It's been an interesting few weeks on the starboard side. Even though the election is still 3 weeks away, the long knives have been out and we've seen something of a schism develop regarding the state of conservatism.
The flashpoint of this debate has been the nomination of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate. Gov. Palin is an outsider; hell, you don't get much more outsider than a moose hunting governor with a Marge Gunderson accent. The credentialed, establishment East Coast commentariat, conservative division, does not like Gov. Palin. She's been reviled by Kathleen Parker, David Brooks, George Will, Peggy Noonan and now, most notably, Christopher Buckley. I would imagine there are others, too. Buckley has even come out publicly for Barack Obama and subsequently resigned from his father's beloved National Review, a resignation that was quickly accepted.
All of these individuals share common traits. They are all denizens of the eastern media nexus and they all spend a lot of time hobnobbing with people who share an animus toward people like Palin. They live in a world where verbal ability (being glib, really) is the coin of the realm. Some, most notably Will, have a long-standing animus against John McCain. And the world where they live is quite inhospitable to upstarts from the hinterlands.
From my perch in the Midwest, it's an odd thing to watch. I admire Sarah Palin a great deal and think that when the election is over, she will come out of the aftermath well positioned for another run at national office. The complaint you hear is that she is absurdly unqualified for the position, a view that was set in amber following substandard performances in the nationally televised pop quizzes that she took from Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. Yet, strangely, she has become a sensation out on the hustings, drawing far more enthusiastic crowds than McCain does. It must mean something.
My suspicion is this: the nation has twice tried to send outsiders to Washington to clean things up, only to find that Washington spits out the outsiders utterly transformed. Bill Clinton ran as a reformer and part of a new breed of politician, avatar of his Baby Boom generation. George W. Bush ran as a prodigal son, returning from the wilds of Texas. Clinton left as a quintessential insider, while Bush is leaving essentially unloved in any quarter, a traitor to his class and a disappointment to his followers. Barack Obama is yet another putative outsider, but with a fully Washingtonized sheen. He hasn't been in Washington long enough to do much of anything in the Senate, but that reality hasn't seemed to hurt him thus far. Obama's cynicism and careerism don't particularly bother world-weary people like Will, Parker, Brooks, Noonan and Buckley. He's utterly recognizable and seems safer, more reasonable than someone like Palin, who doesn't necessarily know which fork to use. McCain should haven known better than to bring a ruffian to the party.
Palin is popular among the Republican base precisely because she's not part of the nexus. She's something totally unexpected - a frontier woman who shares the moral code of a certain type of man. She may sound like Marge Gunderson, but her personality and approach is something different -- fearless, unsentimental and lacking deference to the social constructs that govern polite society. Palin is not impressed with what she's seen so far and that's particularly troublesome to pundits who are themselves viewed with suspicion among their social betters. That's why Parker talks about cringing when she hears Palin speak.The question for conservatives at this point is this: do you accept the worldview of the Parkers and Wills of the world, or do you look at Palin as only the first of a new wave of Republican leaders? The irony that Barack Obama will face if he wins is this: he may be an attractive new face, but the apparatus of the Democratic Party is ashen and hidebound in ways that will hurt him. He'll have to share the podium with Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, with people like John Murtha, Steny Hoyer and Christopher Dodd in the background. These are the people that George Will has known for his many years in Washington. These are the folks who will likely take the reins of power in 2009. Many of the people pulling the lever for Obama will be quite surprised to see that their votes will enable an elderly generation of insiders.
It may go badly for the Republican Party three weeks from tonight. Perhaps Christopher Buckley will enjoy his sinecure on the Obama bandwagon. What I suspect we are learning is this: the future of the Republican Party may begin on November 5. And it's considerably more likely that the standard-bearer for that future will be from Wasilla (or Baton Rouge or perhaps St. Paul) than from Bethesda or Westchester County.