The Sarah Palin-bashing chattering classes are at it again, and to the delight of their openly liberal colleagues.
A series of officially conservative commentators have disparaged Gov. Sarah Palin: She is a “mark against John McCain” (Peggy Noonan); she is “an embarrassment and a dangerous one at that” (Christopher Buckley); and she is incapable of “the constructive act of governance” (David Brooks).
Each of these writers is an admired friend, so I write this with some trepidation. I am not angry, but rather deeply sad that these otherwise keen observers of the unattractive prejudices of others don’t hear how they themselves sound.
Even more importantly, their arguments miss the key aspect that makes America so different from Europe and the rest of the world, and which animates the enthusiasm for Gov. Palin: the American appreciation of individual human potential and exceptionalism, regardless of background.
Leave aside that Sarah Palin is not running for president, but for vice president. And ignore for a moment that Sen. Obama really has little more foreign policy experience than she (a few trips does not experience make), a track record of bad judgment where he has advocated positions, and no executive experience at all to speak of. (And on the last two, ditto, in spades, for Sen. Biden.)
We all hope for a candidate who is well prepared and has thought deeply about the issues that may confront us, the problems that beset us, and who has a well grounded understanding of history and political philosophy. But it is rare to find politicians who have all those gifts, yet we do not attack them for being anti-intellectual and a “cancer on the Republican Party.”
What evidence is adduced to substantiate the claim that Palin has a “scorn for ideas” (Brooks) and is “not a leader, this is a follower” (Noonan) – a comment which given Palin’s history is risible on its face? Well, none. To Brooks, she is too long on “brashness and excessive decisiveness,” and represents an anti-establishment strain, which he thinks we’ve endured too long in the Bush years.
Yet, Bush wasn’t so much anti-establishment as perfectly willing to sign away conservative principles. And Palin is not so much anti-establishment as anti-corruption and more focused on connecting with the American people than media elites.
Noonan doesn’t like that Palin in seven weeks has not revealed herself to be Harry Truman (excuse me, but did Harry Truman impress anyone in the first seven weeks of his nomination to vice president, never mind convince commentators even during his derided presidency that he had the right stuff?). Nor that Palin doesn’t “think aloud.” (By which, I guess, we are to presume, illogically, that she doesn’t think.) That she uses “tinny lines to crowds” that she “doesn’t, really, understand.”
Based on what evidence?
The pithy lines are used because they are effective in political speech – Peggy was expecting a disquisition on John Locke? And reports are that often 50,000 people will show up for Palin rallies, driving long hours precisely because they think Palin understands them as they haven’t been since Reagan.
Perhaps the most telling charge is that Palin represents “a new vulgarization” (Noonan). Or Christopher Buckley’s distinction between McCain/Palin and Obama is that the latter has a “first-class temperament and a first-class intellect”; Buckley is endorsing Obama because “surely” that first-class temperament can’t possibly mean that he intends to do what he says.
If these derisive comments sound like the contempt for the “grade B actor” Ronald Reagan, or the “Catholic” Robert F. Kennedy, or the “uncouth” Eleanor Roosevelt, it should.
Elitism (defined not as excellence in achievement, which our Founders valued, but in having similar social experiences) is trumping political philosophy.
The monumental chasm between the two tickets – on fighting corruption, energy, spending, the role of government, the economy, trade, national security, marriage, and even infanticide to name just a few should matter. But it doesn’t to a social set that puts an inflated premium on their own credentializing educations (exactly the folks Christopher’s father, William F. Buckley, preferred not to have as his judges).
Unfortunately, perhaps without knowing it, they’ve bought into both a flawed Progressive Era idea: that you need experts to run things – and a stifling European one – that we all have our proper place, and rather than average Americans having “ownership” of the government, as Tocqueville noted, we ought to defer to our betters to run it.
That’s not the American idea.
Here good people accomplish great things (think of the Wright brothers – bicycle mechanics – astonishing the incredulous French that they of all people had figured out how to fly, or Edison relying on trial and error – he had only three years of formal schooling – to make his inventions).
Like Truman, we do not need to come from “educated” backgrounds to make wise leaders.
The criteria for leadership more than anything else is good judgment, self-determination, and initiative; not vocabulary, diction, geography, or a particular degree. Sarah Palin seems to have the attributes that matter for those sufficiently unblinkered to see.
Heather Higgins is a member of the board of directors for the Independent Women’s Voice.