As for me, after more than a year of seeing how those “prodigious oratorical and intellectual gifts” have worked themselves out in action, I remain more convinced than ever of the soundness of Buckley’s quip, in the spirit of which I hereby declare that I would rather be ruled by the Tea Party than by the Democratic Party, and I would rather have Sarah Palin sitting in the Oval Office than Barack Obama. ~Norman Podhoretz
One might ask why Podhoretz is wasting his and our time rehashing the increasingly irrelevant Palin question, but part of the explanation can be found in the unpersuasive argument on behalf of Palin. Over the last year and a half since Palin emerged as a national figure, we have heard some form of this argument countless times. Each time, we hear about how she inspires irrational loathing and irrational admiration. Instead of recognizing this as a reason to be very careful not to succumb to the latter, a great many conservative writers make a point of declaring themselves as her supporters because of others’ irrational loathing. “Yes, Palin may not know anything, and she may not be qualified, but she is one of ours and she makes those people crazy!” It is hardly news to me that mass politics is primarily tribal. We know that the qualifications of a candidate and policies endorsed during a campaign have little or nothing to do with the responses of most voters. What I cannot quite understand is why people who claim to be “conservative intellectuals” act as if this is perfectly fine.
How can it be a point of pride that one would prefer an ignorant political failure because she happens to say the right things? It may be true that expertise in international affairs is “no guarantee of wise leadership,” but I don’t believe staggering ignorance has ever produced wise leadership. No doubt, Palin’s lack of expertise is extremely useful to national security conservatives who wish to direct her to accept their view of the world, but that is yet another argument against letting Palin occupy a position of important leadership. The second Bush was famously uninformed, incurious and inclined to go with his gut instinct, and his foreign policy record was largely calamitous. The areas where his administration did the least damage and even some good (e.g., relations with India) were those in which the U.S. was least activist and Bush was least directly involved. I don’t expect Palinites to accept this assessment, as they were as foolishly confident in the merits of invading Iraq and provoking Russia as they are now sure that Palin is an acceptable national leader, but it is worth remembering that they rehearsed all of the same defenses for Bush when his critics pointed out that he was clueless about the rest of the world.
Considering the low opinion of Obama most Palinites have, I have often thought it strange that so many of her fans damn her with what they must regard as extremely faint praise: “At least she’s better than Obama!” Leave aside for now how absurd this sort of claim makes them look when one fairly compares the political careers of the two, and just consider what contempt many of her so-called defenders must have for her that all they can bring themselves to say is that she is better than someone they regard as a dangerous incompetent.