Matt Lewis

Pushing Back on Politico’s Sarah Palin Hit

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

Politico’s recent column, “Palin ‘becoming Al Sharpton‘” was predictably controversial.  Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh devoted significant time to it on his show both Monday and Tuesday.

While the Sharpton analogy was obviously a good media hook, the truly interesting debate relates to whether or not Palin is experiencing (as they put it) a “backlash, not from liberals but from some of the country’s most influential conservative commentators and intellectuals.”

Among the most prominent names cited by Politico (to reinforce this narrative) were conservative columnists George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer.

These are big names and smart people, but it’s also worth noting that their disapproval of Palin is certainly not a new phenomenon.

Writing in the Weekly Standard way back in September of 2008, Steven F. Hayward noted (in words similar to Politico’s) that: “Doubts about Palin have come not just from the left but from across the political spectrum, some of them from conservatives like David Frum, Charles Krauthammer, and George Will.”

If Will and Krauthammer were critical of Palin back in September of 2008, it is hard to argue that any of the actions cited as cause for backlash against Palin (“identity politics,” populism, calling the Bushes “blue bloods,” using the term “blood libel,” etc.) are to blame.

Whatever Will and Krauthammer don’t like about Palin, they saw pretty early.  This, I think, is telling.

Speaking of Steven F. Hayward — as a Ph.D., author and F. K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at The American Enterprise Institute — he certainly qualifies as an “intellectual.”

Hayward emailed me yesterday, saying: “I came to [Palin’s] defense right after she was named in 2008 … and I think this article still holds up right.”  (Of course, like other intellectuals who may like Palin, Hayward was not cited by Politico).

In his 2008 column, Hayward sought to explain why some elites like Will and Krauthammer dislike Palin:

Part of what bothers the establishment about Palin is her seeming insouciance toward public office. Her success with voters, and in national office, would be an affront and a reproach to establishment self-importance. Anyone who affects making it look easy surely lacks gravitas and must not grasp the complexity or depth of modern political problems. Partly this is the self-justification for establishment institutions and attitudes, but partly it represents the substantive view that the size and complexity of modern government require a level of expertise beyond the reach of ordinary citizens. Some of the doubts about Palin are doubts about self-government itself.

As someone who has both praised and criticized Palin, I have some additional theories as to why some intellectuals may be turned off by her.

First, it is important to distinguish between different types of criticism.  For example, my criticism of Palin has almost always been based on strategy and tactics — not on her political philosophy.  For example, assuming it is true that Roger Ailes advised her against making the “blood libel” video, I would tend to agree (both because my gut told me it was a bad idea — and also because I would always defer to Ailes on matters regarding image and media).

Lacking political sagacity is, in my estimation, not a disqualifying factor for a politician in the way that being wrong philosophically would be.

Second, I just finished editing a book called “The Quotable Rogue” (due out in late June).  This is essentially a collection of some of the best Sarah Palin quotes.

What I learned from going through this process is that — in print — Palin’s quotes read much more eloquently than I would have imagined.  This leads me to conclude that Palin’s folksy style, Alaskan accent, and vocal tone may be contributing factors in regards to the negative perceptions about her.

Could it be that east coast elites are simply turned off by someone who doesn’t sound like they live in New York or Washington, DC?