Caught up in his own argument over Palin’s qualifications, Quin Hillyer writes:
Conservative activists refuse to acknowledge any fault with the choice of Palin for Veep. Those of us who express doubts are barely tolerated.
Like Kathleen Parker, Conor Friedersdorf has been finding out just how little doubters are tolerated. One of the most worrisome things about the selection of Palin and the increasingly non-credible apologies offered on her behalf is how defending Palin has encouraged the reinforcement of the debilitating cocooning instinct of a lot of conservatives that has brought them, their preferred party and the country to their current predicament. As Michael said early on, Palin’s convention speech had transformed the race into a straightforward Us vs. Them conflict, but it became clear with declining GOP party ID and disillusionment with the Bush administration that there were not as many of “Us” as there used to be. Indeed, many of those who might have once considered themselves to be on the GOP “side” no longer want to be identified with that particular “Us.” One of the reasons for the GOP’s decline has been the constant effort for years to mobilize people along Us vs. Them lines in ultimately superficial but emotionally-charged ways, while simultaneously embracing policies that do not represent the interests of “Us.”
The deeper malady afflicting conservatism and the GOP that the failed Palin strategy represents is the abandonment of persuasion and the reliance on demonization and fear, which was used notably against early conservative dissenters against the war and used also in the arguments for the war itself. In this case, we see demonization of her critics and the fear of Obama at work, because the positive case for her and McCain is so trivial as to be non-existent. Attacking opponents is all very well, but at some point you have to have something to show for your support. Instead, even as they have ignored the interests and demands of their constituents (except when faced with major revolts over immigration and now the bailout), the national GOP has redoubled its use of demonization to distract from its failure to serve the people who voted for them. The country has not changed all that much in the last four or eight years, but it has changed enough to make the demonization of the other side a losing proposition as the other side has now become at least temporarily larger. Running off dissenters and doubters is a habit that movements develop especially when it believes that it is on the cusp of an era of dominance and when it believes that it represents the broad majority of the people, but what is curious about this habit is that it arises alongside the knowledge that the movement’s success is extremely precarious and can be maintained only through the unsustainable process of whipping supporters into a constant state of agitation and activism. Having cultivated a siege mentality, the movement finds that conformity is even more vital, which in turn worsens the abandonment of persuasion, intensifies the need to enforce conformity, and keeps losing the movement support.
The bailout fiasco was just the most recent example of how the administration used fear to try to cripple critical thinking about the merits of its plan, and it certainly showed the lack of interest in persuasion. Flinging insults and denunciations has been the main tactic over the last several years, and issuing dire threats and warnings has been the main element of policymaking. RedState’s fatwa on Conor and Culture11 as a whole is typical of the people who banned any new posters and commenters who spoke in favor of Ron Paul, and it is unfortunately exactly the response I imagined would greet Conor’s proposal. It is also fairly representative of the low quality of argument that one finds among the enforcers of party loyalty. This should serve as a reminder that any movement that thrives on vilification and purges is ultimately destined for failure, because once it has given up on persuasion and lost interest in critical thinking, including self-criticism, it will attract less and less support as it ceases to have anything worthwhile to offer.