Thursday, November 13, 2008


Josh Marshall quote a reader today cheering the staying power of Palin, saying that he "quite agrees" that from a partisan perspective, "the more Palin the better," as he believes it will prolong the GOP's season in the wilderness.

I disagree.

The real threat is not Palin. The real threat is Palinism, that is, the destruction of what Kevin yesterday refered to as "consensual cultural barrier" against the nomination for President of persons that are fundamentally uninterested in and uninformed about national policy at nearly every level. 

A meaningful democracy requires not just a set of formal rules about political behavior, concerning voting, apportionment and the like. That's the easy part about democracy; anyone can write a constitution and some election laws. But those laws aren't worth a thing if you don't have deep culturally-rooted norms about political decency.

(This inisight is available to anyone who has ever taken a Comparative Politics course, even if it was unavailable to the neocons who decided that it was a good idea to try to democratize the Middle East at gunpoint.)

What's so insidious about Palin -- or rather, Palinism -- is that it's yet one more example of how the GOP has systematically set out to destroy  the basic political-cultural norms that are required to make democracy work. These are norms that cannot be legislated, but must be in place in order for democracy to function. Concepts like "a loyal opposition"; the idea that mobs and judges should not interfere in recounts; the idea that wars should not be sold to the public on false pretenses; the idea that transparency is an essentially desirable element in politics; or the idea that policy knowledge and competence are table stakes for senior political leadership. Again, none of those things can be legislated--they have to exist as norms. And norms only exist when everyone (or anyway, an unquestionable majority) tacitly agrees not to violate them.

The longer Palin lingers as a legitimate presence within the GOP, the more it undermines the cultural-political norm that policy knowledge and competence are table stakes for senior political leadership--a crucial political-cultural norm. That she can be taken seriously is a disaster, even if she personally fails. The fact that she is being take seriously is a terrible precedent. Know Nothingism (for Palin is the direct heir of that venrable tradition in American politics) needs to be quashed. I wouldn't blithely assume that it will sink under its own weight.

The GOP is steadily squeezing the norms of civility and decency out of the tube of democracy. Once that tube is empty, it isn't worth a thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Andrew Sullivan had a good piece on Palin a few days back.
It'll be interesting watching the GOP 'rebrand' itself in the coming years. A lot of the things I've seen recently (including a piece in Salon a couple of days ago) talk a great deal about returning to fiscal conservatism, smaller government etc, but say little about the social conservatism that inspires the Palinist/Know Nothing element of the party. Party elders seem to be grasping that they've made a deal with the devil, as the changing social climate and demographics would seem to work against pandering to the cretinism of the hard right.
I still can't help wondering if McCain would have won if he'd run as a moderate conservative. I know his consultants said he couldn't win without veering right, but I'm not so sure. The prospect of a President Obama might have been enough for social conservatives to hold their noses and vote for him, as long as he gave them some tokens (esp. holding the line on abortion). Who knows?