Victor Davis Hanson hits hard at Sarah Palin’s liberal attackers today, launching the usual and undoubtedly often justified accusation that they have been driven to a state of frenzy by her anti-elite lifestyle. But Hanson, for whose intellect, learning, and writing talent I have only the highest respect, fails to show that identity politics—or what Davis approvingly calls Palin’s “authentic middle-class persona”–are not just as central—indeed, exclusively so–to the frenzy of her supporters. He says not one word about the most serious count against her: her abysmal control of language and argument when speaking extemporaneously, a lack of control that raises questions about her capacity to make complex decisions, lead, and inspire. Instead, he attacks a series of straw men:
[As] a mother of five, knee-deep in local politics, without money and leisure, [she] is not going to be reading Gibbon for perspective, or spending the afternoon perusing Foreign Affairs. Nor is she going to remember a quip that her Prof at the Kennedy school once offered years ago. Nor is she going to recall clever repartee at a Georgetown dinner party from one grandee to another.
Now perhaps some people are truly disturbed by her lack of Kennedy School quips. But how about the series of non-sequiturs with which she regaled the public in her resignation speech, or the pretense of moral righteousness which she slathered on her decision to quit office midterm? (We will pass over in silence her excruciating interview performances during the campaign.)
Davis doesn’t mention the actual content of her recent speech at all, other than to speculate about whether the resignation will damage her politically. I don’t understand why conservatives, who should stand for the defense of the highest achievements of intellect and culture, so gleefully revel in Palin’s inarticulateness. Obviously, there are plenty of people with her background and associations who could make strong arguments and speak clearly, but she is not one of them. It is not “elitist” in the negative sense to hope for a political leader who can use our wonderful capacity for reason and eloquence to even modest effect.
Nor does Hanson offer any strong evidence of her skills and accomplishments other than to say that a. she must be capable, given her position in Alaskan politics and b. people with agricultural or mechanical talents are smart and more trustworthy than the elites. These are categorical arguments, not Palin-specific ones. She had plenty of opportunities to show off her alleged skills during the campaign; I would argue that she did not deliver on them.
Palin has always shown every sign of believing the hype around her: that merely by being who she is, she was qualified for the highest office of the land. Hanson mocks the left’s efforts at psychoanalyzing her. Arguably, she set herself up for such efforts. Is Hanson really charmed by her cloying mannerisms, which he unflinchingly captures:
She winks, and gestures as if she’s running a raffle stand at a PTA carnival and flirting with the local State Farm insurance agent.
and does he really find them appropriate for the leader of the Western world?
Hanson is absolutely right that liberals and the left should expose themselves to the perils of entrepreneurship. But their own blindness to the economic and social values that undergird American prosperity and stability is no excuse for conservative indifference to the values of achievement, learning, and eloquence that we should expect from our leaders. If Palin does try to pursue the presidency, she will further fracture the country’s conservatives.
(Hanson mentions a Huffington Post satirist joking about Trig’s disability, in which case I was obviously wrong in doubting whether anyone would be so callous as to do so.)