Saturday, November 8, 2008

"The Perils Of 'Populist Chic'"

Mark Lilla of the Wall Street Journal proffers "what the rise of Sarah Palin and populism means for the conservative intellectual tradition" and mourns the death of the conservative elitism:

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 die was cast. Over the next 25 years there grew up a new generation of conservative writers who cultivated none of their elders' intellectual virtues -- indeed, who saw themselves as counter-intellectuals. Most are well-educated and many have attended Ivy League universities; in fact, one of the masterminds of the Palin nomination was once a Harvard professor. But their function within the conservative movement is no longer to educate and ennoble a populist political tendency, it is to defend that tendency against the supposedly monolithic and uniformly hostile educated classes. They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them.

In the wake of a good walloping by the Democrats, there remains considerable (albeit surprising) clamor on the right for a Palin run in 2012. Word of advice: Think long and hard about your next nominee, Republicans. Don't rush to judgment with the wounds of the election still fresh. Take some time to convalesce. Embrace the back bench for a spell, react and dissent, play the watchdog, then methodically and pragmatically form your shadow cabinet. Each passing day brings a different world and a different political milieu. Be reflexive, yet patient - you cannot defeat Obama today or tomorrow.

Most important, in the words of Bobby Jindal, be "authentic." Denounce greed and graft without hesitation. Be loyal to the American people, not partisan obligation. Earn our trust back.


Merge Divide said...

Yes... I agree- Palin in 2012!!!

Pat Bateman said...

The more this issue brews in the wake of Tuesday, the more I see the potential for this election bringing about the rise of a viable third party - a centrist, moderate option formed by the conservative intellectuals (yes, there ARE still quite a few... and I'll bet they feel pretty lost in the woods right now considering what their party has done to them) and then garnering support from social liberals with a conservative bent on governance and taxation issues.

If you are a conservative voice with a brain, you cannot stay in a party that is embracing Sarah Palin as the future standard bearer. You simply can't without holding your mahoods cheap, in the words of the Bard. Sarah Palin represents everything these thinking men and women of considerable education and intelligence would rail against with every waking breath... and yet they find her at the head of THEIR party.

Putting myself in their shoes, I would depart without a second's hesitation. Such a party is clearly not talking to them and certainly not including them other than for reasons of numbers.