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Archive for the ‘Palin’ Category

I understand why people like Palin; she’s one of them:  white, middle class, alienated from elites, not afraid to work with her hands, patriotic, and socially conservative. But a leader needs to be both of the people and above them in a certain sense, able to lead, wise, able to connect feelings with policy.  She seems to lack this skill set altogether.  Her entire schtick is to be herself.  Her rhetoric flatters her audience, with the dropped “ing”s and its folksy hyperbole.  Reagan never spoke like this, nor did Washington, Roosevelt, Robert Taft, or Barry Goldwater.  There never was a feeling among those men that to have contempt for anti-American elites and unconstitutional government one must also have contempt for education, ideas, and the like.  The fact that Palin’s little speech this weekend was for the turn-coast John McCain is all the more telling.  Her presence at Tea Party events and rallies is unfortunate, coopting the radicalism, anger, and anti-welfare-state enthusiasm of the group’s main supporters.  The fact that she is also incoherent, ignorant of most public policy issues, and easily coopted by Invade-them-All neoconservatives makes her unrepresentative of the group that she is speaking to and unable to realistically further their small stage agenda.

I hope this quitter fades away before she does lasting damage to the Republican Party and to the nascent anti-government revolt among the peasantry.

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Jennifer Rubin has an extended essay in Commentary on why there is so much visceral dislike of Sarah Palin among Jews.  I think she overstates her case a bit.  There is no doubt she has a Jewish problem, but all Republicans do–Jews vote approximately 70% Democratic–and it seems to me hardcore liberals of all kinds hate her guts, as do Beltway and Wall Street Republican types, and they all do so for mostly the reasons that same reasons.  She is the arch-representative of the Other:  rural, physically fit, fertile, less educated, less sophisticated, religious, gun-toting, etc.  It’s the Apollonian-Mercurian distinction, of which Jews are simply one particularly prominent member of the latter group.  I basically wrote something very similar to Rubin’s piece last year, but with this (more useful in my opinion) analytical framework–as opposed to the Jew/Gentile framework.

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Bill Clinton was a polarizing figure, in spite of his popularity. For both friends and enemies, he was the true torch-bearer of the 60s and the Baby Boomers: idealistic, flabby, occasionally elitist, urban, self-indulgent, draft-dodging, and all the rest. His lifestyle fed into stereotypes held by Reagan Democrats and blue collar Americans about liberal elites, and his gun control measures and perceived hostility to religious people–not least in the Waco Massacre–did much to fuel an anti-government paranoia among conservatives during that time. In its more mainstream manifestation, this included measures like the Contract With America and the attempted alliance of paleoconservatives and certain libertarians in venues like Chronicles magazine and the John Randolph Club. The most extreme variant included the militia movement and the Timothy McVeigh bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. Much of this feeling dissipated after 9/11 and the 2000 election. Many conservatives channeled their feelings of alienation and fear at Islamic terrorists. Bush’s perceived moral clarity was welcome, and a new kind of bellicose populism became prominent in the movement, even if the democracy-spreading stuff was dismissed as necessary window dressing. This turned out not to be so.

Bush, who was frequently called “more conservative than his father” behind closed doors in Republican circles in 2000, turned out to be quite a bit more idealistic and more liberal than his father. His foreign policy was less steeped in realism. His embrace of Hispanics, including illegal immigrants, as the future of the Republican Party did much to alienate social conservatives and Reagan Democrats, who became more concerned about mass immigration in recent years.

I believe Obama has the capacity to have the Clinton effect, uniting conservatives who have now lost the distraction of a non-conservative president leading us into hopeless backwaters like “spreading democracy in the Middle East” or expanding home ownership to bad credit risks. After all, without the albatross of the first President Bush after 1992, conservatives united around a truly conservative set of themes and did much to scuttle Clinton’s dumbest ideas. As with Clinton, Obama’s big spending, dubious heritage, increasingly hackneyed rhetoric, and recent anti-gun noises will likely trigger the anti-government, anti-spending feeling that conservatives always seem to find again as soon as they’re out of power. I may be wrong; the demographics have changed considerably since 1994. Many millions of newcomers have arrived since then. And younger people are less likely to marry and have children–these milestones being major inducements to conservatism among not particularly political folks. We’re still here though. Obama has been fearless about confronting conservative on various hot button issues–criticizing the US in Turkey, mocking Christian beliefs in his stem cell decisions, kowtowing to Mexico on guns–and the intense backlash is brewing, along with that old time conservative anti-government rhetoric. While this message fell on deaf ears during the inflationary boom, there is always a group that views big government spending as profligate and short-sighted during hard economic times. Such views connect directly with those of our Founding Fathers and have even penetrated the once pro-New Deal Reagan Democrats as they have climbed the economic ladder. When combined with the more culturally-based opposition to amnesty, which Obama seems surprisingly poised to advocate, Obama may accomplish what Bush could not: uniting conservatives around a small government, neo-nationalist set of views.

The political disaster would be for some opportunist without a thorough understanding and ability to articulate these views to become the face of conservatism. This is why McCain, Huckabee, and Palin each present different risks to the party. None is a real conservative steeped in the nationalist and small government strains of thinking that have grown so robust under Bush’s pseuedo-conservatism, and each would become a lightning rod for conservatives, while in fact being a populist or militarist imposter.

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I have to say, it didn’t inspire confidence.  She has the George W style of “gut” decision-making that disdains process, self-doubt, and inquiry, and I think this is coupled with a long tradition of how she tackled relatively straightforward business-style problems as governor and the evangelical tradition of anti-intellectualism. 

Further, she was as I suspected likely an empty vessel on many issues before a week long series of cram sessions with the likes of Joe Lieberman, Biegun, Mccain, and other uber-hawks.  They have filled her head with neocon talking points on Russia and Israel and Iraq. She didn’t even know Georgia attacked first and presented no coherent reason why Ukraine and Georgia should be set up as NATO tripwires.  Unfortunately, there’s no daylight between her and McCain.  I’m sure he considers foreign policy his strong suit, and she’ll naturally defer. (Of course, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if a limited government-oriented VP became his tsarina of economic policy.) She did say something frightful right out of the AIPAC play book:  that we could not and should not question Israel’s decisions in it’s own security. I don’t see why we can’t reign them in or at least protest in appropriate circumstances.  For example, if they attacked Iran by overflying Saudi or Iraqi airspace, that would be a major problem since our failure to shoot down those planes would amount to dragging us into supporting a perhaps unnecessary or unwise attack on Iranian facilities.

I did think Gibson was a bit unfair on his quotes from her earlier speeches and in his use of the ambiguous phrase “Bush Doctrine.”  I thought the doctrine meant nothing about preventative war, but rather the idea that terrorist-supporting-states will be treated no differently than terrorists.

That all said, politically I’m not sure it will matter. She appeared competent, and that will be the take-away of 70% of people who even bothered to follow it.  Further, her hawkishness is in line with the American exceptionalist view popular among at least a plurality of Republicans, including evangelicals.  Finally, there will soon be a mini-controversy on the unfairness of the “exact words” and “Bush Doctrine” questions.

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I thought Sara’s speech was awesome, and I like her a great deal. She just did great in nearly every possible way. One theme of hers was particularly striking to me. She said:

“We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity.” I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind when he praised Harry Truman.

I grew up with those people.

They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in Americawho grow our food, run our factories, and fight our wars.

They love their country, in good times and bad, and they’re always proud of America. I had the privilege of living most of my life in a small town.

This sense of pride, but also of fear, animates much of the “Red State” attitude about Blue Staters. Where does it come from?  It is an age old tension of what Yuri Slezkine calls Mercurians and Apollonians. America’s right-wing populism has much the same flavor as other reactions to the changes wrought by modernism. Once upon a time, itinerant merchants were a minority swimming in an ocean of peasants.  They lived alongside societies in which they barely fit in or only occasionally visited; they were often suspected of being unproductive or disloyal. Often they were from distinct ethnic or religious sub-groups.  Jews.  Armenians.  Chinese.  They had to play it cool and generally made efforts not to appear to threaten the community’s prevailing mores.

Today, the Mercurians are in charge. The Ivy Leagues, Wall Streeters, verbally intelligent, quick-to-move, urban cosmopolitans. What Steve Sailer calls “Davos People.” In other words, today the world is the opposite of that of even 100 years ago, when a third or more of Americans still lived on farms.  Today’s elite is everything that Sara Palin is not and has never been.

Palin represents those left behind, people not altogether devoid of the “bitterness” Obama was castigated for taking notice of.  Thankfully, in America, this prejudice has been less ethnically discriminatory, less nasty, and more forgiving and ecumenical than elsewhere. In America, this populism is also dampened by our strong cultural respect for free enterprise. We’re willing as a people to make exceptions. That said, the Red Staters are willing to be overinclusive too. Consider the right-wing’s visceral hatred for a turn-coat WASP character like Bill Clinton.

In spite of its various limits and American peculiarities, this tension is still there. It has cultural, geographic, and ethnic dimensions. In spite of entreaties, we’re not solely a land of people making money or a creedal nation or some other modern symbol like a Big Shopping Mall of a Country where it does not matter who lives here, for how long, or what they think and do.  This should matter to conservatives.  The Mercurian ideas that “everyone should go to college,” “diversity is our strength,” physical strength and courage are irrelevant and barbaric, and other platitudes of cosmopolitan globalism are corrosive of the traditional values and virtues of the peasant-patriot, the natural conservative rooted to the soil and suspicious of change and outsiders.

When such people see gazillionaire banks getting bailed out by the feds, prayer being taken out of schools, regional and religious disparities in military service, and people in NYC making tons of money by gambling other peoples’ meager savings–their pensions in some cases–in impenetrably complex transactions even while these same workers get tossed about or outsourced by globalization, it stings and then enrages. In hard times in particular, these dichotomies and suspicions come into play.

Slezkine understands this mutual suspicion as a broader phenomenon than mere American populism or mere anti-Semitism but rather as a permanent distinction in human types in nearly every society on
earth. I think Palin tapped into this dichotomy in a very effective way. She and her land are the quintessential American Apollonian outpost. She knows these people and channels their frustrations, frustrations that can never be fully alleviated by the emasculating offer of hand-outs from the Democrats.

Working class rural people don’t want a handout; they want to be understood and respected; and, if not, they want to remind the Mercurians of the latter’s practical dependence on the Apollonian. Often this takes place in iconic symbols.  Consider the brief social elevation of NYC firefighters after 9/11. For so long it had been the Enrons, techno-geeks, heiresses, artists, lawyers, and Wall-Streeters who reigned supreme there.  For a brief moment, the utter fear and terror and vulnerability of the financial classes was made manifest, and their fear and helplessness contrasted so sharply with the sacrificial bravery of those very different men who marched into the burning towers.

Here’s what Slezkine says of these human types:

At different times and in different places, there were tribes–ethnic groups–that specialized exclusively in providing services to the surrounding food-producing societies. They include Roma-Gypsies, various so-called “Travelers” or “Tinkers,” the Fuga in Ethiopia, the Sheikh Mohammadi in Afghanistan, and of course the Armenians, the Overseas Chinese, the Indians in East Africa, the Lebanese in West Africa and Latin America, and so on. I call them all “Mercurians,” as opposed to their “Apollonian” hosts.

What do you mean by those terms?

Apollo was the god of both livestock and agriculture. “Apollonian” societies, the way I use the term, are societies organized around food production, societies that consist mostly of peasants, plus various combinations of warriors and priests who appropriate peasant labor by controlling access to land or salvation.

Mercury, or Hermes, was the god of messengers, merchants, interpreters, craftsmen, guides, healers, and other border-crossers. “Mercurians,” the way I use the term, are ethnic groups, demographically complete societies, that do not engage in food production, but live by providing services to the surrounding Apollonians.

In the modern world, Apollonians have to become more Mercurian–more Jewish, if you will; but Apollonian values, peasant and warrior values, essentially, live on, of course. The two attitudes, two ideal types, are still with us today, and the Jews, the most accomplished of all Mercurians, are still playing a very special role in the modern world–as the models of both success and victimization.

There are striking similarities in the way all Mercurians think of themselves and of their non-Mercurian neighbors, and in the way they actually behave. . . .

There were a lot of groups performing such functions. And, throughout the world, they share certain features and are regarded in similar ways. Think of Jews and Gypsies. Both were traditionally seen as dangerous internal aliens, homeless for reasons of divine punishment, and engaged in harmful, morally suspect activities. They were always seen as mirror images of their host communities: Their men weren’t warriors, their women seemed aggressive–and, perhaps for that reason, attractive; they remained strangers by staying aloof, not intermarrying, not fighting, not sharing meals–just making, exchanging, selling, and possibly stealing, things and concepts. And so they were feared and hated accordingly, with the Holocaust as the culmination of that long history of fear and hatred.

And I think they were seen in similar ways because they were, in many ways, similar. Both were exclusive, nomadic service providers; both had rigid taboos regarding unclean food and intermarriage; both could only survive by remaining strangers–hence the prohibitions against sharing food and blood with their neighbors, and the obsession with cleanliness. . . .

Including the Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia?

Yes. The Overseas Chinese too are supposed to be clever–too clever, perhaps. You can call on the usual anti-Semitic list: they are aloof, devious, unmanly, and so on. This is the way Apollonians describe Mercurians throughout the world.

And of course one could interpret these same qualities in a positive light. “Cunning” and “deviousness” may become “intelligence” and “a general commitment to the life of the mind.” Gypsies are proud of being smarter than the non-Gypsies they deal with, as Jews are, or were in the traditional Jewish world. Mercurian views of Apollonians tend to be negative too: “soulfulness,” “courage,” and “earthiness” may become “stupidity,” “belligerence,” and “uncleanliness.”

In other words, the oppositions mind/body, intelligence/physicality, impermanence/permanence, non-belligerence/belligerence remain the same and are agreed upon by everyone involved. Everyone knows which traits are associated with which group; the difference is in the interpretation.

While I have a great deal of sympathy for the working men left behind or abused in a global era, admire their virtues, and believe our society has become unbalanced, Palin and the GOP’s contempt for “Mercurians” of all types is a potentially dangerous indulgence. Modern societies need both human types and their respective vocations to be balanced and powerful. As a conservative, I want to tilt the scales, the honors, and benefits of society back towards the forgotten Apollonians.  At the same time, I do not want to see us devolve into a primitive, hateful, envious, and dull race devoid of contemplation, gentleness, or ability, as so many Apollonian societies have become or always remained.

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The inveterate muck-raking of Sara Palin’s daughter’s personal life, particularly her unremarkable decision at 17 to have a baby and marry the father, is that it is not about her or her daughter.  Instead, it’s supposed to be a sign of McCain’s reckless decision-making and an implication that other skeleton’s lurk int he closet. 

That may be true for some, but that’s just a ruse.  It’s a cover, an alibi.  It’s obvious the collision of an evangelical Republican woman and her family’s ordinary problems is supposed to make us all despair.  No one’s good! Everyone’s a hypocrite! It’s like the thin tissue of relevance surrounding the Jon Benet Ramsey killing. In that case, we were all invited by the media to look in horror at her over-sexualized beauty contest performances.  The media claim they show us these images to demonstrate their awfulness and as part of the story.  But then they repeat the glamour shots ad nauseum. 

McCain should be judged on his merits.  If he rushed to pick her that should not be a surprise. This guy rushes to antagonize Russia, rarely knows the facts of any important issue, and is a shoot-from-the-hip kind of guy.  He always has been. This is not news.  This is part of his appeal to some.

But even if he discovered Palin’s daughter was pregnant, should that have disqualified her?  Should he have not nominated her?  Hardly.  The Left’s cynicism and despair are a far cry from the moral realism of social conservatives, who are well aware that stuff happens, kids get pregnant, and that it’s far more admirable in this day and age to allow that unexpected child to live than to abort it, as Obama has implied he’d encourage his daughters in a similar situation. 

Palin’s daughter’s human weaknesses are far less of a commentary on either her or her mom’s character, whereas Obama’s admission that he’d encourage his daughters to have an abortion rather than be “punsihed witha  baby” shows him to be a callous, overly image-conscous human being. 

This will backfire on the Democrats.  There may be other legitimate concerns about Palin, such as her flirtation with the Alaska secessionist movement.  But things like her husband’s 20 year old DUI or her daughter’s pregnancy will only make the Left look mean-spirited and judgmental, traints which they project upon evangelicals without understanding in the least the basic vibe of Christian churches, which is very much the opposite.  Tales of lives gotten off track are not new to such people; any set-back is rightly seen in today’s Christian churches chiefly as an opportunity to get back on track and honor God going-forward.

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Sara Palin changes the race considerably.  She is by all accounts a decent woman, a principled pro-lifer, and a real conservative.  The problem is that she’s running with a guy that is impulsive, difficult, anti-conservative, pro-immigration, and foolish on foreign policy.  It’s hard to vote for McCain simply because he’s picked a solid running mate.

Further, she has been a conservative in a place where it’s easy to be conservative.  How will she fare when accused of helping the rich, being in the pocket of “Big Oil,” racism, “hating the poor,” and all the other typical charges of the media against principled conservatives?  Will she embrace McCain’s interventionist spirit which defines events in Georgia and Sudan as indistinguishable from those in Afghanistan or Mexico?  So far, she appears already to have backed off from the charge she was a Buchananite in ’96, as if that were disqualifying. It reminds me of my ambivalence about Harriett Miers, who sounded decent enough, but didn’t appear too sharp and obviously had no stomach for the name-calling one must endure as a principled conservative.  Further, any beef on her experience is kind of ridiculous considering Obama’s mediocre record and permanent candidate status in his two years in the Senate.  Moreover, Palin’s actually cut spending, cleaned up corruption, and made executive decisions when she was not out hunting Caribou and winning beauty contests.  This is more than Biden, Obama, and McCain can say for themselves.

McCain and Buchanan are about as far apart as two candidates could be in the Republican Party, and it is a bit of an idle hope that someone so young and devoid of a power base as Palin could turn McCain and DC in the right direction.  The opposite appears far more likely.

Nonetheless, her addition is a great positive for the Republican Party and as a purely political matter has reinvigorated McCain’s hitherto listless campaign.  Even if McCain loses, she would be well positioned in 2012 to lead the party back to its small government, self-reliant roots.

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