Skip to comments.
Palin, the Base, and the Northeast Corridor Conservatives
American Thinker ^
| September 18, 2008
| J.R. Dunn
Posted on 09/18/2008 12:07:17 AM PDT by neverdem
The selection of Sarah Palin as Republican vice-presidential candidate has revealed a serious chasm in conservatism, a chasm separating conservative elites – opinion leaders, pundits, spokesmen -- from the vast population of center-right Americans they purport to represent.
If this is the choice of the conservative base, one said “Then we need a new base.” (We’ll leave names out of this for the moment, lest this deteriorate into an “I never liked him anyway” discussion. The problem is systemic, and not limited to a few individuals.) “It’s over,” another insisted of Palin’s candidacy (the later “explanation” for this remark was, shall we say, less than convincing.) The same writer compared Sarah Palin to none other than Dan Quayle, a comparison few would agree with. Other writers picked away at minor shortcomings, shaking their heads over “lack of experience” (this about a politician with more executive experience than the other three candidates combined), and predicting the selection would act as a gift to the Obama campaign. This in the light of one of the most supernovic entries onto the national stage by any politician of the modern era.
Two points are immediately evident: this rhetoric echoed precisely what the liberal media was saying -- and at the same time was diametrically opposed to what the rest of the country had to say.
This is far from the first time such a dichotomy has arisen. Just prior to the surge in Iraq, a number of well-known conservative writers were slickly moving toward the consensus view of the war as an irrecoverable disaster. (Several went so far as to express agreement with the take of the legacy media, which had been consistently undercutting the war effort since before it even began.) There have been no lack of sly attempts to “triangulate” George W. Bush, in apparent preparation for later cries of “I told you so” when the President at last failed. Since Bush has in truth failed at very little, all this maneuvering represents a sad waste of time and energy.
But the Palin response is more shameless than any of these previous examples. It undermined a campaign in progress, it called into question the judgment of the acknowledged Republican leader, and far worse, it occurred during one of the most vicious ideological attacks mounted against any politician in recent memory. Sarah Palin and her family were and remain targeted by leftist interests with the simple goal of destruction. Most of the country has registered serious disapproval. Only three groups have demurred: leftist ideologues, the media, and a certain group of conservatives.
Clearly, a small but influential number of conservatives -- almost exclusively from the New York-Washington axis which we will term the “Northeast Corridor” -- could not comprehend Sarah Palin or what she represents, any more than the liberal-left could. In fact, the liberals can be said to have had a superior grasp of Palin’s impact. They, at least, saw her as a threat.
Northeast Corridor conservatism embodies an elite. It has been an elite since conservatism was first detectable as a distinct strain in the American political landscape. And like most elites, it has slowly become alienated from the people as a whole, to such an extent that it no longer clearly represents their interests. Whenever this occurs, there is eventually (if no attempt at regeneration is made) a swift and transformative upheaval which brings into being a new status quo. It never, to my knowledge, involves getting “a new base”. It almost always involves isolating and negating the old elite, and usually replacing it with a new one drawn from the previous base. In the realm of politics, this process goes under the name of “revolution”. In other fields, it is usually more low-key, though not any less complete.
How did conservatism reach this pass? It didn’t start out this way. However elitist it may have been, conservatism throughout U.S. history has always maintained a firm connection to the common life. American conservatism is the conservatism of the Constitution (a fact lost to leftists, in their eagerness to link the doctrine to fascism, royalism, and reaction in any form), and all that it represents. As such, it possessed a direct line to the heartspring of American political life, much more so than any variety of leftism, which embrace an essentially European sensibility. As long as this connection remained intact, very little could go wrong with the conservative impulse.
With the 20th
century things began to drift. The apparent triumph of the leftist ideologies in the wake of the Depression left many conservatives with little choice but to retreat. Albert Jay Nock
defined this rump conservatism as the “remnant”, a concept derived from the book of Isaiah. While the masses whored after strange gods, a “saving remnant” would preserve core beliefs for a better day. This became the operative philosophy of a large segment of American conservatism -- retreat from the new and coarse polity, treasure and protect the old verities, and then return them to the people after the corrupt consensus collapsed. (I’ve often wondered how this would have worked out in practice. I could never rid my mind of the picture of groups of Young Republicans in button-downs and khakis showing up at road warrior encampments outside the ruined cities to hand out copies of “Road to Serfdom” and “Up from Liberalism”.)
and Whittaker Chambers
were the chief public exponents of remnant conservatism, abiding in rural retreats, communicating with small numbers of acolytes, living in what for all practical purposes were alternate universes. Within twenty years all this was thrust aside by the newly invigorated, confrontational conservatism of William F. Buckley. But it still retained (and does to this day) an enormous influence. (...and I’m well aware that Chambers accepted and participated in Buckley’s revolution, which does not change the argument one iota. Without Buckley, Chambers would have been satisfied to remain on his Maryland farm until the commissars showed up to root him out.)
With conservatism isolated from the American conversation, its picture of the country grew distorted, its proscriptions strange. Concentrating on the most negative aspects of American life and insisting on the most dire interpretations, the remnant conservatives painted a picture of an America that didn’t exist, far gone into political and social decadence and tottering simultaneously on the edge of any number of abysses.
But the country kept on meandering along regardless, never quite reaching the point of collapse predicted by the remnant thinkers, and ending a Depression, winning a world war, and standing firm against an aggressive communist ideology at the same time. When a reinvigorated conservatism began retaking the political sphere beginning in the 60s, the remnant school became moot, although its ideas continued exerting pressure in conservative circles.
Chief among these concepts was a deep contempt for American culture in all its aspects, along with those who enjoyed it, which meant the American people as a whole. Instead, the remnant conservatives, and to a large extent most urban conservatives thereafter, remained enamored of the view that European culture was in all ways superior.
This created a distinct paradox, obvious to any objective onlooker. Namely, that the infinitely superior American political culture, based on Constitutional principles, created cultural products that could not compare with those of reactionary, fascistic, bloodyminded Europe. (It need only be mentioned that this attitude matched that of contemporary liberalism in all given particulars.)
This school of thought may have reached its peak in Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind
” which, while perfectly correct concerning many points -- political correctness and the degradation of campus life -- also contained much that was obnoxious: the Plato fixation, and a seething contempt for American culture that went far beyond criticism in into hyperbolic loathing. (e.g., the comparison of rock music listeners to junkies. As a musician competent in all modern styles, including rock, blues, jazz, and country -- along with classical, Celtic, and even a little Arabic -- I think I have the standing to dispute this. It’s all notes and intervals, is my contention, and it’s all good.)
This kind of thing could be called conservative -- if a return to the attitudes of the late 19th century, a Henry James world in which the educated and well-to-do turn their backs on a vulgar America and go trotting off to Europe -- was all anyone was looking for. (James himself, remember, became a British citizen in his old age.) But of course, the problem is that it is no longer the 19th century, and most of what these people admired in Europe was in fact long dead.
While the Northeast Corridor conservatives were avidly converting conservatism into a coterie, complete with gatekeepers, a private language, in-group behavior codes, and a uniform (blazers and khaki for the males, and for the women... well, let’s move on) American conservatism was changing beneath their feet. Neoconservatives and libertarians broadened both the content and appeal of conservatism, while the Religious Right brought in a powerful and cohesive voting bloc. None of these groups challenged the predominance of the Northeastern conservatives, content to play a useful role in the emerging conservative coalition. But none of them were given a particularly warm welcome either.
At the same time, and perhaps with even more consequence, the center of political conservatism was moving ever west. Through such figures as Goldwater and Reagan, the American West was transformed into the vital center of the conservative impulse. Though the primacy of the East Coast conservatives remained, the status quo could not last. As conservatism absorbed heartland influences, it began changing to a more individualistic, more libertarian, more religious, and more American form. Almost unacknowledged, the division between American western conservatism and the European-influenced northeastern variety became deeper and wider with every year.
And at last (as was inevitable) a candidate appeared who embodied that division, a candidate with no connection to coterie conservatism, a candidate wholly of heartland America, a candidate who was as much a challenge to traditional conservatives as she was to the left.
And so isolated had the Northeast Corridor conservatives become, so deeply embedded in their Jamesian parallel universe (which can best be pictured as kind of a conservative version of the old Steinberg New Yorker cover
, with E.35th St. and Allen Jay Lerner’s townhouse looming as the center of the earth while, off on the horizon, we see a dot labeled, “Nascar races”), that they couldn’t recognize her clear conservative stance, couldn’t recognize her personal courage, couldn’t, in the end, be bothered to stand with her when she and her family were victimized by the most repellent political attack of our epoch.
If they won’t recognize that, they won’t recognize anything. Living in a Northeast that is steadily combining aspects of a Third-World state and a suburban mall, they have lost sight of what America actually is. Huge gaps exist in their knowledge of the country. In the same way that liberals view the U.S. a racist, militarist monolith, the Northeast Corridor coterie view it as a cultural wasteland populated by backwoodsmen, halfwits who need to be guided by an enlightened but aloof elite.
That’s what they saw when Sarah Palin stepped before the public. Not a superb example of the 21st-century American woman, knowledgeable, capable, and admirable, but a hick with a roughneck husband and a load of kids. Quite the opposite of what the rest of the country saw, and accepted, and will likely send to Washington this November.
It’s not going to get better for them. The last three waves of American conservatism came out of the West -- Barry Goldwater from Arizona, Ronald Reagan from California, and today Sarah Palin from Alaska. That’s not going to stop. Conservatism as it exists today is a heartland phenomenon, with all the virtues and strengths -- and yes, weaknesses and errors -- of the American heartland. Today it’s the Northeast Corridor conservatives who are the outliers.
The vast American center right has absorbed all the lessons and ideas and has adapted what will work. There’s nothing wrong with this -- it’s the standard evolutionary process followed by any political doctrine, changing as circumstances change, preserving its best self while exploiting its strongest aspects. There have been attempts -- no small number of them -- to preserve doctrines at an arbitrary “high point”. We see them all around us. They’re called “ideologies”. (And didn’t that remark about “getting a new base” oddly echo Bertolt Brecht’s advice
to the East German communists to “dissolve the German people and get themselves a new one”? Though Brecht, as was often the case, was being sarcastic.)
The Northeastern urban conservatives must find some way to connect with the rest of the country. If not, they’ll end up much like the “conservatism” expressed by Andrew Sullivan (whose main outlet, it should be noted, is a European paper) – obsessive, strange, and isolated, existing in dream world with no connection or influence to anything else.
We must wish them luck. They have much to offer. But we can’t wait for time to finish working on them. We have too much to do -- an election to win, a world to reform... and don’t forget the occasional snowmobile race, either.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.
TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Politics/Elections; US: District of Columbia
KEYWORDS: conservative; conservatives; conservativism; mccainpalin; palin
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-20, 21-40, 41-49 next last
posted on 09/18/2008 12:07:18 AM PDT
"a swift and transformative upheaval which brings into being a new status quo"
And would that be a paradigm shift?...
No wonder the dims and elites are in head explode mode.
posted on 09/18/2008 12:17:13 AM PDT
(Hillary wants to kill babies and raise taxes, Sarah wants to raise babies and kill taxes)
Fascinating article, thanks for posting it.
If this is the choice of the conservative base, one said Then we need a new base.
Behold, this is what your masters think of you. I'm getting really sick of these old-money Northeast elites (both conservative and liberal) looking down their noses at the silent majority of the rest of us.
posted on 09/18/2008 12:20:28 AM PDT
(Conservatives who don't live up to the liberal caricature are now hypocrites.)
By jove I believe the ole boy has it!!
posted on 09/18/2008 12:25:08 AM PDT
by RVN Airplane Driver
("To be born into freedom is an accident; to die in freedom is an obligation..)
Thank goodness someone finaly recognizes that the Republican party is not just Evangelicals and country club Republicans. There is a large block of conservatives of libertarian bendt in the vast fly-over country and Heartland who believe in individualism, personal responsibility, private property and limited decentralized government as envisioned in the Constitution and promoted by Ronald Reagan. These tenets are the ideological cradle for entrepreneuralism, small towns and self-sufficiency which formed the backbone of frontier exploration, Western expansion and the values of community service, patriotism, loyalty, sacrifice and civic pride exhibited by the Greatest Generation.
I get the feeling that the elitist east view these ideals as rather provincial and unsophisticated. They remind me of the French fops that John Adams tried to treat with.
posted on 09/18/2008 12:48:43 AM PDT
Dunn can be great and this seems like a good analysis of the situation, but I have absolutely no patience with so-called “conservative” whiners about Palin. The only alternative in 2008 is OBAMA with BIDEN..... get over yourselves, you self-appointed elite of northeastern “conservatives”..... either support Palin or get out of the way b/c we have to save the country from the Obamanators, period.
posted on 09/18/2008 12:54:30 AM PDT
(OBAMAGATE: Iraqi Foreign Minister Says Obama Tried to Derail Agreement on Troop Withdrawals!!!)
I say we tie down all the talking heads, force them to read Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, Edmund Burke, and F.A. Hayek, then ask them whether they think they’re in the right movement.
posted on 09/18/2008 12:57:23 AM PDT
It’s is nice to see someone taking the longer view. I get so caught up in the issue du jour or the latest poll that I find myself missing the forest for the trees.
posted on 09/18/2008 1:00:08 AM PDT
by Straight Vermonter
(Posting from deep behind the Maple Curtain)
Bit over the top. Simpler explanation is that the GOP, over the past decade, has embraced the values and views of the evangelical south. Hence why those who view that culture as alien and don’t put much worth into “faith” and “shes one of us” idolizations are disgusted with the Palin pick. She has more in common with the blue collar values voters (who now ARE the GOP) than those who exist outside of that universe.
posted on 09/18/2008 1:12:55 AM PDT
(President Bush, why did you abandon Specialist Ahmed Qusai al-Taei?)
And hit all of them in the head with a hardcover edition of Atlas Shrugs for good measure.
if Rudy and Joe Lieberman and Donald trump can support McCain and (gasp!) Sarah Palin, then I don’t see what the problem is.
posted on 09/18/2008 1:13:56 AM PDT
(We never hide from history. We make history!)
“The Republican Party is increasingly a party of the South and the mountains. The southernness of its congressional leaders — Speaker Newt Gingrich, of Georgia; House Majority Leader Dick Armey and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, of Texas; Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, of Mississippi; Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, of Oklahoma — only heightens the identification. There is a big problem with having a southern, as opposed to a midwestern or a California, base. Southern interests diverge from those of the rest of the country, and the southern presence in the Republican Party has passed a “tipping point,” at which it began to alienate voters from other regions.
As southern control over the Republican agenda grows, the party alienates even conservative voters in other regions. The prevalence of right-to-work laws in southern states may be depriving Republicans of the socially conservative midwestern trade unionists whom they managed to split in the Reagan years, and sending Reagan Democrats back to their ancestral party in the process. Anti-government sentiment makes little sense in New England, where government, as even those who hate it will concede, is neither remote nor unresponsive.
The most profound clash between the South and everyone else, of course, is a cultural one. It arises from the southern tradition of putting values — particularly Christian values — at the center of politics. This is not the same as saying that the Republican Party is “too far right”; Americans consistently tell pollsters that they are conservative on values issues. It is, rather, that the Republicans have narrowly defined “values” as the folkways of one regional subculture, and have urged their imposition on the rest of the country. Again, the nonsoutherners who object to this style of politics may be just as conservative as those who practice it. But they are put off to see that “traditional” values are now defined by the majority party as the values of the U-Haul-renting denizens of two-year-old churches and three-year-old shopping malls.”
posted on 09/18/2008 1:16:23 AM PDT
(President Bush, why did you abandon Specialist Ahmed Qusai al-Taei?)
If they wont recognize that, they wont recognize anything. Living in a Northeast that is steadily combining aspects of a Third-World state and a suburban mall, they have lost sight of what America actually is. Huge gaps exist in their knowledge of the country. In the same way that liberals view the U.S. a racist, militarist monolith, the Northeast Corridor coterie view it as a cultural wasteland populated by backwoodsmen, halfwits who need to be guided by an enlightened but aloof elite.
This passage struck me as did your post. Tonight I was watching O'Reilly and he brought on some 'coach' to analyze Palin's hair and voice and delivery and all this crap while she did her interview. This really bugged me as a west coast gal that was born and raised middle class (at best) in a rural western state and town. I went on to live in a whole other world and class as a result of my own efforts and although I worked on presentation when I felt it could best achieve my objectives, I also actively resisted allowing 'them' to define how I looked, the strength of my voice, the passionate displays and the honest, frank style of delivery all of which had help bring me to these people's world and also what made me stand out from them.
I mention this story as I know Sarah will want to refine things for herself if she feels they will best achieve whatever objective she has, but I also know it is the becoming of these things and the compliance of them as recommended by these flaccid, outlines of human beings that I hope my fellow western conservative resists as she sees fit.
It is bucking against these haughty east coast standards that has allowed the most powerful and impactful conservatives to come from the west. Sarah does not need to be 'guided to enlightenment by the elite" I am sure this is why we love her that much more. Sarah brings a whole new class to Washington full and rich and earnest with her desire to represent the people. The ones with the babies, and the snow machines, and the guns, and the trucks, and the God :-).
posted on 09/18/2008 1:16:49 AM PDT
by GOP Poet
There are no electoral conservative votes in the Northeast Corridor. None, nada, zilch. No other explanation is required. If Northeast Corridor Conservatives are not happy with a conservative that ewes to all three legs of the conservative stool, they are unappeasable.
posted on 09/18/2008 1:17:46 AM PDT
(MSM Lied, Journalism Died. RIP 2008)
To: Kickass Conservative
“And hit all of them in the head with a hardcover edition of Atlas (Shrugs) for good measure”.
Atlas Shrugged! Oops, must be time to hit the hay. LOL
Northeastern urban conservative , overnight The Thinker invented a new code word for liberal.
posted on 09/18/2008 1:43:15 AM PDT
(jackmartins08.com NY 4th Congressional)
I’m a Northeast Corridor Conservative and I was backing Palin for VP before McCain picked her and am happy with his pick.
Even more than elitism, a lack of experience in winning politics at the local and state level defines “Northeast Corridor Conservatives.” They may sniff at Sarah Palin’s supposed inexperience and populism, but they have long been in political decline on their native soil and have little or no experience themselves in producing successful state and local campaigns.
As Sam Rayburn supposedly said to Lyndon Johnson of the flock of intellectuals that he inherited from the Kennedy administration, “I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.” Notably, those conservatives who do have an abundance of retail political experience — Republican activists and convention delegates — immediately recognized Palin as a political star for the GOP and conservatism. Her nomination was an inspired choice that will generate long term gains for conservatives. As this becomes evident, watch for the eventual admissions to that effect from “Northeast Corridor Conservatives.”
Wish he would have used the word "Republican" instead of "conservative" in many places in the article. I don't feel the terms are interchangeable.
Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania are full of Republicans who are not conservatives. They still have their Nixon and Rockefeller campaign buttons and David Gergan is their spokesman.
If there's any name changing to be done, it's to seperate from these fossils and change the name "Republican Party" to "Conservative Party"
posted on 09/18/2008 1:54:04 AM PDT
(Do or do not, there is no try)
To: GOP Poet
Thank you, that was very eloquent. That was why I was so excited by Sarah’s nomination; here’s a bone fide western conservative who understands self-reliance, restraint, and family. Contrary to the rumors, the left coast is not yet completely run over by liberal nutjobs.
posted on 09/18/2008 1:55:57 AM PDT
(Conservatives who don't live up to the liberal caricature are now hypocrites.)
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-20, 21-40, 41-49 next last
Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual
posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its
management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the
exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson