are plenty of places on the web to do that.

Instead, I want to address the question of the value of gravitas , that often indefinable "something" - quality, depth, substance - that only the giants and heroes have.

Noting that Palin's attackers come from both the right and the left, Podhoretz quotes a satirical attack on the "unsightly hordes of Wal-Mart untermenschen typified by the loathesome Tea Party rabble" with their "base enthusiasms and simian grunts." Podhoretz concludes by saying that since high-IQ types like Carter, Clinton, and Obama have been (in his opinion) poor presidents, he would be happier with the grunting Tea Partiers.

Podhoretz writes well, but I must confess that I am skeptical of the argument that boils down to “smart people have done badly, so let’s elect a dumb-dumb.” That is not exactly what he is saying of course, and I don’t think that Palin is a dumb-dumb. But I am skeptical of the position that says that - because many intellectuals are (1) liberal, like the MIT and Harvard faculty (William Buckley is quoted by Podhoretz as saying he would rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston phone book than by these faculties); (2) embarrassing, like Biden; (3) failures, like Carter; or (4) morally questionable, at best, like Clinton – we should therefore elect someone who is not very smart.

I admire some things about Sarah Palin. I liked her speaking during the campaign, and I admire her carrying the banner for what she believes is a principled message. I wish she had been better prepared for Katie Couric, and I wish she were not quite so quick to embrace the “Wal-Mart untermenschen” persona that is being thrust upon her.

I believe we can find a conservative who has the gravitas that Palin does not. Yes, given a choice, I might vote for her over President Obama. But I would rather have Ronald Reagan. I don’t see another Reagan on the horizon. Frankly, though, I think the time is ripe for one to arise.

Here is what I mean. The Republican Party in the late 70s was (or would have been, but for Watergate) the world of Nixon, he of wage and price controls and appeasement of China. It was the party of Ford, a middle of the road nice guy with no real conservative credentials. Conservatism was still exemplified/lampooned by the failed and over-the-top Goldwater. The party was in trouble. The only thing worse was the stagflation, Iranian hostage world of the Democrats. Not a clash of the titans. Out of that morass arose someone who could visualize, who could dream, who could articulate what was not apparent. In short, a man of faith (here, I mean faith in what American could and should be, not Christian faith (although he was also that)), a person who could preach the substance of things not seen.

I am no more a fan of today’s Republican party than I am - in retrospect - of the Nixon/Ford party of the 70s. I have not given money to the party in years. McCain and W were not, by any stretch, my choice as excellent candidates. I voted for them only because I could not stomach the alternative... but being better than John Kerry or Al Gore is no great prize. Dole would have been a reasonable candidate if he had been 20 years younger, but of course Kemp was a much better choice. In other words, yes, I am saying conservatism's best national candidate since Reagan has been a losing vice-presidential nominee from 14 years ago.

The time, like in 1979, is ripe for the rise of a true conservative statesman or stateswoman. Somebody is going to ascend. Sarah Palin is trying, but she is not the one. I really think she is laying the groundwork for somebody else. I don’t know who that is. It could be Mitt Romney. It could be Bobby Jindal. It could be Condolezza Rice. It could be Eric Cantor. I don’t think it is Tim Pawlenty. It might be Charley Crist. It is not Gingrich or Huckabee or Giuliani.

It may well be somebody I have never heard of. But whoever it is, I believe that our present political arena is speeding up his/her appearance. The trick will be if this person can rise above the mess the Republicans have made of conservatism – all about hatred, abortion, yelling loud, racist junk about President Obama, and personal attack – to become a leader. If President Reagan could rise out of Watergate/pardon, then it can be done again.

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