In Peggy Noonan’s weekend Wall Street Journal column she congratulates Gov. Palin on what she judges to have been a strong (though not substantive) debate performance. At the same time, however, she still sports bruised feelings from the reception that she and other “conservative critics” of Palin received in recent weeks:
We saw this week, too, a turn in the McCain campaign’s response to criticisms of Mrs. Palin. I find obnoxious the political game in which if you expressed doubts about the vice presidential nominee, or criticized her, you were treated as if you were knocking the real America—small towns, sound values…. As for the dismissal of conservative critics of Mrs. Palin as “Georgetown cocktail party types” (that was Mr. McCain), well, my goodness. That is the authentic sound of the aggression, and phony populism, of the Bush White House. Good move. That ended well.
Well, I’m sorry that her feelings are bruised, and its true that cultural slights can be rather cutting, but there’s a disagreement of principle at play here as well as simple payback. (And there is payback. Don’t imagine that all those middle-American conservatives haven’t noticed how the “Georgetown cocktail party types” talk about “Rush Limbaugh conservatives” or “talk radio crazies”. Some of this is simply a matter of people enjoying the chance to see the shoe on the other foot.)
So far as I can tell from personal observation, the reason people are swooning over Palin’s “authenticity” is not really that she rides snow machines and shoots moose (though it’s true that many of us men have a soft spot in our hearts for attractive women who dig male past times) but rather that she seems set apart from many politicians in that she says what she believes and believes what she says. Key among these: she says she’s pro-life, she’s a member of Feminists For Life, and shows good signs of living her convictions. Further, people believe that she’s serious for the simple reason that like many of the people they know in their own churches and neighborhoods: she just seems like an ordinary person who says what she believes — not like a politician who says she he’s focused grouped.
Now in a lot of ways, I would imagine that I could play elite metropolitan one-upsmanship with Peggy Noonan all day long. Despite my Texas address, I hate country and generally listen to classical, I have a fondness for very small cars, enjoy 18thcentury essayists, drink single malt scotches and classic cocktails, etc. But these are very much surface preferences, and I think none the less of people with different ones.
The thing is, Noonan (and some other inside-the-beltway elite conservative writers — doubtless also people who could be accused of belonging to the Georgetown cocktail party set) seems to assign undue affection to those who share surface characteristics– a certain elite, Washingtonian aire– with her. Exhibit A is, of course, her school-girl crush on Senator Obama. She doesn’t support him, of course, being a good Republican. But she likes his style so much that she argues against most criticisms of him. “He’s so good — too bad he’s not ours” seems to be her attitude.
More relevant to this recent article was her comment just after Governor Palin’s selection as the vice presidential nominee was announced, when she wondered why a more experienced woman such as Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson was not selected. Well there’s a very obvious reason for that, which it rather shocks me to think that Noonan (herself a serious Catholic) did not think of: Sen. Hutchinson supports Roe v. Wade and has opposed various pro-life measures such as parental consent laws. Had McCain selected her as his running mate, he probably would have seen his donations and poll numbers drop rather than rise, and a certain segment of the base decided it was time to sit things out.
But, of course, Hutchinson has been in the Senate for fifteen years now. So she’s more qualified than a two year governor.
This is the thing about outside-the-beltway social conservatives which many conservative elites do not quite seem to get: We really care about what politicians views are on the topics dear to our hearts — and we care very little about how charming they’ve made themselves over the years in network green rooms and DC cocktail hours.
I’m sure that many other Palin supporters share my wish that she was in her second term as governor instead of her first, and that she had been dealing with foreign policy enough on a daily basis to know when Senator Biden is saying something patently untrue. I wish she was the sort of person who relished thinking on her feat and was able to hammer out conservative principles persuasively from the podium. But while I would like Gov. Palin rather more if she possessed these qualities, her lack of them does not make me inclined to support someone else depsitethe fact that that other person disagrees with me on issues which I consider profoundly important.
Which is why I and many other social conservatives find ourselves willing to settle for and even be enthusiastic about a vice presidential candidate who at least agrees with us on the issues and brings that agreement onstage with an authentic and charming persona which manages to make a connection with audiences in a way that few politicians can.