Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thoughtful Conservatism

History will praise this beautiful woman who became one of the most thoughtful leaders of the American conservative movement. Now, what single word in that statement alerts you that I am not talking about Sarah Palin? In fact, I'm speaking of Peggy Noonan who recently wrote an essay on Alaska governor that might just as well have been entitled, "The Emperor Has No Depth" ("A Farewell to Harms," Wall Street Journal, July 11-12, 2009).

She went on the trail a sensation but demonstrated in the ensuing months that she was not ready to go national and in fact never would be. She was hungry, loved politics, had charm and energy, loved walking onto the stage, waving and doing the stump speech. All good. But she was not thoughtful....She never learned how the other sides think, or why.

In television interviews she was out of her depth in a shallow pool. She was limited in her ability to explain and defend her positions, and sometimes in knowing them. She couldn't say what she read because she didn't read anything. She was utterly unconcerned by all this and seemed in fact rather proud of it: It was evidence of her authenticity. She experienced criticism as both partisan and cruel because she could see no truth in any of it. She wasn't thoughtful enough to know she wasn't thoughtful enough.

The notion that she is going to spend the next few years in research and reflection is naive and an example of tragically pitiful wishful thinking. "But she is a ponder-free zone," says Noonan. "She can memorize the names of the presidents of Pakistan, but she is not going to be able to know how to think about Pakistan."

Looking more broadly to the genuine leadership needs of the Republican Party, Noonan states the truth for out time: "This is a time for conservative leaders who know how to think." This is not only true on account of the great international dangers that surround us, but also because of the overwhelming surge of charming statism that is flooding the nation and suffocating liberty.

William Buckley died in February of last year, just months before John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate and everyone went ga-ga over her cutely stated conservative affirmations. The liberals went apoplectic with indignation and so we reveled in the wisdom of our nomination. But not only is Palin "no Bill Buckley," she is a caricature of the sort of conservative that Buckley managed to discredit within the GOP and replace with principled people devoted to the timeless truths that provide the indispensable intellectual foundation of the great American political experiment.

That is why, now that they have won the election and are vacuuming up power and control from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, liberals are lavishing attention on Sarah Palin with lots of flattering photographs, and celebrating her as the great hope of the Republican Party. (Time ran a cover story, calling her The Renegade.) But they're just baiting the elephant trap. says Noonan, "She makes the party look stupid, a party of the easily manipulated."

It is interesting that Sarah Palin is an Evangelical Christian, a group that secular liberals consider stupid and easily manipulated. If conservatives and Evangelicals are going to be helpful to their country, we have to be more than right. We have to be thoughtful. We have to got beyond talking points and zingers, and return once again to a principled and persuasive understanding of the nature and foundations of political, economic, and spiritual liberty.

harold adds:

David, allow me to take the part of the Governor over against the oleaginous and unctuous Peggy Noonan. She was thrown into the imperial snakepit before her time, no question about that. But the only people that have any chance to survive that trial by slander, rumor, and humiliation are those who grew up with the boys and girls in that little club and are thus just like them. The savaging she has endured from the best and the brightest is unprecedented, and she has had zero--ZERO--support from the heroic elected Republicans inside the Beltway. In fact, some of the most outrageous attacks have come from the little backstabbing bedwetters inside the McCain campaign itself. As far as supportive pundits or journalists, I think it reduces to Bill Kristol and a couple of others at the Weekly Standard. (See Victor Davis Hanson's thoughtful reflections in "What is Wisdom? Sarah Palin and her Critics" ) With only support from the great unwashed, she has held her ground. And I don't know where this charge that she doesn't know anything comes from--aside from beltway ambush interviews. While being a mother of five, she dominated multi-party, multi-million dollar negotiations on a giant pipeline deal that had been mired for decades in the corrupt good old boy network and got a deal done. How did that happen? I notice hers is one of the few states in the Union that is in good fiscal condition--a veritable petro state awash in petro dollars, which few politicos would be able to keep their hands off of. She has, and the state of Alaska is positioned to be a leading economic factor when grownups get back in control of the national economy and energy policy. Oh, and as far as not being thoughtful, how about leading a meaningful reassertion of the Tenth Amendment as part of the conservative resurgence of constitutionalism among state legislatures and governors? This is just the first of many moves she will be making. She may not be destined for the presidency, but she will galvanize the conservative movement in ways Noonan never has or ever will, a factor that ought not to be overlooked when judging Noonan's analysis. And lets face it--it doesn't matter whose face is associated with conservatism, he or she is portrayed as either stupid or evil or both--e.g., Gingrich, Reagan, Thatcher. Besides, the left is brimming with really smart people who think they know how to run everyone's lives, and where has that ever worked out? Self organized, bottom up structures such as political self rule and free markets rest more on practical wisdom than the imperial court craftiness and scientific management principles the left prefer for their scheme to rule every last detail of our lives.

I don't think the left's attempts to hang Palin around our necks as some kind talisman of stupid is going to work, despite all of Peggy Noonan's good work. And regarding the Time magazine cover above (I agree with your assessment of what they are attempting), Palin will be around long after Time and Newsweek have died from lack of circulation. George W. Bush, the dumbest president ever, ran circles around them for most of eight years despite their shameless derogation of him. And remember that even Reagan was just an "amiable dunce" to these geniuses. Which leads me to a final thought. What would Noonan's old boss think of Sarah Palin? I'm guessing he would be her biggest supporter, and would be disappointed at Noonan's slide into lust for the cocktail party circuit at the expense of conservatism. I think Peggy Noonan left the reservation long ago, and I never read her anymore--not since she was caught on an open mic disparaging the rank and file of the party--something Ronaldus Magnus would never have done, or accepted.


R.B. Glennie said...

Hi David -

A few thoughts on Sarah Palin.

First, contary to others, I don't think she's very attractive.

(and so what? I'm not attracted to Stephen Harper either)

Next, her accent bugs me. I'm not sure why, but that `Fargo' accent has always gotten on my nerves.

(and big deal again...)

And, she's obviously not terifically well informed. I'm not sure how `qualified' she is to be the vice-president, or the president.

At the same time, though, I was quite astonished by the `coverage' of her by the mainstream press - which is to say the viciousness directed her way when it appeared that her inclusion on the Republican `ticket' might well prevent President Urkel from reaching office.

I'm also somewhat confused about the vitriol directed at her by certain conservatives, namely David Frum and yes, Peggy Noonan.

WRT to `qualifications':

Is anyone really ever `qualified' to be President of the U.S.? Is there any job at all which would give anyone adequate experience to do this job (except of course, the leadership of another major country, which would in turn preclude the individual from becoming POTUS).

Certainly, Urkel was even less `qualified' than Palin to be the leader of anything: she was the governor of a state small in population but big in size that yes... does border Russia.

Urkel said that his qualification for being the Prez was - get this - runnning a campaign for the Presidency!

And let's not forget: Palin was in contention for the *vice*-presidency, and yet she still had more executive experience than the man running for the presidency.

WRT being `well-informed': I suppose I would be more impressed with this `disqualification' if both Urkel and his own running mate, Biden, did not show their own incredible ignorance, too.

As described by Carl M. Cannon in a recent Politics Daily piece, the number of whoppers thrown out by Biden - just during the v-p debate with Palin - would have earned the latter ever more scorn if they had come out of her mouth.

Things like

-the assertion that the U.S. `kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon', when of course H. are still firmly entrenched in Lebanon

-the assertion that he, Biden, as a senator, counselled the Bush government not to allow elections in the Pali Territories, bec. Hamas would win - when he made no such statement at all

-the assertion that the cost of a week of war in Iraq, was equivalent to the entire cost of the Afghani war, up until then - this was ridiculously inaccurate too

-there were numerous other mistakes and this is only during thet debate (remember the `FDR in 1929 watching TV' comment, not made during the debate.

And yet, was Biden subjected to the kind of grilling that Palin received at the hands of Charlie Gibson or Kate Courac? could anyone endure such grilling, and not be considered a `ditz'?

(could you, as a university professor, give a succint definition of the `Bush doctrine', David, especially when no definition of this `doctrine' exists?)

And this doesn't even touch on President Urkel's many stupid remarks (as to the number of U.S. states, the length of the U.S. presidential term, the identity of the states bordering on his own state of Illinois...)

so, in conclusion, Palin is not the `ideal' candidate. But no candidate ever will be. And certainly, only exceptional candidates can endure not only the expected vitriol from the liberal press, but also snipping from their own side...


Nolanimrod said...

I read that essay. I commented on the Journal's web site that Peggy had removed all doubt: she COULD write just like Maureen Dowd.

The constant cris de coeur about Sarah Palin's "accent" astound me. In my life we've had Eisenhower (Abilene), Kennedy (Cuber), Johnson (south Texas), Nixon (California), Ford (Middle America), Carter (rural Georgia), Reagan (speech coach), Bush I (New England), Clinton (Hot Springs / Oxford / Yale), Bush II (west Texas) and Obama (I - I - I - uh - uh - uh - and, and - and - and - uh) and I have NEVER encountered the angst people say they experience when they hear Palin speak. And I didn't understand it. That is, until I perceived the cloud of gibbering rage envelope Carrie Prejean who, after apologizing profusely for her thoughts, made the remarkable statement that she thought "marriage" should refer to a union of a man and a woman. After that, I knew: Palin's just too normal.

Rich said...

I usually find myself nodding in agreement with Prof. Kildow's words, but this time I found myself shaking my head in disbelief. We could have a debate on Palin's merits forever, but this passage stood out to me:

"The savaging she has endured from the best and the brightest is unprecedented, and she has had zero--ZERO--support from the heroic elected Republicans inside the Beltway."

I would argue that the only thing that was unprecedented was how out of her depth Ms. Palin was, and that blind support of unqualified party members is a primary reason we are in this mess.

Harold Kildow said...


Sorry to disappoint you this time, but I feel pretty strongly that Palin is not only getting far worse treatment all round, but is being treated as she is because she is threatening to the Democrat Left. But sickenly, not just the left, but also to those in the Republcian party to the left of her.

I don't know how anyone can excuse Letterman's assaults, or the witches on the View, or Maureen Dowd, or Andrew Sullivan, and on and on--make your own list. No one in political life has gotten it worse, or had her family drawn in. What happened to hands off the kids?

As to your point about unqualified party members, a couple of points by way of rejoinder.

As measured by the rogues gallery that constitutes the Democrat party, Palin is a genius--start with the president himself: sans teleprompter, he can't make it through without a gaffe and a half at minimum. How about that Biden--he's pretty smooth eh? How about Sheila Jackson Lee--asked NASA where the flag on mars is; I imagine you can fill in as long a list of idiots as I can. Sarah Palin is NOT less intellectually endowed than 80% of elected officials. Her political experience, starting from the bottom up, makes her the real deal, unlike the hot house, machine politicians like Obama that rocket to the top. Seems unlikely that Obama could have made it running against the powers that be like she did.

I did thihk at the time that it was too early for her to be launched into national politics. I would have preferred her to finish her term as governor, maybe two, like Bobby Jindal intends, and prepare better for that large step onto the national scene. But I'll take a candidate who knows the principles of conservatism ,and knows her own mind over any of the slick, packaged and marketed main stream candidates that meet the approval of the chattering class and end up bending to any wind that blows. Why should we care what Time, Newsweek, MSNBC, CNN, CBS, NBS, ABS, the New York Times, or any of the others think? I'm willing to bet that your opinion of her would be better if she had not been under the withering scrutiny of that herd of independent minds we loosely call "journalists". Take a look at the piece I linked to by Professor Victor Davis Hanson--he's no intellectual slouch, and he's a pretty sharp observer. And keep up with what Palin does in the next year or so--I'm willing to bet she'll overcome the caribou barbi thing and become, if not a power player, a power broker on the conservative side. Just her presence on the scene will make the Republican presidential candidate run rightward. Can that be a bad thing?

Rich said...


First, I don't believe Palin is an idiot, or illiterate - I simply think she is over her head as a political leader.

A few things
- Yes, the ladies on the view are vicious.
- Yes, Letterman's joke was tasteless, but I watched that particular show live with several people, and we all understood the joke to be about Bristol, the older daughter. Palin's shrill insistence that it was about the younger, underage daughter (her name escapes me) is ridiculous, as was her foreboding "we should keep her away from Dave", as if Letterman would rape her in a fit of liberal passion. As to "hands off the kids", who was it who put Bristol on the cover of People Magazine? She loves the limelight (not surprising, given her background as a beauty queen and a newscaster), and one can't help but think that given her family issues, it might be best for her to focus on the war at home.

I find myself agreeing with Sullivan most of the time with regards to Palin, so perhaps I've been subconsciously influenced by the media left. I just think that conservatives were so hungry for an exciting new face of the party that we went cuckoo for the first novelty that appeared on the scene. Can't we do better? If not, so be it, but it reminds me of Deborah, the judge who was called because there were no real men left.

I will read the Hanson piece.

Harold Kildow said...


I'll grant you the going "cuckoo for the first novelty" charge you raise--there certainly has been a dirth of good candidates for Republicans, and I can see how you and David and others were and are unsettled with Palin and the process that got her onto the ticket and into national prominance.

But Deborah didn't work out so bad for Israel did she? As I recall, she was one of the only judges counted as a national asset. And as Thatcher demonstrated, sometimes the best man for the job is a woman--though it pains me to say that.

Shane Vander Hart said...

What I find curious (and laughable) is how journalists like Noonan look down their noses at figures like Palin.

What have they done? Absolutely nothing.

What has she done. She was Governor, and Harold I think you made a good case for her.

She is not unthoughtful or unintelligent. She's plain-spoken, and that used to be an asset (and still is in the Midwest).

She is extremely knowledgeable and has shown excellent fiscal discipline - cutting spending and leaving her state with a surplus.

She can take time to study and learn and grow in other areas of policy.

R.B. Glennie said...

@ Rich -

I really can't let the following remarks go by, unremarked about, namely:

*Yes, Letterman's joke was tasteless... we all understood the joke to be about Bristol, the older daughter.*

I don't know how you `understood' this Rich, you and your friends at all. She attended the game with the younger daughter, the older one wasn't there at all. If Letterman was sloppy, *simply assuming* that the older daughter was there, that's his fault. As for you, Rich, you can't even be bother to find out her name.

*As to "hands off the kids", who was it who put Bristol on the cover of People Magazine? She loves the limelight (not surprising, given her background as a beauty queen and a newscaster), and one can't help but think that given her family issues, it might be best for her to focus on the war at home.*

Wait a minute Rich. Many many politicians use their children as props in their political campaigns. Are you saying that it is thus acceptable to joke about the statutory rape of a 14-year-old? Are you saying that it is acceptable to make sexualized jokes about Obama's children, who were also used as props for his campaign?

Your answer is, of course, `No.'

It is a completely ludicrous position your advancing here: but given that you freely admit to being `influenced by Andrew Sullivan' wrt to Palin, I think says it all.

People who are influenced by the insane, will usually articulate insane thoughts.

Rich said...


Though I'm taken aback by the level of vitriol you have injected into an intelligent discussion, I'll try to respond.

As I said, I found Letterman's joke tasteless. I, like most people, heard "Palin's daughter" and assumed it was Bristol, as she has spent the most time in the news. I apologize if my lack of knowledge of the Palin family tree has offended you.

Given the family issues Mrs. Palin has encountered since being thrust into the spotlight (Bristol's pregnancy, the birth of the baby with Down's Syndrome), it might be best for her to focus on her loved ones.

I would say that any sexual joke involving a 14 year old is tasteless, regardless of the political affiliation of the parents.

And yes, I agree with much of what Sullivan writes, particularly his views on international relations and domestic economic policy. I oppose his views on other things, notably same-sex marriage.

I don't believe Andrew Sullivan is insane, and I don't believe the thoughts I've expressed here are insane. I have found, however, that those with a fanatical affinity for Sarah Palin often struggle with grammar and syntax, as you so ably demonstrated.

R.B. Glennie said...

Sullivan is insane; but of course you can believe him all you want.

It was, however, you who stated here earlier that it was acceptable to attack the children of politicians, or at least tried to defend the old bore Letterman for his indiscretion.

It is well-established that politicians' kids are off limits - except in the case of Palin, who's fair game for pretty much anything.

In other words, those who try to defend what is indenfensible should expect vitriol; it is what they trade in after all.