Thursday, September 4, 2008

Culture Wars, Episode I: The Palin Menace?

From Megan McArdle:
We might as well not bother to talk about policy issues in this campaign; we're now in all out culture war, with the coasts and the heartland fighting for control of Ohio.
I was taken aback by this but it's got a certain aroma of truth.

I think of myself as a moderate voter but I'm the first to admit that my core political instincts are conservative. My first solution to any problem is usually a conservative one. It's only after I've thought an issue through that I often moderate my positions.

So it was with some confusion that I reacted not only to the Palin speech (which I thought was the finest piece of political theater in quite a while) but to the Giuliani and Romney speeches as well. I thought the Romney speech, while not well delivered, had fine libertarian underpinnings and made a good case for reinvigorating the conservative-libertarian coalition. Since that horse was feeling poorly, it was nice to see that come to life.

I must also confess to being intellectually and economically more like those nasty Democratic "elites" than I am to those of what Megan calls "the heartland." And this is where she may have it wrong. Because one of the things I noticed about my reaction to Palin's speech is that it gave me an outlet for a repressed anger that I hadn't really admitted to feeling.

Part of that anger came from news coverage of Palin. The default assumption that she was an impulsive pick grated on me, even though there was a certain amount of evidence that it was much more a gut choice than it was a reasoned one. But the media oozed a smugness that was intensely off-putting. And the more I simmered in that weak broth of media condescension, the more I realized that that same smugness pervades the Obama campaign. Even though I think that Obama is even to slightly better on the issues, I resent his camp's implicit assumption that they've got all the answers and anybody who doesn't agree with them is an idiot. (They're clearly not devotees of self-organizing systems.) Despite all of Obama's platitudes, he hasn't dispelled that vague, patronizing haze that surrounds him and his advisers. They're all just a bit too big for their breeches, just a little too self-inflated.

Palin was able to puncture the puffery and, in so doing, she changed the dynamic of the race, simultaneously reinforcing the GOP's best negative attack on the Democrats while breathing new life into the small-government philosophy that is the best part of conservatism. I'm not sure this qualifies as reigniting the culture wars, though. Ultimately, I think that she, Romney, and Giuliani reminded us that small, bottom-up solutions to our problems work better than the grand, top-down schemata that big-government afficionados favor. That sounds more like fundamental political philosophy to me than anything else. If that makes it a culture war, then bring it on.

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