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Contentions

Check Google First, Then Your Cynicism

Along with George Will, Heather Mac Donald, and Matt Labash, I made some comments to Politico that were critical of Sarah Palin. The story bounced around the political world a bit. And among the criticisms directed at me is this one by Daniel Larison of the American Conservative:

As long as she was useful prior to the midterms, the institutions, magazines, and leaders of the movement not only tolerated her, but actively promoted her and gave her typically glowing coverage. Those that couldn’t bring themselves to praise her went out of their way not to criticize her. Now that Palin may represent a political threat to Republican chances of regaining the White House, they are suddenly very concerned about her impact on the quality of conservative argument. Their concern would be interesting if it weren’t so belated and narrowly focused on Palin.

Just for the fun of it, I checked a piece I wrote for the New York Times on July 9, 2009. And lo and behold, here’s what I wrote:

[Palin] has done enormous damage to herself since her single shining moment: her acceptance speech at the Republican Convention in early September. In interviews she has come across as unable to offer up more than a sound bite argument on virtually any issue (with the exception of energy). She seems to have memorized answers rather than thought through issues. She doesn’t seem able to articulate a core philosophy. And her announcement that she would not complete her term as governor was rambling and at times incoherent. She strikes me as terribly out of sync with the needs of this moment.

The G.O.P. is at low ebb; rebuilding its reputation depends on emerging public figures who are conservative and principled, who radiate intellectual depth and calmness of purpose, who come across as irenic rather than agitated, competent and reliable rather than erratic and uneven … even those of us who were disposed to like her cannot deny that her public appearances have generally ranged from mediocre to awful. She’s had more than a handful of chances to show her stuff; what we’ve seen has not been reassuring, and at times alarming. If Sarah Palin becomes the face and future of the G.O.P., it would take a huge step toward securing its position as a minority party for many years to come.

This post — written 16 months before the 2010 midterm election — probably didn’t strike Ms. Palin or her supporters as “glowing praise” or an attempt to actively promote her.

What Larison is doing is standard fare for our political culture — ascribing cynical motivations to those whom he doesn’t especially like. It’s a trivial example of those who habitually turn every political difference into a referendum on character. This is an easy if somewhat petty game to play. But if you do decide to play it, it helps if your core argument isn’t demolished by a Google search.


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