Why don't some conservative columnists write what they really think about Sarah Palin?
As somebody who gets paid to put his opinions in print every day, I’ve always thought columnists have one overarching duty to their readers and the profession:
Our goal is to channel our convictions, values and perspectives into compelling arguments, respecting facts and contrary views. Even when that means something you normally champion lands in your cross hairs.
Which is why I have found the story of conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks’ latest controversy so disappointing. Because, even though Brooks dislikes GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin enough that he told an audience in New York City she was a “fatal cancer” who is “not even close” to being ready for the job she’s seeking, he hasn’t yet outlined those observations in the biggest venue available to him: his newspaper column.
Even in his latest column chiding the GOP for turning its strategy against liberal intellectuals into an assault on all intellectuals, Brooks doesn't get around to criticizing Palin until the 14th paragraph of a 16-paragraph column.
"Nobody so relentlessly divides the world between the 'normal Joe Sixpack American' and the coastal elite," he says in his strongest line, after noting Palin is "smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable." That doesn't really compare to the "fatal cancer" line.
And Brooks isn’t the only conservative pundit tamping down disdain for Palin.
Back in September, when Palin was first selected, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan let her true feelings show when she thought the cameras were off after an appearance with GOP strategist Mike Murphy on MSNBC.
“I think they went for this –- excuse me -– political b---s--- about narratives,” she tells Murphy, noting later “It’s over.”
But what did she say after Palin’s debate performance Oct. 2 –- an appearance marked by the candidate’s early promise that she wouldn’t necessarily answer questions she didn’t like and a marked aversion to any response that wasn’t delivered as a finely crafted talking point?
“She killed,” Noonan said on NBC after the debate concluded. “It was her evening. She was the star. She had it at ‘Hey nice to meet you. Can I call you Joe?’”
Is this the same Noonan who wrote so presciently about the primaries and recently pleaded on Meet the Press for candidates not to descend into a mud-slinging hell?
Surprisingly, the American people have shown clearer judgment, with poll numbers indicating that, although people liked her style, opponent Joe Biden gave better answers.
Noonan and Brooks aren’t the sort of Sean Hannity-style, fire-breathing conservatives who line up at McCain rallies, angry and flabbergasted that a Democrat with a foreign-sounding name is slowly overcoming the GOP machine.
But they’re practicing a form of intellectual dishonesty common among this crowd -– which values winning above all, even when championing a candidate like McCain, who can’t necessarily be trusted to govern the way many conservatives would support, anyway.
I'm sure there are some who will call me on similar grounds, saying I've shown too much deference to Obama. But when he started giving the press the cold shoulder in the primaries, I criticized him for continuing a most unwelcome legacy from both the Clinton and Bush administrations.
That’s why I was heartened to read a recent column by Wick Allison, former publisher of the National Review and editor of D magazine in Dallas; a conservative who says he now supports Obama because so many politicians claiming to be conservative have failed him.
It’s an argument I’ve made to many conservative friends: Liberals shouldn’t be the most upset with the way Bush/Rove-style Republicans have run this country into a ditch. That’s a job for true conservatives.
We have the largest expansion of government in history. The largest budget deficits in history. The most costly war in history. And a presidential candidate who still wants to hand out tax cuts in the middle of all this red ink.
As Allison wrote: “This kind of conservatism, which is not conservative at all, has produced financial mismanagement, the waste of human lives, the loss of moral authority, and the wreckage of our economy that McCain now threatens to make worse.”
Now that’s intellectual honesty. And I think I’d say that regardless of which candidate Allison was supporting.
Wonder why Brooks and Noonan couldn’t manage something like that?