The segment of the Republican Party that I call the "conservo-lite" wing is mad at Sarah Palin. Maybe not so much mad as supremely contemptuous. These folks have been pretty upset over the pick of Palin as McCain’s VP nominee, some of them even going so far as asking her to step down — despite the damage that such a move would cause the party. Kathleen Parker, David Brooks, George Will, David Frum and others have announced their opposition to Palin and, consequently, their utter disdain for most of the members of their own party.
And now comes D.R. Tucker to tell us in his posting at Human Events that supporters of Palin are "causing a rift" that, if not healed, will "destroy" the conservative movement. Tucker thinks Ronald Reagan "must turn his head in disgrace" as he witnesses the party self-destructing over Palin.
But I don’t think Mr. Tucker realizes what it is he’s really seeing. We are not witnessing the destruction of the GOP but merely a highlighting of the factions that existed before Palin came upon the national scene. It’s a split that has been there since Ronald Reagan made his first bid against Ford in 1976. Palin is not the cause of the rift; she is merely a light exposing the fault lines.
When Ronald Reagan came into the national limelight, the old guard of the Republican Party turned up its collective nose. The Rockefeller Republicans, the bluebloods, and country club GOPers who were quite comfortable playing permanent second fiddle to the Democrat Party had always scoffed at the rise of the social and religious conservatives and the Reagan Democrats that saw the light of Reagan’s lamp. To this wing of the party, position and resume were what was important, not ideology or even votes, for that matter.
The instant Ronald Reagan began drawing into that big GOP tent more voters than ever before, the rift was created. Reagan welded together a coalition from the disparate parts of traditionally conservative leaning America. He awakened the religious conservatives that saw a culture war raging without being confronted, the economic conservatives that longed for capitalism in a sea of socialist re-engineering, and, of course, the old blueblood country clubbers that finally began to think they just might actually win something for a change (among a few other factions). This was the new Republican Party that was more than its parts, only strong together.
But there was one major problem. Much of the party was led by the effete bluebloods. They were the ones with the money and the ones with the previous experience in government when Reagan came to Washington. And they had disdain for all the other factions and fought to keep intact their power, despite the desires of the rest of their new party members. For the most part they have won that battle, sadly. Since day one the country clubbers haven’t been much interested in sharing.
Consequently, the truly conservative members of Congress have always had little real power. Even the brief shining moment of the Republican Revolution under Speaker Gingrich was ultimately as much bombast as it was real power. Since Reagan, and sans Gingrich, true conservatives have never had one of their own firmly seated in the driver’s seat. The conservo-lite Republicans have generally held sway since Ronald Reagan, even since before Eisenhower.
And now comes Sarah Palin, who represents that part of America with whom the country clubbers were always uncomfortable: often fiscally conservative, certainly socially conservative, not credentialed or of noted family background, not educated in Ivy League schools, but of the America that has had to fight its way to success, pulling itself up by the bootstraps every step of the way.
The Brookses and Wills of this country are quite happy to have the votes of Sarah Palin’s America, as long as they shut up about policy and don’t have the gall to offer themselves up as possible future leaders. The Parkers and Frums of the conservative side would rather the Sarah Palins of the party continue to know their place and silently nod their heads as their acknowledged betters do the heavy lifting of "real" leading.
Now, Mr. Tucker is correct that this infighting isn’t the prettiest thing in the world. It’s always difficult to see families fighting. But to imagine that it is somehow the end is just plain overwrought, nonsense. In fact, we need these internal debates. And when passions are high, it isn’t always possible to expect everyone to play by the Marques of Queensberry rules. People get mad. They yell. They might even go for an eye or slip a blow under the belt. In truth, the internal fight is healthy to the degree that what doesn’t destroy us makes us stronger.
There is one unseemly aspect of this fight that would be comical if it weren’t so hypocritical. That is the whining from the bluebloods like Wills or Parker when the rest of us dare to question their judgment.
I am not saying they should shut up never to be heard. They have every right to speak up and need to do so to keep our internal debate rolling along. We need all sides to be heard to continue the fight in the arena of ideas so that we can better serve the constituency and keep conservatism vital. Let’s face it, if it weren’t for the intellectuals of the conservative movement — those that built the foundation of critical thinking and philosophy of this movement — we wouldn’t even have a conservative party at all.
But, the hypocrisy reveals itself in the fact that the bluebloods have always held the majority of the power in this party and have generally won the battles for policy direction. They have rarely worked with the social conservatives, in fact most often working against them and siding with the Democrats on issues that "social cons" champion. And now, lo and behold, the social cons finally get one of theirs within striking distance and the bluebloods can’t take it. So, we end up with people like D. R. Tucker complaining that it’s the end of the Republican Party because of the argument.
The social cons have been swallowing junior status from the bluebloods for decades yet have continued to keep the faith, as one light-hearted conservo-lite after another has taken leadership positions. Lately we’ve seen Trent Lott, Bill Frist, and John Beohner, but the names go back in an endless string of half-hearted, go along to get along Republicans that don’t have the stomach to stand firm on conservative principles. Grumbling, but acquiescing, the social cons have stayed the course and supported the party for the greater good.
And now, for one of the first times in the party’s history, it is the country clubber’s turn to suck it up and give one to their partners. Sarah Palin is ours, George Will. Vote for her anyway, Kathleen Parker. Love it or lump it, Brooks and Krauthammer. We aren’t willing to turn you folks out over her, granted, but for once sit down, shut up, and observe Reagan’s 11th commandment. Take one for the GOP for a change. You can’t win EVERY time. Let it suffice that you have successfully kept three quarters of your own party under your thumb for decades, please.