So here’s my dilemma.
Real partisanship, I mean real, nasty, cut-off-the-country’s-nose-to-spite-the-other-side’s-face partisanship, can be fun, as the average college Republican can tell you. But among it’s many, many downsides is the fact that you can’t ever incorporate or learn from the opinions of people on the other side. What’s more, in an atmosphere of strict partisanship, bipartisan support is something to be feared and derided. To the true partisan, after all, pragmatism and righteousness are defined entirely by the distance from the other sides opinion. Someone on the other side agreeing with you isn’t a function of you having a sensible position that makes sense absent of ideology; it’s a sign that you are a bad teammate, that you have been corrupted, that you are secretly on the other side. Like most rhetorical idiocies, hyper-partisanship succeeds mostly in excluding people who would be natural allies to ones cause.
You can see then why I’m loathe to weigh in on this little situation between John Schwenkler and Robert Stacy McCain. John’s a friend, but more importantly, he’s right, and McCain is wrong– not wrong in terms of partisan positioning or ideological content, but simply and entirely wrong about politics, procedure and the best way forward for American conservatism. But, you see, I’m a lefty, your typical latte swirling liberal, and to the people who follow McCain’s line when it comes to partisanship and ideological battle, the fact that I think John is right must mean that McCain is on to something. In the land of the ideological warrior content and argument are really just empty vessels for the important task of sorting out who is on which side.
McCain says “Go ahead, look down your nose at the hicks in the sticks, tuned into Rush Limbaugh, Michael Reagan and Laura Ingraham. For all their faults and failings, those hicks are better people than you are”. Yes, because, lord knows, no one is more down-to-earth than a blogger who advertises himself as an “Award-winning columnist, reporter, editor, author, bon vivant and raconteur”. Look, friend, I’ve tutored middle school students in test prep, but to think that John is saying what you assert he’s saying takes reading comprehension skills so bad it makes even me jump. That, or a dog whistle so precisely attuned to your suicidal brand of Bushite dead-enderism that you can’t possibly miss it through the sound of the bat-shit talk radio I’m assuming you listen to. See, perhaps this isn’t clear, but not everyone who self-identifies as a conservative signed the contract where you guys decided that supporting Sarah Palin is the one and only qualification of appropriating the term. Elevating the support of (faux-populist, millionaire, private-plane owning, celebrity) politicians like Palin above principle or policy is, I promise you, a symptom of the contagion that is quickly speeding your party to its political demise.
Daniel Larison has done his usual withering work here. Larison, il miglior fabbro*, is the best prose stylist among any of the bloggers I’ve read and has a discriminating mind. An argument between Larison and McCain would be like a fight between Rush Limbaugh and a sandwich, so I hope for his sake McCain realizes it isn’t in his best interest to try to “get on the fightin’ side of” Larison. Larison is exactly correct when he says
Nor is McCain’s implicit claim that “the public” embraced Palin correct. If “the public” is never wrong (a strange claim for a conservative), Palin must be as bad as her critics claim, since most of the public does not care for her or at the very least does not embrace her. Is Palin “arguably the best hope for preventing the four years of Obama from becoming eight years of Obama”? Obviously not.
Not only is this true, it is indeed obviously true. It’s obviously true because we counted the votes, and your guy lost, and badly. Ah, but, McCain says, ” The GOP nominated a presidential candidate who got only 47% of the primary vote, and yet this fanatical obsession with blaming the ‘Wasilla hillbillies’ — a rejection of the grassroots Republican voters who adored Sarah Palin — still consumes the elite mind.” Setting aside the fact that no one, and certainly not John Schwenkler, ever derided “Wasilla hillbillies”, this is the nice thing, for Palin partisans, about the fact that there were two people on the ticket. Every failure can be attributed to John McCain, every success (if you can find one) to Palin. Never mind that McCain ran as vanilla and mainstream Republican a campaign as you are likely to see, or that he enthusiastically took part in the rallies that did so much to stoke culture war. (They were, sadly for the GOP, unable to circumvent demographics, basic human psychology, or math.) No, McCain, a decorated war hero who has served his country for his entire life, was somehow a drag on an inarticulate, woefully inexperienced and politically tone-deaf governor of a state with less than a million people.
The key to that quote is where McCain mentions those “grassroots Republican voters who adore Sarah Palin.” What he fails to comprehend is the fact that those people already voted for John McCain and Palin, and there’s not nearly enough of them. McCain has a conviction that I find completely common among mainstream Republica commentators and yet utterly groundless: the faith that, no matter what, there will always be more “grassroots Republican voters” than the opposition. We just had a campaign that disproved that theory rather convincingly, wouldn’t you say? The recent polling for self-identified Republicans has been miserable, miserable news for the GOP. Demographics do not bode well for the Republican party. The non-white voters who the Republicans continue to seem totally indifferent to are becoming an ever larger part of the electorate. There has been and will be no sudden influx of rural values voters. And as conservative warriors like McCain seem insulted by even the idea of trying to work to include college-educated voters into the coalition of the right, there’s no reason to think there will be relief from that quarter either.
This is what people like John Schwenkler and David Kuo and everyone else at Culture11 have been trying to point out: that, despite the mystifying and groundless adamance otherwise, the Republican party and American conservatism cannot remain a mass party by appealing purely to the shrinking segment of the population that is so taken with Sarah Palin. This is math, and it’s not complicated. No one is talking about betraying conservatism or any such thing. In fact, it seems to me an indisputable fact of conservatism’s intellectual history that the right shuns the kind of cult of personality that is the one and only thing that Palin has going for her. And no one, I mean no one, is attacking the grassroots. No one is being an elitist. Show me where John Schwenkler is deriding rural people, please. John is actually doing those voters the favor of trying to prevent their relegation to utter political insignificance. Imagine that?
It’s my turn to be purely partisan: please, please, please, Republican party, conservatives; please continue to ignore non-white voters. Please continue to act as though a college diploma is something to be ashamed of. Please continue to engage in politically suicidal grandstanding, like saying that northern Virginia isn’t the “real Virginia” when most of the people live in northern Virginia. Please continue to treat demographics as though they are some dirty lie that is best avoided. Please continue to define your purpose and your people to include an ever-narrower slice of the American electorate, pruning the number of the pure to such a small amount of people that you can’t even win state elections. And, please, nominate Sarah Palin in 2012.
(* fruity quote included just to annoy Robert Stacy McCain)
Update: Helen Rittelmeyer, I’m sorry to say, chimes in with a “Hear, hear” for McCain in his comments. This, I take it, is a function of Helen’s lamentable opinion that it’s more important to stick up for your side than to value intelligence, principle, democracy, morals or logic. I’m afraid that the McCains of the world are the inconvenient hole in Helen’s philosophy of loyalty; some people, and their opinions, do not deserve your loyalty, no matter how much they tell you they are on your side. That Robert Stacy McCain is a tedious nothing will come as no surprise to those of us with a Web browser and the ability to read. Stranger still, Helen likes precisely the kind of faggy thinkers and writers– you know, those guys who care about, like, good arguments, and stuff– who McCain would consider a part of the damnable pretentious elite. But Helen’s philosophy, I think, doesn’t permit her to give anyone who is ostensibly on her side the heave hoe. Her position on party and loyalty threatens to leave her like the person who, out of loyalty, refuses to take the keys from her drunk friend, right before he drives her off of a cliff.
Update II: John suggests in comments that Helen is not endorsing McCain, but rather a different commenter, so my apologies if that’s the case. To those who are not aware, I find Helen a brilliant and interesting writer.