September 4, 2008
Palin offers conservatives a moment of truthBy J.R. Dunn
What is it with conservatives, anyway? It seems that there's nothing the left can pull that is so vile, so repellent, so disgusting -- whether involving media, politics, academia -- that some conservative won't come racing out to support, excuse, or rationalize it. And all too often the rest of the movement, far from rebuking these people, actively rewards them.
For the past five days we have been witness to the most odious media campaign in the history of the Republic. The entire might of the legacy media -- still considerable, even in its decline -- has been focused on the degradation of a vulnerable seventeen-year-old girl for the purpose of getting at her mother. This exercise outdoes everything turned against Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Karl Rove, and even Richard Nixon. Only in a political culture hurtling into the abyss would such an effort not be recognized and condemned for what it is.
As is to be expected, the conservative movement has, as a whole, recognized it and condemned it. But there are exceptions, chief among them Peggy Noonan. Following an interview on September 3rd, Noonan said over a hot mic, "It's over." Meaning Sarah Palin's candidacy, John McCain's campaign, and presumably, any hope for the Republican Party. (A political consultant named Murphy was also present, but there's no point in bringing him into it -- that's what they get paid for.) She then went on with a lot of explication, none of which is worth quoting due to its utter irrelevance to the 2008 campaign. Her follow-up column for the Journal is here.
Now, Noonan is not a political analyst, she is not a political strategist. She has done nothing in her career to suggest any capability in those fields. She is a speechwriter, someone told to write on certain topics in a certain tone and style for someone else to recite. That is the extent of her contribution to American politics. Oh, she also wrote a nice little book about Reagan that people liked.
For a long time that has have been enough to establish Noonan as a " spokesperson" for conservatism, at least as far as the legacy media goes. In recent years, her reputation in conservative circles has suffered, a process helped no end by her Wall Street Journal column, which is little more than an upscale version of the old "women's perspective" columns that used to dot the editorial pages three or four decades ago. All that Noonan had to do was touch on a subject -- Iraq, the War on Terror, any government policy -- to reveal how badly-informed she was about anything not involving her immediate Northeastern urban circle. The column also contained flashes of a Peggy Noonan nowhere near as winsome as the one who so often appeared on the tube. The critical moment here was a column dealing with Ronald Reagan's funeral, in which Noonan took the opportunity to settle a number of scores against members of the White House staff she'd crossed swords with twenty years and more previously. It would difficult to match this for sheer crassness -- sullying the ceremonies bidding farewell to one of the noblest figures of recent American history with squalid workplace squabbles.
But Noonan still retained a large fan base among rank and file conservatives. (There were actually claims after the 2004 election that she'd "saved" George W. Bush by campaigning for him late in the day, using her incredible political skills to pull him out of certain defeat against John Kerry. What she was actually involved in was a short tour of Midwestern women's clubs.) But that is what's "over". Because it is impossible to overlook what was said before that microphone.
Noonan has effectively lent public support to an inexcusable attack on a young girl -- a young girl in trouble -- for political purposes. She has made herself part of the mob. I'm not going to say there's no comeback from that point -- God knows people have done worse -- but if there is, it does not involve being a "spokesperson" for anybody.
The second example is nowhere near as egregious, but in a way it's even worse, because it's an insidious example of a long-term conservative weakness. In NRO's The Corner for September 3rd there appears a posting by Yuval Levin dealing with the Palin situation. Levin does not turn against Palin or McCain or the Republicans. He is properly appalled at the treatment meted out to Palin's family. (Though he says he's always found conservative criticism of the media "a little exaggerated", which suggests either complete tunnel vision or Rip Van Winklehood.)
But then we get to the prescriptions, and we come across this:
In other words, McCain and Palin should have cooperated with the soulless horde now howling for her family's skulls. They should have compromised. They should have tried to find some sort of middle ground. If they had catered to the media masters, perhaps they would be attacking Bristol only until the third trimester. Or attacking Sarah and Bristol on alternate days. Something could be worked out. That's the way it went with Reagan, and Nixon, and George W... didn't it?
I don't mean to be too hard on Levin or insult him through proximity. But this reaction is all too typical of traditional conservatism as it is generally understood. So typical, in fact, that the left has come to bank on it. In films dealing with confrontations between good and evil there's often a conventional scene, when the situation appears to be utterly hopeless and the forces of good have been driven behind the flimsy walls of the last redoubt, when a bleating character appears to say: "Now wait - the Taliban/Apaches/Nazis/cyborgs are rational beings just like us... I mean, we can at least talk to them, can't we?"
This is the role that Levin has cornered for himself. Not a very impressive one, is it?
To stick with the film motif: the situation today involving the Palin family is a High Noon moment, a moment where you must make a choice. A choice between taking a stand or remaining with head forever bowed. You will not find a line drawn clearer -- you can stand with the Governor Palin and her family (and only secondarily with John McCain, who almost despite himself represents the political aspects of decency in our time), or you can join the other side, the side that excuses the public destruction of a young girl for the sake of political power.
You cannot straddle that line. You cannot jump from one side to the other, saying one thing in your national column and another before the cameras. You cannot talk rationally across that line -- there are no rational entities on the other side. There is that single choice, and there is no other.
The conservative movement, from the high and mighty down the most acne-ravaged kid blogging out of mom's basement, has made the choice, and I will never be prouder. And not simply for politics, but because a situation where it is not right to defend a woman protecting her daughter is inconceivable.
But be advised: anyone who cannot stand with us in this confrontation, cannot stand with us in anything else either. If you cross that line, then our place is no longer your place. Find another, and remove yourself to it as quickly and quietly as you can.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.