I'd like to examine the state of the Republican Party in February 2009, with a particular focus on two individuals who recently have been deified by "the base," and evaluate exactly what that says about the GOP as a whole.
Joe Wurzelbacher, better known as "Joe the Plumber," appeared today as a panelist at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. The topic? New media strategies to shape the future of conservatism. In case you discount CPAC as some sort of fringe convention, President Bush and Vice-President Cheney were the guests of honor last year.
Wurzelbacher was literally an overnight sensation, as he confronted Barack Obama in a rope line at an October campaign event, and asked Obama about the tax burden levied by his platform. Wurzelbacher's question elicited Obama's infamous "spread the wealth around remark," which lit a spark under the McCain campaign and raised eyebrows about the Changemaker's view of the role of government.
McCain's team gleefully invoked Wurzelbacher's name hundreds of times over the next few weeks, attempting (with a moderate deal of success) to paint Obama as a typical redistributionist liberal. "Joe the Plumber" was a campaign message -- a metaphor for middle class Americans -- used to reflected the Hopemonger's subscription to many of the same failed economic policies that have driven western Europe into a perpetual recession.
Wurzelbacher's 15 minutes should have been up weeks before the election. Instead, subsequent to his encounter with Obama, he appeared on the CBS Evening News, Good Morning America, three shows on FOX News and multiple campaign rallies alongside McCain and Sarah Palin.
Wurzelbacher has now inked a book deal. "Joe the Plumber -- Fighting for the American Dream" already has been sent to a number of media outlets for advance release. In January, Pajamas Media, a conglomeration of high-profile conservative blogs, made Wurzelbacher a foreign war correspondent, in which he reported directly from Israel. And as noted above, Wurzelbacher today appeared at CPAC.
The second individual for consideration is Gov. Palin herself.
Putting aside Palin's political predilections for the moment -- and even your personal opinions about her performance during the campaign -- what is it about Palin that so galvanizes the base?
The late William Buckley -- the undisputed godfather of modern conservatism -- hired a young David Brooks at the National Review the mid-1980s, and as Buckley entered the twilight of his life, the two men developed a close relationship. Brooks had this to say about the great man:
"His entire life was a celebration of urbane values, sophistication, and the rigorous and constant application of intellect. Driven by a need to engage elite opinion, conservatives tried to build an intellectual counterestablishment with think tanks and magazines. They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not disdain the idea of a cultivated mind."
In October, Sarah Palin referred to small town in Virginia as "the real America" and one of the "pro-America areas of this great nation." It was a remarkable statement. And it was blatant, shameless, ignorant pandering.
I am friends with many Democrats. And any suggestion that these people -- or left-of-center politicians such as Bob Casey, Jim Webb or Joe Biden -- love their country any less than small-town Americans is outrageous.
And it's either demagoguery, or it's staggering ignorance.
Sarah Palin asks her supporters to believe that there are two kinds of Americans: wholesome, hard-working Americans from the heartland; and secular, overeducated intellectuals on the coasts. I agree with Brooks' assessment that Palin's attitude evinces the fact that Republicans' disdain for stuffy, intellectual elites like Michael Dukakis and John Kerry has inexplicably grown into a disdain for intellectuals generally.
Sarah Palin shamelessly reverses the same cultural and class warfare of the media elites that she so derides. This kind of cultural warfare is no better than the "cultural condescension" peddled by the likes of Kerry, Krugman, Dowd, et al. that is so pervasive in modern liberalism.
If you think otherwise, it's time to put down the kool-aid.
In 1984, Ronald Reagan won every state in the union but Walter Mondale's home state of Minnesota. This means that Reagan took California, Oregon, Illinois and the entire northeast. What he built was a conservative movement rooted in salt-of-the-earth ideals that resonated from coast to coast.
Somewhere between Reagan's staggering 49-state take in 1984 and Sarah Palin's acidic October remarks, the Republican Party has managed to isolate virtually every educated swath of the electorate and intellectual area of the country.
We discussed this several weeks ago regarding Rush Limbaugh's staggering influence in the conservative movement and the utter lack of a marketplace of ideas in Republican circles. After an enormous electoral trouncing, how can the party better itself if intellectuals with sophisticated ideas not only aren't given a voice, but are scorned?
And how can it continue to sustain the poisonous cultural-warfare message belted out by Palin, et al.? What type of undecided voter is attracted to such an idea?
As long as moderate voters see the likes of Limbaugh, Palin and Wurzelbacher as conservatism's faces and opinion-makers, the Republican Party will continue to languish in the wilderness.
For now, this is a party that is so far off of the tracks that it's beyond laughable.
UPDATE: Friday, February 27, 2009 at 1:05 p.m.: Yesterday, the affable Mr. Wurzelbacher made the following remarks:
"Back in the day, really, when people would talk about our military in a poor way, somebody would shoot 'em. And there'd be nothing said about that, because they knew it was wrong."
Un. Freaking. Believable.
This, kids, is called fascism.
Once again, the level of sheer, unadulterated ignorance is beyond staggering.
Hat tip: Donklephant.