Friday, October 10, 2008

Palin "A Cancer On The Republican Party?" - David Brooks In La-La Land

One of the few voices to be found at The New York Times who identifies himself as “conservative” is David Brooks. I was dismayed to hear Brooks’ comments at a luncheon of The Atlantic magazine, discussing Sarah Palin. Brooks commended her challenge of the Republican establishment in Alaska and conceded that Palin had performed well at the Republican National Convention and in her debate with Joe Biden, and that she was a smart and able politician. But, he called her representative of “a cancer on the Republican Party,” referring to a growing “populist” element of conservatism that has a tendency to “not only scorn liberal ideas, but to scorn ideas entirely. I think Palin has those prejudices and I think George Bush has them also.” You can see a clip at YouTube. Wow. I think David Brooks is an alright guy. But, this seems to show that the enveloping provincialism of the coasts and popular media affects not only liberals, but conservatives as well.

In an article this week on the same general perception, Brooks makes reference to more thoughtful conservatives such as William F. Buckley and writers at his National Review, thirty-some years ago. But to me, he seems to have forgotten something. “A cancer on The Republican Party?” It is true that National Review was a significant element in the development of the conservative movement. I was a National Review subscriber as a teenager in the 1970’s. But, National Review was founded in the late 1950’s. Asked in the ‘70’s what politician he liked as a potential president, Buckley replied, “Oh (recent California governor), Ronald Reagan.” Reagan was elected president in 1980.

Until then, The Republican Party had largely been in the political wilderness for 48 years, and conservative ideas even longer. Now, you don’t get much more politically moribund than that. Eisenhower was not an ideological conservative (He was a WWII GENERAL, not that it would have mattered, with Congress solidly Democratic. And for that matter, neither was Reagan a conservative scholar. His was a common-sense, not an academic conservatism. Reagan voted 4 times for Franklin Roosevelt before much later coming to realize that unconstrained state intrusion was corroding the country he loved. Buckley knew that Reagan was not an egghead but an everyman. Though he was of a wealthy Northeastern legacy and an intellectual, perhaps Buckley was not so culturally cosseted as to deceive himself about a vastly different American majority. Let’s consider where the cancer lies. During the primaries, in the process of fretting the ascendancy of Huckabee, journalist Robert Novak noted that the rise of cultural conservatism had revived The Republican Party and implied the threat that one of them might one day actually seek the Republican nomination.

Reagan was an actor. In fact, we have never even run, much less elected a scholarly conservative. That includes neither Bush (both administrators, neither scholars nor statesmen). Bob Dole, and Gerald Ford. Richard Nixon was plenty bright and literate, but had some other obvious personal demons, which stymied any systematic consistency (this was clear to me as a boy: wage & price controls? Please!) long before it brought about his political demise. The only one other than Reagan who stirred me at all was Jack Kemp. Kemp became a financial player and a student of capital development (for people at all levels), but his background was as a football player.

Surely, David Books understands why Buckley or George F. Will have not been politicians. Will never has made an effort, but when Buckley was asked during his only one, what he would do if he was actually elected mayor of New York, he joked, “I’d immediately demand a recount.” Brooks seems to have his head and its ideas lodged in a dark and malodorous place. From there, perhaps he can amuse himself and some other esoterically-disposed conservatives. But, he will never have an impact on the culture, any more than he has overwhelmed the New York public through The Times.

Smart, courageous, common-sensical, plain-spoken, female, and evangelical, Sarah Palin may be the brightest hope the Republican Party will see in my lifetime. Conservatives need some egghead advisors. But philosopher rulers have existed only in a book, 2500 years ago. Brooks must have read Plato’s Republic. But in reality, he should stop dreaming and wake up and smell the coffee.
Palin, Brooks

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