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Kathleen Parker, the widely syndicated newspaper columnist, is owed a huge apology. The person who ought to make it? Red State’s Erick Erickson, among many others. The nominal subject is Sarah Palin, but this story isn’t ultimately about her — it’s about how folks engaged in political disagreements ought to behave towards one another. And the consequences when they don’t.
In late September of 2008, Parker wrote the most controversial piece of her career, declaring in National Review that the GOP had a problem, and her name was Sarah Palin.
Misremembered as a vicious take-down, the column actually took pains to pay the then Alaska governor a series of extravagant compliments. “Palin’s narrative is fun, inspiring and all-American in that frontier way we seem to admire,” Parker wrote. “When Palin first emerged as John McCain’s running mate, I confess I was delighted. She was the antithesis and nemesis of the hirsute, Birkenstock-wearing sisterhood — a refreshing feminist of a different order who personified the modern successful working mother.” Parker went on to declare that Palin has “common sense,” that she is possessed of “executive experience,” that she’s a “quick study,” that she is “gracious, charming, and disarming,” and that the critics “who attacked her personally deserved some of the backlash they received.”
But Parker also picked apart the many problems with Palin’s candidacy. “She doesn’t know enough about economics and foreign policy to make Americans comfortable with a President Palin,” Parker wrote. Her fumbling television interviews with Katie Couric, Charlie Gibson and Sean Hannity showed that she was “Clearly Out Of Her League.” She “repeats words, filling space with deadwood.” And most polemically, “if BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.”
Those criticisms, paired with the assertion that the McCain campaign would be better off if it could replace Palin, made national headlines, and left many conservative observers apoplectic. A couple months later, when Red State’s Erick Erickson announced that he was starting a “leper colony” for conservatives who criticized Palin, he mentioned that Parker was one of the names on the list he was keeping of folks to shun. A lot of people have since forgotten about that list.
But it’s the first thing I thought of when I saw Erickson’s latest:
For the past year, Palin fans have become an online fixture with more venom and insanity than the most rabid Ron Paul fan. They have not evangelized on behalf of Sarah Palin trying to lead people to Sarah Palin, they have freaked a lot of us out.
I am at the point of fearing that should Palin not get in the race we’re going to have a Hale Bopp moment with many of her most ardent supporters. These people have become too emotionally invested in one person to discuss that person rationally or even to address serious policy concerns… To not bow at the throne of Sarah you get disowned. You get attacked. You have people drum up stories attacking your credibility.
Here’s Leon Wolf, also writing at Red State:
I have given up trying to convince Sarah Palin’s supporters that I am not and have never been an enemy of Sarah Palin; no matter how mild of a criticism I offer of her and no matter how liberally sprinkled with praise, her remaining followers will be convinced that I have always been part of a “GOP Establishment” conspiracy to tear Palin down, despite the fact that I have never lived or worked in DC, or worked for a sitting member of Congress, or any national or state party committee. As the kids say these days, “it is whatever”; long-time readers of this blog will know that if Sarah Palin has lost me (and she has), then she is doing it wrong.
The spectacular mismanagement of Sarah Palin’s fame and political clout has turned what could have been a decades-long career as an influencer of Republican politics into a train wreck that has gone on for so long that even the macabre has become blase and disinteresting. With only a touch more finesse, Palin could have re-emerged periodically again and again; sadly, instead, this seems destined to be her only go-round, which she is milking for every cent it is worth, until the point where almost everyone wishes she would just go away.
Here’s Ann Coulter, also speaking in the last couple of days:
She’s just “The One” to a certain segment of right wingers. And the tiniest criticism of her — I think many of your viewers may not know this. No conservative on TV will criticize Palin, because they don’t want to deal with the hate mail. You know, you say her voice is a few octaves too high or perhaps Michele Bachmann’s speaking voice is more modulated, and you will be inundated with enraged e-mails and letters…
You know, we used to all love Sarah Palin, conservatives like me, for her enemies. I’m starting to dislike her because of her fans. And she does get things wrong. She wouldn’t have to. I think she’s bright, but she doesn’t — her good points do not seem to be in the direction of running for president. Just like Newt Gingrich, you just go ahead and run so we can get this over with.
Sarah Palin is taking heat at the Ace of Spades as well.
What’s going on here? This is what it looks like when the hard right starts to abandon one of its own. And it’s only fair for early Palin skeptics to say, with a politeness these figures never exhibited, “I told you so — told you that the zealous support for Palin was largely irrational, that she has serious flaws as a politician, that she isn’t electable to high office, that her victim complex is unhealthy, and that her influence on the right will ultimately do more harm than good.”
When Kathleen Parker warned about Palin’s shortcomings, it was Erickson who behaved in exactly the unhinged way that he is now experiencing at the hands of other Palin supporters. If not for thousands of people with an Ann Coulter mindset (the enemy of a liberal is my friend), Palin wouldn’t have her current base of support for a presidential run. As much as any other outlet, Red State brought about the Palin phenomenon in all its dysfunction and ultimate uselessness.
Erickson. Coulter. Ace of Spades. Leon Wolf. These are the sorts of people — indeed they are the very individuals — who draw on tribal loyalty and employ vitriol to enforce political orthodoxies. Amazingly, they seem genuinely shocked that a pathological culture impervious to reason now exists around Palin, as if a movement that began with critics being assigned to a virtual leper colony could end any other way. Loath as these people are to admit it, Kathleen Parker was right all along. So was Daniel Larison and David Brooks (and to be frank, I was as prescient as anyone).
So will these folks behave better next time, grappling with critiques of their favorite candidates, rather than dismissing them as bad faith or irrelevant because they’re shared by liberals or offered by heretics?
Time will tell.
Thanks to Connor Friedersdorf writing for The Atlantic