Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Allure of Conservative Populism

Here’s a piece Sarah Palin has just published in National Review. The first remarkable thing about it is that it’s published in National Review.  It’s one thing for Palin to be a folksy pontificator on the Fox News Channel alongside Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. It’s another thing entirely for her to be speaking from the journalistic platform that William F. Buckley erected as a staging ground for high-brow conservatism while it’s still edited by Buckley protégés committed to preserving his legacy. I’ll leave to you to decide whether the publication of Palin’s piece in National Review says more about her intellectual aspirations or its intellectual corruption.

A second noteworthy feature of Palin’s piece is that it’s an attempt to get out in front of the competition to define the populist wing of the Republican Party’s narrative about the 2012. She and the people she has recruited into her messaging apparatus have come up with a pitch designed to engage people inside and outside the Tea Party movement by drawing on high-brow conservative formulations about American exceptionalism (see, e.g., this piece by Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru). In this respect, Palin’s message bears a striking resemblance to the closing argument of Marco Rubio’s Florida senatorial campaign (on which I commented in passing here).  Here's Palin in her own words: 
“We cannot fully restore and revive America until we replace Obama. The meaning of the 2010 election was rebuke, reject, and repeal. We rebuked Washington’s power grab, rejected this unwanted “fundamental transformation of America,” and began the process to repeal the dangerous policies inflicted on us. But this theme will only complement the theme of 2012, which is renew, revive, and restore. In 2012, we need to renew our optimistic, pioneering spirit, revive our free-market system, and restore constitutional limits and our standing in the world as the abiding beacon of freedom."
Not exactly my cup of tea.  But if you ask me, it sounds like a pretty formidable campaign pitch for 2012 and beyond. You can imagine the bits about “reviv[ing]” our free-market system” and “restor[ing] constitutional limits” coming from establishment Republicans like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty. But the thought of either of them droning on about our “pioneering spirit” or our status in the world as an “abiding beacon of freedom” makes me giggle.

Palin’s heartland authenticity enables her to say such things with wide-eyed conviction. We shouldn’t underestimate the number of people outside the Tea Party Movement who’ll like the sound, even if they’re not ready to embrace Palin as the transmitter. But Rubio is an example of a more embraceable politician who achieves roughly the same effect by reminding people that he’s the son of an exile community that migrated to the “greatest nation in the history of world” in search of a better life, etc.  It’s not hard to imagine some Republican taking the Palin/Rubio message and running a long way with it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think Sarah Palin ought to prepare for a liberal army lining up against her. Given your points, I think the liberals are gravely concerned that SHE might be the one who runs a long way with this message -- all the way to the White House. Could it happen? You've asked this question before. I think it could happen. Could it happen that Obama is going to be a one-term president. I think it's likely. Could it be that Hillary will challenge him for the nomination -- that's the $64,000 question.