Sunday, November 28, 2010

I Take Exceptionalism

Is Hugh Hewitt (in his review of her new book) saying that those who don't support Sarah Palin are anti-American?:
"America by Heart" is an upbeat, positive affirmation of traditional American values. I have often thought and said that not since Richard Nixon can any Republican divide a room more quickly than Sarah Palin, and this is because she is so completely the anti-anti-American, totally comfortable with and confident in her assertion of American exceptionalism.


MK said...

Both the Hewitt items to which you recently linked suggest to me someone crouched down and writing from a defensive posture in a corner, rather than standing confidently in the middle of a room, nodding welcome to all who come in. What’s up with that? I know Hewitt only as the man who said researchers would be screened at the Nixon library, a defensive posture if ever there was one. And from fragments of his comments I’ve seen elsewhere. And by inference in Andrew Sullivan’s well named and Hewitt Awards.

Hewitt’s review of SP’s book was fascinating in its inherent rejection of American exceptionalism. One cannot praise exceptionalism but at the same time reject key elements of what contributes to it. In writing about anti-anti-Americanism the way he did, the joke is on Hewitt, although he may not realize it. It is laughable to use the term “unified theory of America” and “coastal elites” in the same review. (Ouch! Denigrating one’s fellow citizens hardly constitutes anti-anti-Americanism.) Again, as in his column about The New York Times article, Hewitt does the object of his defense no favors.

Hewitt’s review paints Palinism as something weak and lacking in confidence, based on “I can only be somebody if I consider you to be nobody.” The U.S. is a huge, pluralistic country made up of people from different regions and in many professions who have contributed in countless ways to its greatness. Hewitt picks out some easy stuff among those contributions to praise and ignores much of the tough stuff. The actual work of making things work well in America is very, very hard. Not only that, it requires courage and situational awareness. Instead of calling for a brave and honest look at what goes into Americanism, good and bad both, Hewitt ends his review by telling reviewers that Mommy has written a book that will make them feel “all better.” Is that really the best way to counter what he calls the abuse heaped on her at The View? Why hand her a crutch and say lean on it? Why not help her to lern how to walk strongly on her own, something I don't see her doing yet?

I used to think of the GOP as a party which had strong business elements and which drew on many people of faith. It’s fascinating to see how a core element of doing well as a businessman and as a Christian – analyzing one’s business processes and products or how one lives one’s life, identifying weaknesses as well as strengths, and working on improvement – is papered over by “hooray for our kind” “we’re good, they’re bad” boosterism in so much rightwing punditry. That is why I stopped reading National Review, to which I once subscribed, and why I never look in on The Corner. If I wanted cheerleading and tribalism, I’d go back to my high school for Homecoming and sit through a pep rally. I don’t need that as an adult, I left those days behind me long ago.

MK said...

I’m curious as to why Hewitt mentioned Palin’s son having served in the Army in Iraq and left it at that. So too have the sons of Democratic politicians, such as Joe Biden and Jim Webb. I think his review would have been stronger, and his belief in Palin would have come across better, had he mentioned that and linked her to the broader fabric of America rather than isolating her the way he did. It’s the failure to do things like that which leaves me scratching my head about conservative punditry these days.

As someone who once considered myself a proud Reagan conservative in my younger days, I’m fascinated by what has happened to the public face of conservatism since the 1980s. I say public face, because many of the conservatives I know in person don’t project the resentment and neediness of the Fox News Channel’s approach. To me, there’s something deeply insecure and unhappy about that FNC public face, which conservative ideology doesn’t warrant or deserve.

I’m currently reading Mike Wallace’s memoir, Between You and Me. (He largely writes well of RN, whose campaign he covered in 1968. He writes in his book that he even broke a pattern of voting Democratic until then by casting his ballot for RN for president in 1968.) Wallace describes a number of his interviews over the years, including one from 1957 with Eleanor Roosevelt. He then asked her about the harsh criticism directed at her by Westbrook Pegler.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s response gets to the heart of something I often wonder about as hear snatches of Fox and Limbaugh or read some of the less thoughtful conservative pundits. (Don’t get me wrong. I don’t write off all right leaning pundits as Beavis and Butthead, Frat Boy Cornerites, an eye rolling vibe that led me to stop reading The Corner a couple of years ago.) There are GOP pundits I respect, such as David Brooks, Michael Gerson, Bruce Bartlett, David Frum, and others.) Mrs. Roosevelt responded to Mike Wallace, “I think it must be terrible to hate as many things as Mr. Pegler hates. I would be unhappy, I think, and therefore I am afraid that he’s unhappy, and I’m sorry for him, because after all, we all grow older and we all have to live with ourselves, and I think that must sometimes be difficult for Mr. Pegler.”

I feel sorry for the people represented in public by the FNC and Limbaugh vision of conservatism. They deserve better. Perhaps a yet unseen younger generation of GOP pundits will find a better, more confident way to project their values than their elders have. One that doesn't involve so tightly clutching the "I can only be somebody if I consider you to be nobody" and rejecting huge swaths of the multi-threaded fabric of America.

Fr. John said...

Wow. Besides saying that I really look forward to your blog (as well as a book, perhaps, about the recent evolution of conservative thought), two thoughts, mainly to inspire you further!

Sometimes with Hugh, it sounds personal, don't you think?

Second, you might consider how Christian apocalypticism is coloring the emerging conservative world view.

I'm thinking of a couple of old-guard Manhattan elites -- a Roman Catholic who loved to sail and whose wife threw legendary parties (WFB) and a skeptical Quaker with an apartment on Fifth Ave. and a job at a blue-chip law firm. Did either of them ever think that their view of the world would ever become dominant? Did they see the world around them as being ontologically the other? Absolutely not. I'm thinking especially of Nixon's view of Palin's lamestream media, which was that he couldn't get enough of them, as a reader as well as someone who enjoyed the company (or at least the conversation) of journalists.

If you'd asked either of them about the future of politics, they'd have talked realistically and knowledgeably about the great American pendulum continuing to swing back and forth, right to left, boom to bust as the nation moved inexorably if incrementally in the right direction.

But this crowd, it's like they think they're leading us to the Kingdom. It's well known that one of the sources of Christian evangelicals' support for Israel has to do with what they believe the Bible says about the end times. How pervasive, I wonder, is end-time thinking among today's conservative elites?

More broadly, evangelicals like to say they are in the world without being of the world. Does that kind of thinking beget a certain kind of commentary and political action? Do the elite "ins" end up devaluing or even fearing the elites they consider "ofs"?