A Synthesis on Elitism

Yesterday, the most-viewed column at the Wall Street Journal was exactly what you’d expect — “In Defense of Sarah Palin,” with a snide subtitle to boot:

She understands that the U.S. has been a force for good in the world—which is more than can be said of our president.

Right. Because rejecting invasion as a force for good is tantamount to rejecting America as a force for good.

Podhoretz doesn’t muster much of an argument — it’s confined to these operative paragraphs:

[T]he derogatory things they say about Sarah Palin are uncannily similar to what many of their forebears once said about Ronald Reagan. [. . . .]

[T]he same species of class bias that Mrs. Palin provokes in her enemies and her admirers is at work among the conservative intellectuals who are so embarrassed by her. When William F. Buckley Jr., then the editor of National Review, famously quipped that he would rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the combined faculties of Harvard and MIT, most conservative intellectuals responded with a gleeful amen. But put to the test by the advent of Sarah Palin, along with the populist upsurge represented by the Tea Party movement, they have demonstrated that they never really meant it.

We’re not to exclude her because she’s dumb (which he concedes); we’re to hold her up as a model of democratic virtue. Because she’s dumb.

I’m going to break with precedent and make a stunning admission: to the extent that Bill Buckley, quoted above, argues that picking a politician because he’s smart is just as foolish as picking a politician because he’s dumb, he’s probably right. The electorate’s calculus ought to be more complex than to simply gravitate to the stronger mind — although it does make for a good tie-breaker. Similarly, though, the conservative tendency to embrace anti-elitist narratives has long since outgrown its usefulness as either a justified backlash, or an attempt to find a proxy for common sense — especially when, as in Palin’s case, the underlying value itself is nowhere indicated (seriously, to pick one example among thousands, where’s the down-home country sense in demanding that your child be born in Alaska, when making the trek means he may not be born at all?).

Thankfully, there’s every indication that Podhoretz is the last of a dying breed. Palin’s supporters decrease as fast as, and perhaps in direct proportion with, the number of moderates left in the Republican Party. Over attempts to salvage her reputation, the right continues to bleed anyone with a degree of intellectual credibility. At least it’ll make for a fun primary.



  1. Obama doesn’t think America can be a force for good in the world? Like Catholics with their pope, conservatives think this country (when they are running it, at least) is infallible. Admitting mistakes and demanding accountability are not weaknesses.

    1. Just for the record, Catholics don’t generally believe the Pope is infallible.

    2. lanfranc’s observation is correct on two counts: first, in America at least, many Catholics probably don’t really believe in the two infallibility doctrines (there’s one for the Church as well). Second, the infallibility doctrine does not constitute a doctrine of general infallibility, but rather one of infallibility under a combination of circumstances:
      – it must be invoked by speaking ex cathedra
      – it is subject-matter limited to faith or morals
      – applicable to all Catholics everywhere.

      It’s really #2 that’s the oft-overlooked limitation. The Pope (strictly speaking, the Bishop of Rome – see the third limiting factor) can say whatever he wants, but infallibility can’t kick in if he’s speaking outside its jurisdiction. And it isn’t a “the Pope can do no wrong” sort of infallibility, either, but rather a “God won’t let the Pope teach the wrong thing” sort of infallibility.

      1. Yeah, I’m familiar with the infallibility doctrines. I was being a little hyperbolic.

  2. It is weakness when, as is suggested elsewhere on the intertubes, you operate from a Strict Father world view (which is attributed to most conservatives – doubly so neocons). In this take, admitting a wrong means both loosing face and loosing authority, thus preventing you from being a guiding hand for good as you define it. And if accountability must be demanded by an outside party, it must be done outside of view of the “family” which is why republicans will never call for Congressional investigations of the Bush Administration actions, much less prosecutions.

  3. Salon has a new article that’s similar, http://www.salon.com/news/2012_elections/index.html?story=/news/feature/2010/03/30/intellectual_republican_candidate_president

    The worst part of the anti-elitism, I think is that it sidelines so many intellectual conservatives. Then with the more frenzied attitude of conservatives lately, anyone who expresses doubt or any “self-criticism” of the party gets villified. (ie David Frum http://www.frumforum.com/waterloo )

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