Party of Palin: Update

Mark Lilla has an in-depth look at how the Republican party’s intellectual elite found themselves backing Sarah Palin in the WSJ today:

Coming of age politically in the grim ’70s, when liberalism seemed utterly exhausted, I still remember the thrill of coming upon their writings for the first time. I discovered the Public Interest the same week that Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, and its pages offered shelter from the storm — from the mobs on the street, the radical posing of my professors and fellow students, the cluelessness of limousine liberals, the whole mad circus of post-’60s politics. Conservative politics mattered less to me than the sober comportment of conservative intellectuals at that time; I admired their maturity and seriousness, their historical perspective, their sense of proportion. In a country susceptible to political hucksters and demagogues, they studied the passions of democratic life without succumbing to them. They were unapologetic elites, but elites who loved democracy and wanted to help it.

So what happened? How, 30 years later, could younger conservative intellectuals promote a candidate like Sarah Palin, whose ignorance, provinciality and populist demagoguery represent everything older conservative thinkers once stood against? It’s a sad tale that began in the ’80s, when leading conservatives frustrated with the left-leaning press and university establishment began to speak of an “adversary culture of intellectuals.” It was a phrase borrowed from the great literary critic Lionel Trilling, who used it to describe the disquiet at the heart of liberal societies. Now the idea was taken up and distorted by angry conservatives who saw adversaries everywhere and decided to cast their lot with “ordinary Americans” whom they hardly knew. In 1976 Irving Kristol publicly worried that “populist paranoia” was “subverting the very institutions and authorities that the democratic republic laboriously creates for the purpose of orderly self-government.” But by the mid-’80s, he was telling readers of this newspaper that the “common sense” of ordinary Americans on matters like crime and education had been betrayed by “our disoriented elites,” which is why “so many people — and I include myself among them — who would ordinarily worry about a populist upsurge find themselves so sympathetic to this new populism.”

The success of talk radio and Fox News must have been contributing factors in this transformation of the conservative elite. The final spectacle being Christopher Buckley’s¬† ex-communication for preferring Obama, the law professor, over Palin, the sportscaster. The only question that remains is whether the party of Lincoln will break free from this anti-intellectualism in time to save itself.

Source:

The Perils of ‘Populist Chic’

Mark Lilla

Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2008

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122610558004810243.html

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