In mid-February most of the chattering classes, left and right, lost interest in Sarah Palin after an ABC/WaPo poll that showed rank-and-file Republicans souring on her, or at least concluding she wasn’t qualified to be president. (I personally suspect that poll was an outlier, but that’s a subject for another day, when fresh evidence is available).
But now, in the wake of her twin appearances at a Tea Party Express event in Nevada, and on the campaign trail with John McCain in Arizona, Palin has become impossible to ignore again, and there’s now an interesting effort underway among conservative elites to denounce any dissing of St. Joan of the Tundra from their own ranks.
Today neoconservative patriarch Norman Podheretz appeared on that estimable right-wing bulletin board, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, to smite unnamed conservative critics of Palin, utilizing the Big Bertha of latter-day Republican rhetoric, the memory of Ronald Reagan:
Now I knew Ronald Reagan, and Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan. Then again, the first time I met Reagan all he talked about was the money he had saved the taxpayers as governor of California by changing the size of the folders used for storing the state’s files. So nonplussed was I by the delight he showed at this great achievement that I came close to thinking that my friends were right and that I had made a mistake in supporting him. Ultimately, of course, we all wound up regarding him as a great man, but in 1979 none of us would have dreamed that this would be how we would feel only a few years later.
Podhoretz goes on to suggest that liberal contempt for Palin is of a piece with liberal contempt for Reagan, and thus should never be echoed on the Right. This is all interesting because it’s the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party–heavily focused on foreign policy, disproportionately led by people who are secular, Jewish, or both, and suspicious of the influence of the Christian Right and of right-wing “populism” generally–where disdain for Palin is most visible. Podhoretz is trying to rein that tendency in.
And it looks like his argument is already getting traction. In its “Arena” feature, Politico asked a bunch of prominent gabbers, most of them conservatives, to react to Podhoretz’s piece, and they generally said he was right (with the occasional condescending reference to Palin’s need for a little more seasoning).
This doesn’t mean that neoconservatives are on the brink of shouting “Run, Sarah, Run!” or emulating the adulation she arouses among Tea Party folk or Right-to-Lifers, but it does represent a disciplinary reminder that the conservative coalition can’t brook any friendly fire. Podhoretz cites William F. Buckley’s famous quip that he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculties of Harvard and MIT, and implies that the prospect of being governed by Sarah Palin rather than Barack Obama represents an equivalent choice (certainly the most back-handed of compliments to Palin; she might as well be named “Alice Aardvark” to qualify for the first page of that phne book).
But the choice, he says, is clear and must be made:
[A]fter more than a year of seeing how [Obama’s] “prodigious oratorical and intellectual gifts” have worked themselves out in action, I remain more convinced than ever of the soundness of Buckley’s quip, in the spirit of which I hereby declare that I would rather be ruled by the Tea Party than by the Democratic Party, and I would rather have Sarah Palin sitting in the Oval Office than Barack Obama.
So on behalf of neoconservatives, Podhoretz is taking the coalition oath anew, and inverting the old Popular Front slogan of “Pas d’ennemis a gauche, pas d’amis a droit.” (No enemies to the Left, no friends to the Right). That’s not terribly surprising in the current Total War atmosphere of American politics, but it’s amusing that Palin is being treated as the acid test of conservative solidarity, and perhaps alarming that she passes.