Palin and Her (Conservative) Critics

Over at TNR, Michael Schaffer argues that conservative pundits can't have it both ways: You can't simultaneously defend Sarah Palin from liberal snobbery and critique her for seeming unprepared to be vice president, he suggests; either you're in favor of elitism, or you're against it. Of Palin-doubting conservatives (myself included), Schaffer wonders "what, exactly, these bright folks think will help her do better, or hasten the day when a national candidacy is not in fact 'too much.' The answer is obvious: exposure to the worldly people, issues, and institutions of Washington and the world beyond it." And then, riffing off David Brooks' line that a lot of Palin's liberal critics object to her on the grounds that "she has never summered in Tuscany" (which I think was meant as humorous hyperbole), Schaffer suggests that actually, if Palin did summer in Tuscany, she'd probably have "an easier time" with conservative pundits "than the Italy-free version currently on the hustings."

In some cases, he may be right: Conservative elites aren't immune to straightforward class-based snobbery, especially when it dovetails with their own allegiances; witness, say, the contempt for Mike Huckabee's general Dogpatch air among certain Romney, McCain and Rudy-supporting members of the right-wing punditocracy. And Schaffer's certainly right that the line between an elitism that holds politicians to high standards and an "elitism of snobbery and style" can get blurry quickly. But that doesn't mean the line itself isn't worth drawing. It should be possible to believe that Palin's resume and background don't disqualify her from holding high office, that someone can be a fine President without prolonged exposure to life inside the Beltway, and that "elite experience" is not the only experience that's germane to governing the United States ... while simultaneously believing (as I do) that Palin's interviews to date haven't instilled confidence in her readiness to govern. The belief that populism has a place in American politics does not require a belief that every populist candidate should be uncritically supported; and the belief that one can acquire political wisdom outside Washington does not absolve an outsider candidate of the obligation to demonstrate that they have wisdom, as well as talking points, to fall back on.

Like Michael Gerson, I would rather be governed by a "backwoods, religious no-name" like William Jennings Bryan than by many of the sophisticates who baited him; like Ralph Peters, I think it's good for American democracy to throw up leaders whose life experience encompasses start-up churches and strip-mall suburbs, and who attended schools like the University of Idaho rather than the upper-crust institutions that have produced every President since Reagan. But supporting "Great Commoners"  when they appear, and pining for them when they don't, doesn't mean that any candidate who happens to be a commoner and a conservative merits automatic support from right-wing pundits (which is more or less the subtext of a rant like this one, which takes a sledgehammer to "northeast corridor conservatives" for their Palin-skepticism), or that conservatives are hypocrites - and snobs who just don't want to admit to the designation - if they support the idea of candidates like Sarah Palin while remaining skeptical about Palin herself.