November 16, 2009

Somebody gettin' nervous?

I think this Newsweek article by Christopher Hitchens is interesting, not because of what it says about Sarah Palin, but what Hitchens is revealing about himself..

Sarah Palin's Political Instincts:

...The Palin problem, then, might be that she cynically incites a crowd that she has no real intention of pleasing. If she were ever to get herself to the nation's capital, the teabaggers would be just as much on the outside as they are now, and would simply have been the instruments that helped get her elected. In my own not-all-that-humble opinion, duping the hicks is a degree or two worse than condescending to them. It's also much more dangerous, because it meanwhile involves giving a sort of respectability to ideas that were discredited when William Jennings Bryan was last on the stump. The Weekly Standard (itself not exactly a prairie-based publication) might want to think twice before flirting with popular delusions and resentments that are as impossible to satisfy as the demand for a silver standard or a ban on the teaching of Darwin, and are for that very reason hard to tamp down. Many of Palin's admirers seem to expect that, on receipt of the Republican Party nomination, she would immediately embark on a crusade against Wall Street and the banks. This notion is stupid to much the same degree that it is irresponsible.

Then there's the question of character and personality. Decades ago, Walter Dean Burnham pointed out that right-wing populists tended to fail because they projected anger and therefore also attracted it. (He was one of the few on the left to predict that the genial Ronald Reagan would win for this very reason.) Let's admit that Sarah Palin is more attractive—some might even want to say more appealing—than much of her enraged core constituency. But then all we are considering is a point of packaging and marketing, where charm is supposed to make up for what education and experience have failed thus far to supply. We are further obliged to consider the question: exactly how charming is the Joan of Arc of the New Right, who also hears voices speaking to her of "spiritual warfare"?...

Now I like Hitchens, and have always respected him even when I disagree with him. But recently he's been writing stuff that's just not very good and not very convincing. His Atheist book, and his scratching at Sarah in particular. And I think that tells us something about him. For instance, what evidence does he have that Sarah is "duping the hicks?" None, as far as I know. And in fact the tea party crowd aren't really hicks. At least, I've been to a tea party and that simply wasn't true. Most attendees were not sophisticated or intellectual, but they seemed to be thoughtful concerned ordinary citizens. Nor did they show any interest in the "teaching of Darwin."

Palin supporters are angry at things that ordinary Americans have always gotten angry about, from the very beginning of this country. Americans have often angrily protested high taxes, big government programs (What were called "improvements" in Jefferson's time) and intrusive government. To pretend that tea parties are some sort of ugly primitive aberration is just stupid. Why is a smart guy like Hitch being stupid?

My theory is that Hitchens has, intellectually, gotten himself into an unnerving spot, and he's lashing out in anger because he's frightened. He has several times in recent years criticized his fellow leftists, for things such as supporting tyrants like Saddam, and not being willing to fight the War on Terror. (For which I honor him.) But for a thinking person (which Hitch is and most Lefties aren't) the obvious question that comes next is, how many other things does my Lefty crowd have wrong? Could we have it ALL wrong?

Palin is a symbol of Hitchens' uneasiness. She's the most exciting politician in the country right now... Maybe in the world. And every aspect of her is a repudiation of the Leftist zeitgeist. Her clothes, her hair, her baby... everything about her. She's far more of a threat to a wavering Lefty than some "moderate" Republican would be, because the threat is that—if she's right—everything might have to change!

Same thing with the atheism schtick. If you are a thinking atheist, there are lots of disturbing things to ponder right now. For instance, Hitch was probably raised to assume that Euro-socialism and secularism were successful projects, the "wave of the future." How's that working out? Or how about those assumptions that humanity was going to "outgrow" religion? Also, it's not a good time to be a thinking atheist, when the only world-class European figure is the Pope!

And that stuff about "duping the hicks?" And "cynically inciting crowds?" Could that be, er, projection, Mr Hitchens?It sounds more like what one might say about Obama than Palin.

Likewise with "instruments that helped get her elected." Perhaps that should read "him?" Or "ideas that were discredited when William Jennings Bryan was last on the stump." What precisely do you mean? I'd say you ought to be pondering whether socialism or big-government liberalism or unions might be called "discredited." I'd be a bit nervous if I were in your intellectual shoes...

Posted by John Weidner at November 16, 2009 6:32 PM
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