With fewer than two weeks until the presidential election, there’s
plenty of time for surprises. Virtually anything could still happen. But
you’d never know it from the behavior of many Republican pundits and
thinkers. Among GOP savants, the bitterness, recrimination and
finger-pointing have already begun—a heartening sign, actually. After
eight years of lock-step conformity and near-total fealty to the Bush
administration’s every destructive whim, one wouldn’t have thought they
had it in them. Needless wars? Staggering corruption? Illegal wiretaps?
Kidnapping? Secret prisons? Torture? So-called conservatives have
rationalized them all. Sarah Palin, however, many cannot abide. Alaska’s
winking governor, who goes around complaining that CBS’ Katie Couric
asked her “gotcha” questions like “What magazines and newspapers do you
read?” has become a flash point.
Christopher Buckley, sacked from the National Review, a magazine founded
by his late father, William F. Buckley, after endorsing Barack Obama on
Tina Brown’s Web site, The Daily Beast, explains that he initially was
captivated by Palin’s backwoods charm.
“But it’s kind of like dating a supermodel,” he says. “There comes a
moment, unfortunately, where they start talking.”
Allegedly cerebral New York Times columnist David Brooks goes even
further, designating Palin “a fatal cancer to the Republican Party.”
This portentous phrase, with its allusion to John Dean’s famous
Watergate warning to President Richard Nixon, seems melodramatic.
Cancer? More like acne or psoriasis, one would have thought.
Embarrassing perhaps, but hardly life-threatening.
So the Republicans have nominated a smug ignoramus. After eight years of
George W. Bush, we’re supposed to be shocked?
“No news conferences?” writes Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal.
“Interviews now only with friendly journalists? You can’t be president
or vice president and govern in that style, as a sequestered figure.
This has been Mr. Bush’s style the past few years, and see where it got
Other GOP-leaning pundits argue that the sheer opportunism of picking
Palin showed John McCain temperamentally unsuited for the presidency.
“Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate
is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high,” added
persnickety Washington Post columnist George Will. “It is not Barack
Will’s neo-conservative colleague Charles Krauthammer went further. For
all his personal and ideological misgivings about Obama, he wrote,
“Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously said of Franklin Roosevelt that he
had a ‘second class intellect, but a first-class temperament.’...
[Obama’s] got both a first-class intellect and a first-class
temperament. That will likely be enough to make him president.”
Buckley’s way past unrepentant. Responding to the torrent of abuse
coming his way—he reports 12,000 outraged emails from GOP loyalists—he
writes that eight years of Bushism have given us “a doubled national
debt, ruinous expansion of entitlement programs, bridges to nowhere,
poster boy Jack Abramoff and an ill-premised, ill-waged war conducted by
politicians of breathtaking arrogance.”
Defending him in her own syndicated column, Buckley’s friend and
colleague Kathleen Parker takes it a step beyond: “Republicans are not
short on brainpower—or pride—but they have strayed off course. They do
not, in fact, deserve to win this time, and someone had to remind them
For her part, Noonan realizes that the conservative movement’s vaunted
message discipline has become a crippling weakness. In purging Buckley,
the “conservative intelligentsia are doing what they have done for five
years,” she writes. “They bitterly attacked those who came to stand
against the Bush administration. This was destructive. If they had stood
for conservative principle and the full expression of views, instead of
attempting to silence those who opposed mere party, their movement, and
the party, would be in a better and healthier position.”
Although McCain and Palin are taking much of the abuse, it’s really
Bushism (or Rove-ism, if you like) that has discredited principled
conservatism and threatens to tear the Republican Party apart. The
Times’ Brooks notices that to solidify the party’s hold on its electoral
“base,” the party of Abraham Lincoln has become the party of George
Wallace, envisioning the country “divided between the wholesome Joe
Sixpacks in the heartland and the over-sophisticated, overeducated,
over-secularized denizens of the coasts.” By embracing
anti-intellectualism and cultural tribalism, Brooks argues, the GOP has
alienated the most populous and best-educated parts of the country. The
Northeast and West Coast are gone, along with major cities and their
suburbs nationwide. Entire professions—lawyers, doctors, high-tech
executives, even bankers—lean strongly Democratic. Espousing
creationism, global-warming denial and Know-Nothingism generally has
left educated Americans nowhere else to go. Did you know there’s a
YouTube video of Palin accepting the blessing of an African evangelist
against witches? Meanwhile, notice one thing: Conservatives breaking
rank tend to be those with independent careers. Recipients of what
Democrats derisively call “wingnut welfare,” i.e., employees of
money-losing, tycoon-financed outlets existing mainly to propagandize
for billionaire tax cuts, remain loyal. So does talk radio. Should
Republicans get wiped out come November, things could get ugly.
—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.