I’ve mostly remained out of the fray as the left has picked apart Palin with a vengeance. But after a month of aggressive digging (and muckraking) by both the old and new media, I think some of the realities are starting to emerge.
Clearly, she’s a not-very-bright small town/small state conservative. As such, she is scary to the coastal elites like all fly-over conservatives, because she’s deeply religious in a freaky, enthusiastic, evangelical way; because she rejects the discourse of the traditional elites in favor of a know-nothing populism and fake “real America” patriotism (therefore, no press conferences prior to the election — what good would that do? It would be about as useful as W. agreeing to debate theology with a panel of Wahhabi clerics); because she is into guns and snowmobiles and other stuff the elites find unpleasant. But that’s not the crux of the problem.
There are two aspects of her biography that are actually quite troubling. And, no, it’s not the fact that she’s totally, completely unprepared for national office. Let’s take that as a given.
The first is her absolute inability to tell the truth. Her ridiculous lies about her record and her abilities are really startling (Andrew Sullivan has done a good job of documenting them in his blog at the Altantic Monthly). She clearly believes it’s ok to lie about almost anything to serve the higher cause of the mission from God that she is on, and to further ingratiate herself with that collection of xenophobes, fundamentalists, and rural conservatives who form her national base.
The second troubling aspect of the Palin bio can be found in the crevices of several of the stories about her — namely, that she is largely an empty vessel, an instrument that has been played by a series of domineering men (her father, husband, minister and now a coterie of McCain handlers and conservative pundits). Hell, they won’t even let her watch the news these days, so she doesn’t get depressed, like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. After all, they need her blindly swinging the axe for McCain.
What I’m more convinced of than ever is that Palin is decidedly not the future of American conservatism, despite the idiotic claims of Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard. If this election plays out the way it appears to be playing out, I believe the American conservative movement is headed for a great schism: the religionist wing (Palin, Huckabee) form one coalition around a few core social issues like abortion, while the ideological wing becomes the party in opposition, firing salvos at the Dems on big government and foreign policy. The latter will blame the former for losing this election (and with some legitimacy — almost every conservative newspaper, for example, that has endorsed Obama has done so in part because of Palin).
They’ll remain splintered until they find a Reagan/Clinton figure who can reunite them and move them to the center. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen for a good, long time.