Palin, Frum, and the Tea Party

The misunderstandings revolving around Sarah Palin and the Tea Party appear to be ubiquitous. Canada, where I live and write, is no exception to this tarnished rule. Sarah Palin is generally regarded as a hyper-emotional hussy whose message is purely reactive rather than proactive, while the Tea Party is supposedly vitiated by a lowest common denominator of right-wing vehemence, unbecoming religiosity, and a simplistic attitude toward political reality. This is strangely the case among many conservative intellectuals as well. The acclaimed commentator and beltway insider David Frum, a Canadian who makes his home in the U.S. and whose articles frequently appear in the Canadian media, provides one of the most celebrated instances of this dissenting perspective.

Even one of our sanest and most brilliant columnists, Barbara Kay of the (generally conservative) National Post, is highly skeptical of both Palin and the Tea Party’s motives and comportment. In a column for September 29, 2010 (“A Canadian Reverting to Type”), defending Frum who has run afoul of the Republican mainstream, Kay writes that Frum has justifiably objected to “the manner — hostile, inflexible, Palinesque … in which conservatism is increasingly expressing itself.” Frum’s call for conversational civility, it appears, stands in marked contrast to the apparent conservative and Republican bombast he associates with presumably strident evangelists like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and, from his point of view, the half-baked and feckless maunderings of Tea Party revivalists and their boosters. Similarly, an article by Thomas Walkom of the (left-wing) Toronto Star for September 25 takes it for granted, in the course of an otherwise respectable argument, that the Tea Party is “ultra-right, anti-immigrant, anti-government.” This sort of misconstruction has become standard fare by now, the Canadian legacy press aping the current memes and tropes of the American liberal-left media.

A good example of the American template is furnished by the Izvestian Frank Rich who, in a New York Times op-ed for March 27, 2010, notoriously referred to the “mob” which opposes Obama’s health care program as enacting “its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht” and branded the “Tea Party-Glenn Beck base” as “extremist”— as if the views he ventilates were not “extremist.” Although no one of any reputable standing takes Frank Rich seriously any longer, readers may be susceptible to the marginally more sophisticated Tom Friedman. In an op-ed in the New York Times for September 28, Friedman denigrates the Tea Party as “all steam and no kettle” which “can’t have a positive impact on the country” because it has not generated specific plans for debt reduction and productive growth.

On the face of it, this assessment sounds far more reasonable than Rich’s trademark ranting. But the Tea Party is not a registered political party, like the Democrats or the Republicans, and does not speak in the voice of a supervening committee with the authority to formulate policy. Further, it is still in its infancy and Friedman wants the toddler to get its driver’s license, its credit card, its college degree, and all its grown-up credentials while it is still learning to walk. This is a clever form of disparagement. One would expect no less from an untimely, self-inflated pundit who is prepared to quash the butterfly before it has emerged from the chrysalis.

Let’s consider the assorted actors featured in the current drama of redemption and damnation.

Ideally, David Frum may be right about the importance of civil discourse in contemporary political exchange — I have made similar arguments — but, on reflection, this may not be the time for gentlemanly palaver. It is extremely doubtful that one could reach consensus with Obama and his satellites, with Olbermann, Matthews, Schultz, and the lot, with MoveOn.org, with Counterpunch, with the Daily Kos, with ACORN, with the ACLU, with the SEIU, with Code Pink, with the vast tribe of neo-Marxist academic colporteurs busily canvassing their university clients (aka students), with Soros, with the Tides Foundation, and with innumerable other like-minded individuals and organizations. Indeed, it is totally implausible to infer communicative accord with the left in general where the levels of animadversion, pure hatred, antisemitism, anti-Zionism, reverse racism, sheer vulgarity, character assassination, tractarian defamation, downright lying, all the worst human traits, eclipse by parsecs anything one hears on the conservative side.

To my mind, Frum is tooling about in another galaxy; yet, oddly enough, his mugging of Sarah Palin in a series of newspaper articles belies his own recommendation. According to Frum, Palin is “rambling, angry, and self-pitying.” She self-immolated in the 2008 elections and is guilty of “dereliction of duty.” After having once dismissed her as a “neophyte” — what, one wonders, does that make Obama who, unlike Palin, had no governing experience whatsoever when he came to power? — Frum goes on to suggest that there is a “sexual dynamic at work” in the enthusiasm for Palin among a contingent of conservative men. What other reason, after all, could explain such advocacy? Palin is hot and conservative males are randy. “Whatever impulse it is that so excites Palin supporters,” he opines, “it is not shared by their wives.” Frum’s drearily incessant diatribes steer perilously close to unwholesome obsession, so much so that there seems to be something distinctly “Freudian” about his imagined relationship to the poor woman. It is as if, pace Frum, there were a “sexual dynamic at work” here too. Certainly, when it comes to Sarah Palin, he has not availed himself of the temperate address he solemnly urges upon others.

Furthermore, his criticism of Republican mugwumps like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh seems somewhat misplaced. He does not appear to understand the gravity of the current electoral situation or to realize, as does Lee Harris in his new book The Next American Civil War, that a kind of civil war is indeed brewing, that Thomas Paine is once again the go-to political thinker and Henry David Thoreau the literary source for principled resistance, and that a war is not a debate in which one can serenely abide by Robert’s Rules of Order. Nor does he seem to realize, as I’ve indicated, that Democratic invective rises to a crescendo that outstrips anything we find on the right and so demands, at minimum, to be robustly parried. True, Limbaugh has called Obama an “economic illiterate” and a “jackass” while Oliver Stone maligns Sarah Palin as a “moron” and implies that the suffragettes were “crazy stuff.” But if one studies the plethora of sites, interviews, and outlets on the right and the left, one quickly discovers there is no parity of execration. In the tournament of competing expletives, the left wins hands down.

Frum is way too nuanced about the battle for America’s soul that is playing out before our very eyes. He may ride a bicycle to the Washington Mall — a nice little touch — but he would be far more useful, metaphorically speaking, doing yeoman service in a tank. Frum, I suspect, was always a PRINO, a Prospective Republican in Name Only. It’s consoling to note that Frum seems to be wrong about most things. He predicted that the economy will have improved by this November and that the advantages of Obama’s health care legislation will have become evident by then. He predicted that Sarah Palin’s career “seems headed nowhere positive” with her approval ratings in free fall. Perhaps we should take a cue from Lewis Carroll and “shun the frumious Bandersnatch.”

Palin, for her part, is constantly being savaged and grossly misrepresented by an “educated elite,” including many of a conservative persuasion, whose scorn and contumely seem to be a function of class. She is derided as grammatically challenged, but then she does not rely on a teleprompter and speaks extemporaneously, pretty much like any normal person. She is derogated as flaky and impetuous, as someone who would not fit in with the New York cocktail crowd or the Princeton intellectuals, and is regarded by the patrician cenacles as, in effect, a rabble-rousing commoner and uncouth provincial. Such taunting is truly beyond the pale, or beyond the Palin, and only reflects back upon the empty self-regard and caste pretentiousness of the accusers themselves.

I have heard people say — responsible, thoughtful people — that Palin is a one-dimensional dilettante, someone who has never read a book. Apart from the absurdity of this claim, it should be obvious that reading a book with understanding and profit depends upon sensibility and temperament. Obama has presumably read a book (apart from The Communist Manifesto and Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals), Van Jones has read a book, Larry Summers has read a book, Tim Geithner has read a book, John Brennan has read a book, Cass Sunstein has read a book, Valerie Jarrett has read a book, Rahm Emanuel has read a book, Hillary Clinton has read a book, Robert Gibbs has read a book, Joe Biden has read a book (well, maybe not), David Plouffe has read a book, Andy Stern has read a book, David Axelrod has read a book, Pete Rouse has read a book, Ken Salazar has surely read a book — some of these people have even written a book — and look at the mess they have created. Seriously, though, Palin strikes me as better informed than all of these political actors lumped together. She has most certainly read a book with understanding and profit and it wasn’t Lamont the Lonely Monster or Fun with Dick and Jane. Her recent speeches have been impressive and display a sure knowledge of American history and the intricacies of the Constitution — far superior, as it happens, to the president’s wobbly grasp of such matters.

There is another factor at work in the demonizing of Sarah among people who should know better. Even those who believe they are inured to the media’s disingenuous spin and are too savvy to be influenced by its microbial indoctrination are nonetheless subtly infected. The often unfavorable response to Palin by both liberal and conservative intellectuals is, without their being fully aware of it, in some measure a response to the media’s artfully crafted simulacrum. Palin’s one public relations disaster was the infamous interview with Katie Couric, but we forget that the interview was pre-recorded and that many hours of tape were afterward segmented and spliced to put her in the worst possible light. The gaffe-prone Joe Biden was treated very differently by Couric (who infamously let slide his remark about FDR going on television after the stock market crash of 1929), as was, for that matter, Barack Obama and his numerous howlers, displaying both unfitness for public office and wholesale ignorance. Palin, being neither liberal-left nor a member of the prestige class, was and is a customized victim of cliché knowledge, which circulates readily despite the supposed immunity of the intelligent. The media contagion goes deep.

The staple accusation that Palin is merely an uncultivated zealot who has no program to bring to the nation can be easily “refudiated” (lovely word!) by simply paying attention. Palin has strongly endorsed the basic Republican platform — limited government, reduced taxes, race-neutral justice, Constitutional oversight, sealed borders, a muscular foreign policy, closer ties with Israel — much of this before the new Pledge to America was released. So it's not correct to say that she is merely reacting rather than proposing.

On the contrary, Palin should be respected for her natural intelligence, her stick-to-it-tiveness, and her patriotic instincts. She had no real material advantages, came from relatively humble origins, did not attend the best schools (had she been African-American, affirmative action would likely have lofted her into Harvard), yet rose to become the governor of a state whose political sewers she cleaned out despite determined opposition. This is not a feat that many politicians would have been capable of. Palin is indisputably miles above anyone on the liberal-left side of the ledger. If one compares her — on such criteria as personal integrity, logical consistency, moral authority, strategic insight, and political rectitude — to the other two most conspicuous women in the political theater, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, well, it’s just no contest.

As for the Tea Party, according to many reports, it is now the largest popular movement in the U.S.. Like all such huge conglomerations, it will have its lowest common denominators and its highest common denominators. Many people, including some Republicans, contend it has done damage to the conservative cause in the number of unqualified candidates it has sponsored. This is no doubt a worrisome development and one not predicated on electoral calculations. What is one to make of Rich Lott in Ohio who rather stupidly, if innocently, re-enacted Nazi SS maneuvers as part of a military history group? Frumious conservatives have also been hard on Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. Yet, when O’Donnell beat out Mike Castle for the Republican senate nomination, she displaced a dubious RINO who tended to vote with the Democrats. If Castle had won the nomination and, looking ahead, had trounced Chris Coons in the elections, there would have been another DEBN in the senate, that is, a Democrat in Everything But Name. What’s the diff? In any event, the Tea Party has done enormous good and some fine candidates have profited from its support, such as Joe Miller in Alaska who sidelined another RINO, Lisa Murkowsky.

The Tea Party is not ultra-right as its censurers claim, though there are ultra-rightists among the mix. It is not anti-immigrant, but — like Canada’s Conservative Party — argues for a rational immigration policy based on the nation’s needs for skilled workers and professionals. And it is manifestly not anti-government but rather for limited government, according to the articles of the Constitution. For all its warts — which is only to be expected since it is composed of millions of human beings of every conceivable personality stripe — it provides genuine hope for the American future. In the words of Bryan Preston, “the Tea Party is a quintessentially American movement. It’s a gathering of citizens seeking their Constitutionally guaranteed redress of grievances from a government that is not listening to them. To call the Tea Party a violent movement is nothing less than a smear.” When conservatives in particular express their uneasiness with the Tea Party, they are only reinforcing the leftist misrepresentation of a truly extraordinary phenomenon.

To conclude. The Democratic left is running out of credible narrative and appears to have little choice but to fall back on the heavy-handed tactic of omnibus calumny, making use of the entire bandwidth of aspersion. “We must fight the forces of evil, the conservatives in this country,” said MSNBC’s Ed Schultz at the “One Nation” rally in Washington, as he reeled off one lie after another with the fulminating conviction of the pathological hater. Politics has always been a variety of dirty pool, but a fluctuating baseline of normative conduct has usually been, at least theoretically, assumed. The left, however, has no concept of decency whatsoever. Aside from the tireless spreading of fables about its putative accomplishments, the Democratic left will pursue its campaign of dedicated libel in every way it can. It will slander and delegitimize Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and any threatening conservative it can sink its teeth into. That’s the nature of the game as it’s now being played. But when those of a conservative bent and signatory or presumptive Republicans do something similar, we are witnessing a travesty in the making.

Conservatives should not, to paraphrase Shakespeare, slubber the gloss of their new fortunes. In the current political domain, it is not Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh who should be looked on askance, but Keith Olbermann and Frank Rich. It is not Sarah Palin who should be distrusted, but the mole in the White House. And it is not the Tea Party that should be condemned, but the American liberal-left that is remorselessly undermining the nation. Soft conservatives need to stop being so good and noble and realize what is actually at stake — and act accordingly. The same applies as well to the coterie of “old boy” Republicans who feel their control of the Republican Party is in jeopardy.

The essential point is this, if I may rephrase Matthew 7:3: Why do we behold the mote in our brother’s eye when we should be considering the beam in our adversary’s? This is not the time for quasi-ethical niceties and epicene pangs of conscience. By concentrating on what is a comparative mote, we lay ourselves open to being walloped by the beam. That is what we should be concerned with. We can deal with the mote later.