In the Republican crack up following their loss on November 6, conservative pundits have tossed out innumerable arguments about how to win next time. It was inevitable that someone would come up with the worst possible idea. And, sure enough, someone has. Writing in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, conservative pundit Charlotte Allen declares, “I’ve got a suggestion for cutting short the GOP angst: Sarah Palin for president in 2016.”
Reading Allen’s piece is interesting because of what it shows about the mindset of some conservatives: that pundits who think as Allen does have no respect for policy, no seriousness about governance and no respect for the American voter.
Allen hails from one of the more intellectually serious and respectable corners of the conservative media. Her author bio on Townhall.com, a conservative magazine website for which she has written, reads: “Charlotte Allen is a contributing editor for the Manhattan Institute’s Minding the Campus website. She writes regularly for the Weekly Standard and is a frequent contributor of opinion pieces to the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.” The Manhattan Institute is a think tank that served as the idea factory for Rudy Giuliani’s mayoralty. Allen contributes to its academia-focused blog. The Weekly Standard is one of the most influential magazines among the DC Republican elite. (Vice President Dick Cheney would send someone to personally fetch thirty copies of it upon publication every week.) It features some of the best writers in conservative journalism, such as Andrew Ferguson, Christopher Caldwell and Matt Labash. So it is not as if analyzing Allen’s is the same as, say, unfairly picking on some random person with his own blog.
Allen’s argument is purely electoral. She does not actually suggest that the former half-term governor of Alaska is actually qualified to run the country, much less that Palin would be good at doing so. Such questions do not seem to interest her at all. Allen does not directly confront the revelations of Palin’s startling ignorance of global affairs, either as a substantive or a political concern.
Most remarkable is the condescending view Allen holds of voters whom the GOP must win over. Allen seems to fall into the camp of pundits who realize Republicans must do better among certain demographics, such as single women. But her reasons for thinking Palin is the candidate best equipped to do so presume that voters care about nothing but shallow identity politics. Allen writes:
A Palin “war against women”? Hah! Not only is she a woman, she’s got a single-mom daughter, Bristol, to help with the swelling single-mom demographic….
If she were smart, Palin would recruit a member of her impressive gay fanboy base — yes, she has one — to help run her campaign…. Palin’s son Track is an Iraq war veteran, so she can be proudly patriotic without being labeled another George W. Bush, looking to do aggressive nation-building.
Allen finds it risible that Palin could be accused of opposing women’s rights because Palin is a woman and she has a daughter who is a single mother. Therefore, Allen asserts, Palin will do better among single women. It appears not to have even occurred to Allen that single women might have chosen Obama, a man, over Romney because of his positions. Under a Republican president, single women have reasons to worry about their reproductive freedom, their access to contraception, funding for their children’s schools, Medicaid eligibility and benefits, pay discrimination and discrimination by health insurers. This is as true of Palin as it is of Romney. Hiring a gay staffer would not change the fact that the Republican Party opposes protecting gays from discrimination in the workplace and from marrying their partners.
Palin’s son’s service should not inoculate Palin from charges that she shares Bush’s foreign policy views. Of course, when she was asked if she agreed with the Bush Doctrine, Palin made it clear she had no idea what it was. But her close advisers have included neoconservative hawks such as Michael Goldfarb and Randy Scheunemann.
Allen believes voters will assume that Palin can be trusted not to send our troops into harm’s way unnecessarily just because her son served in the military. It would be stupid of voters to think that, instead of looking at Palin’s policies.
So Allen thinks voters are stupid. Don’t take my word for it. This is her argument:
Romney failed to take into account the fact that large segments of the electorate neither know nor care much about serious economic and political issues. What they—a group sometimes euphemistically called “uninformed voters”—do know and care about are the tugs on their emotions, fears, revulsions and heart strings provided by hours and hours of uninterrupted television watching .
The Democrats understood how to reach that constituency….
Palin can more than keep up with the Democrats in appealing to voters’ emotions…. Palin is “View”-ready, she’s “Ellen”-ready, she’s Kelly-and-Michael-ready.
Likewise, when it comes to winning over less wealthy voters, Allen seems to think they are all suckers. Allen enthuses, “Hardly anyone could be more blue collar than Palin, out on the fishing boat with her hunky blue-collar husband, Todd.” Hardly anyone, that is, except for someone who is actually blue collar. “Blue collar” workers are those who perform manual labor that does not require a bachelor’s degree: janitors, firefighters, auto workers, plumbers. Palin is a college educated multimillionaire. Before going into politics she was a local TV sportscaster. Palin was not even raised in a blue collar family. Her father was also a college educated professional, a school teacher. Palin is upper class and white collar.
Allen’s false assertion about Palin is revealing. For many conservatives, class is not determined by objective measurements such as income, occupation or education. Rather it is a set of cultural affectations. If you fish and can’t name a single newspaper you read, you’re blue collar, since “blue collar” is, in this usage, just a shorthand for what conservatives deem to be a typical white American.
But this usage is bogus. It is arbitrary and loaded with its own kind of cultural snobbery. Many working class people don’t live in rural areas and don’t go fishing. If I wrote, “Hardly anyone could be more blue collar than Barack Obama, out on the basketball court,” no one would take that seriously, least of all Charlotte Allen. Nor should they. Where I am from, far more blue-collar people play basketball than fish. But that doesn’t make every basketball player blue collar.
More importantly, it does not say anything about how Obama’s, or Palin’s, policies affect blue-collar workers and their families. Allen thinks blue-collar voters care more about whether a politician shares their hobbies than his or her policies. If Palin runs on the Romney-Ryan platform of turning Medicare into a voucher system to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy will blue-collar voters support her? Allen, from her contemptuous and haughty perch, thinks they will, because all they care about is whether a candidate looks good in a fishing boat. Whether or not conservatives who think this way are destined to lose is debatable, but they undoubtedly deserve to.
For more right-wing delusions about what really lost them the election, check out Eric Alterman’s latest column.