Thursday, October 09, 2008

Brooks on Palin: "A fatal cancer to the Republican Party"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Far be it from me, your humble blogger, to disagree with the great David Brooks, distinguished New York Times columnist and leading conservative intellectual.

On Monday, at an event celebrating the redesign of The Atlantic magazine, Brooks said this, among other things:

[Sarah Palin] represents a fatal cancer to the Republican party. When I first started in journalism, I worked at the National Review for Bill Buckley. And Buckley famously said he'd rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. But he didn't think those were the only two options. He thought it was important to have people on the conservative side who celebrated ideas, who celebrated learning. And his whole life was based on that, and that was also true for a lot of the other conservatives in the Reagan era. Reagan had an immense faith in the power of ideas. But there has been a counter, more populist tradition, which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely. And I'm afraid that Sarah Palin has those prejudices. I think President Bush has those prejudices.

Whether or not conservative ideas are worth learning about, or lead to anything other than misery and mayhem, isn't the point, at least not at the moment. Rather, the point is that Brooks is right about Palin (and Bush).

He is also right about Obama, whose intellectualism and keen "social perception" he praised.

We'll have to wait to see if he's right with his prediction that Obama will win the election by nine points.

**********

Alright, alright, your humble blogger has indeed taken it upon himself to disagree with Brooks in the past -- and rather frequently at that.

For example -- in part a critique of a horrendously bad Brooks column on Palin's debate performance last week, her so-called "rebound."

Which is the real Brooks? The one who called her "a fatal cancer" at an Atlantic event or the one who, in the far more high-profile pages of the Times, called her "the fearless neighbor for the heartland bemused by the idiocies of Washington"?

David Brooks, you see, often plays the populist, mocking the coastal elites, the Bobos, the bohemian bourgeois, while celebrating the new everyman, Patio Man, and his wife, Realtor Mom, and the Sprawl People of Exurbia. Brooks may think of himself as a man of ideas, an intellectual conservative, and he may sometimes be, but he is also very much in, of, and about the "populist tradition" he so scorns. If anything, he often puts his intellectualism, his celebrated ideas, in the service of anti-intellectualism.

And where would modern conservatism be without (intellectualized) anti-intellectualism?

Where would it be -- both the conservative movement and the Republican Party -- without the anti-intellectual populists like Bush and Palin on one side and their intellectual advocates like Brooks on the other, the two sides inextricably linked and mutually reinforcing?

It may be a long way from Brooks's D.C.-area home to Crawford and Wasilla, but they're all in it together, the politicians and the pundits, the intellectuals and the anti-intellectuals, no matter how ardently Brooks may wish to distance himself from it -- and them -- when it is convenient to do so.

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