It's apparent that the recent media attacks on Sarah Palin have, for the first time, actually drawn blood. Palin's negatives have shot up substantially, rising 7 points from 49% to 56%. The proximate cause is held to be the fact that she defended herself against the charge of complicity in murder in the Tucson shootings, along with engaging in some unclear variety of anti-Semitism by using the term "blood libel." It's safe to say that no other current politician would ever be held to such standards.
This slump is surely temporary -- no more permanent than Obama's miniscule "leap" in popularity over the same period. If political careers could be knocked out so easily, they'd last a matter of weeks at most. Such variations are typical of any politician's career. The only odd thing here is the fact that Palin has gone so long without such a slump.
Governor Palin has received a lot of advice on how to handle the situation, all of it well-meant and some of it quite valuable. One example is Charles Krauthammer's suggestion that it's not necessary to answer every last attack. The murder accusation was so absurd that it could have been left to collapse under its own weight. On the other hand, it's easy to grasp how any fundamentally decent person would find it difficult to resist answering.
But such advice -- in fact, all the comments related to Palin's current situation -- overlooks one basic fact: that the leftist attacks on Governor Palin are in no way new, not even in their viciousness. They are simply the latest examples of a tactic in use for generations -- one that has given the left considerable advantage, and one that the American center-right has utterly failed to address.
When liberalism mutated into an ideology in the wake of the New Deal, it also adapted the "enemies" mindset of its model ideologies, fascism and communism. No longer was politics the grand democratic game. Opponents of liberalism were enemies of progress, of justice, and of the People, deserving no consideration or mercy. The old rules of decorum and civility went out the window, replaced with any below-the-belt move that worked.
The first prominent victim was Joe McCarthy. While some would say that he had it coming due to both his obnoxiousness and his own low tactics (the first a product of his personality, the second learned, so legend holds, from the Wisconsin communists who supported him against Robert LaFollette, Jr.), he was in no way the menace to democracy that he was so often painted as. The caricature of McCarthy as a right-wing monster was wholly synthetic. He had started out as a New Deal Democrat, and he maintained an interest in traditionally "liberal" political issues such as civil rights throughout his career. The 1952 defeat of Senator Millard Tydings, a strict segregationist of the old school, was almost solely due to McCarthy's support for his opponent. Democrats attacked McCarthy not so much to protect his "victims" but in defense of their own record as regarded communism during the New Deal period. Liberal efforts against McCarthy reveal clearly how little they had to learn from Saul Alinsky.
Liberal Democrats must have been delighted with their success. Not only had they destroyed McCarthy, but they had negated any further resort to anticommunism and turned the term "McCarthyism" into an epithet so powerful that it retains its sting to this day, sixty years on (even though most people think it refers to Eugene).
The next victim was Barry Goldwater. A no-nonsense type with a high reputation as a senator, Goldwater made a few outspoken comments ("extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice") that served as the basis of attacks of a viciousness that made those on McCarthy look pale. Not only was Goldwater portrayed as a political throwback and a Nazi (even though he was half-Jewish), but his very sanity was publicly questioned. A high-class porn merchant, Ralph Ginzburg (no relation to Beat poet Allen) published the "results" of a poll of "500 psychiatrists" claiming that Goldwater was paranoid schizophrenic. Despite being thoroughly bogus, these results were published throughout the national media. The campaign climaxed with the notorious "Daisy" commercial, which accused Goldwater of desiring to trigger a nuclear war.
So it continued. Once every political generation -- which, for our purposes, equals two presidential terms -- liberals have selected a representative right-wing monster to serve as a lightning rod for criticism and invective. These included Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin.
Liberals did not succeed in all cases. Only seriously flawed individuals such as McCarthy, Nixon, and Gingrich succumbed to these attacks. Politicians without serious failings prevailed. Reagan shrugged them off with his endless good humor. Bush faced them with his customary stoicism. Both were reelected, and while they departed office under the artificial clouds generated by leftist rhetoric, both had generally successful presidencies, with growing reputations as time passes.
Until recently, Sarah Palin hewed closely to the Reagan method, dismissing attacks with a joke and a smile (even when such slanders were aimed at her disabled infant child, a display of personal strength that would inspire anyone not blinded by ideology). She needs to return to that method. She need not comment on attacks of this level. She has no deep personal flaws such as Nixon's neuroticism or Gingrich's egotism, and she will not experience any similar downfall.
Palin also has something else, something not possessed by previous targets. She has a following. All previous figures had their admirers, and Reagan led a movement. But none had or has what Palin has -- a large group of people who look up to her, who view her as an example and a role model, who bleed when she bleeds and hurt when she hurts. It is those people who should be left to handle Palin's attackers.
They also provide larger possibilities. Republicans have never struck back against these attacks, lacking the means in a media-dominated political world. But now the means do exist, in the form of millions armed with access to the net and Twitter. What would happen if these people were turned on the next crowd who attacked Palin or any other politician?
Liberals are vulnerable. Consider Steven Cohen, soon to be ex-representative from Tennessee, who backed off from his rancid little Republicans-are-Nazis shtick as soon as the spotlight was shined on him. One thing we must never forget about leftists is their essential cowardice. They strike only as part of a mob, never on their own two feet. (Isn't that right, Larry O.?)
I leave the details and self-organizing to the people involved. I'm sure they're far better at that than I am.
The new technologies, together with the political will embodied in the Tea Parties, offer us a means of breaking this squalid liberal tactic and restoring a sense of balance to the political debate. It is never a good thing when a political party has access to non-political means to achieve its goals. The liberal Democrats have been abusing their exclusive access to media for close to sixty years. It's past time they were pulled up short.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and the author of the new book Death by Liberalism.