By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

How the right went wrong

Brilliant essay in the Wall Street Journal on how conservatives squandered their authority by embracing know-nothing populism — culminating in their fatal embrace of Sarah Palin. Mark Lilla says of the right’s anti-intellectual intellectuals:

They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them.

You should definitely read the whole thing. (Via Hub Blog.)

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.


Linking and journalistic credibility


Let’s hear it for DiMasi (again)


  1. tvoh

    A certain discernment is necessary here. Such a blanket statement is goofy. After all, LTCM had not one, but two Nobelistas and how did that work out?I spend a lot of time in the Peoples Republic of Amherst. High intellectual discourse this past fall consisted mainly of Sarah Palin jokes. Yeah, she is a bit of a primitive, but she turned out to know Africa is a continent as well as how many states there are. Somehow they never got around to mocking Joe Biden.Just because the Republicans might have an anti-intellectual streak doesn’t mean being a being a Democrat makes you a philosopher king.And if you screamed “yes we can” you haven’t left adolescence.

  2. Neil

    “I spend a lot of time in the Peoples Republic of Amherst. High intellectual discourse this past fall consisted mainly of Sarah Palin jokes.”A certain discernment is necessary here. Such a blanket statement is goofy.

  3. tvoh

    “A certain discernment is necessary here. Such a blanket statement is goofy.”Good point Neil, we agree. I shall amend it thus,I spend a lot of time in the Peoples Republic of Amherst. High intellectual discourse this past fall consisted mainly of Sarah Palin jokes amongst the denizens I ran into. Of course, I do not extend this to everyone in Happy Valley. I would guess that many area residents reacted with equal glee to the words of Joe Biden.As you only disagreed with a small part of the comment, I am glad we see eye to eye on the rest.

  4. Joel Monka

    The election was a referendum on Bush, no more, no less. If know-nothing populism is dead, how did prop 8 pass?

  5. tvoh

    Prop 8 lost among whites. It won among Blacks big and Latinos, but not as much. African America votes welfare for candidates and reactionary on some social issues.Of course, blaming the Mormons and the Papists is how it is being played out.

  6. Steve

    More on a similar topic from Kathleen Parker in WaPo. But she blames the religious fundies:As Republicans sort out the reasons for their defeat, they likely will overlook or dismiss the gorilla in the pulpit.Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D.I’m bathing in holy water as I type.To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn’t soon cometh.

  7. Don, American

    Given a choice between “know-nothing” and “thinks he/she knows everything,” I could elect the former.

  8. zadig

    Don, false dichotomy is no way to run an argument.I wouldn’t vote for a know-nothing or someone who thinks he/she knows everything. I voted for Obama, who actually knows quite a bit and demonstrated that, and knows where to go for what he doesn’t know (Biden VP, for example).I actually keep thinking that the Republicans have peaked in their embrace of willful ignorance, only to see it surpassed every time. Electing Bush, denying global climate change, insisting Schiavo would be just fine, Iraq had WMDs — they just keep exceeding themselves. Sarah Palin looks like they peaked again, but I’m sure it will keep on going.

  9. Steve

    Anyone who is against the climate is going to be defeated eventually.

  10. O-FISH-L

    I guess we’re expected to forget that McCain-Palin were ahead in the polls until McCain’s catastrophic response to the economic meltdown in September. McCain needed only to vehemently oppose the bailout and attach the crisis like a burning tire necklace (a la Winnie Mandela) around the throats of Obama, Frank, Dodd, Waters, Raines et al while switching every campaign ad to “I warned the Democrats this would happen” and he would have kept the lead, or as Dick Morris said in late October, “McCain would be up by 10% if he opposed the bailout.”Instead, McCain responded haphazardly, looking panicked while Obama gracefully tap-danced to his own advantage. Then, in what was rightfully portrayed as an anti-climatic defeat, McCain ultimately did exactly what Obama did. McCain never regained the lead. Critics who pinpoint the defeat to populist conservatism before blaming McCain are simply trying to effect massive renovations when only minor tweaking will do. Sort of reminds me of the spouse who demands a new house because the faucet is dripping.

  11. Doug Shugarts

    You gentlemen need to read Charlie Cook’s post-election data and analysis concerning the state of the GOP. From his recent article that appeared in the National Journal:Republicans have lost an enormous amount of support among upscale [educated] voters, basically just breaking even among those with household incomes above $50,000 a year, a traditional GOP stronghold. Similarly, McCain’s losing to Obama among college graduates and voters who have attended some college underscores how much the GOP franchise is in trouble. My hunch is that the Republican Party’s focus on social, cultural, and religious issues — most notably, fights over embryonic-stem-cell research and Terri Schiavo — cost its candidates dearly among upscale voters.

  12. jvwalt

    Fish: Tell ya what, go ahead and nominate Sarah Palin in 2012 and we’ll see whether know-nothing populism can carry the day. The truth about McCain’s fall is a lot more complicated than his ham-handed reaction to the Wall Street meltdown. First, he was severely hampered by the failure of Bush’s Presidency and the resultant damage to the Republican brand. Then, the only time he got close to Obama was during his predictable post-convention bump, which was magnified by the intrigue over Palin. Then a bunch of things went wrong. The post-convention bump smoothed out, and that effect was magnified by Palin’s extremely limited and disastrous performances in interviews and other uncontrolled situations — thus scaring off a lot of independent voters. Debate viewers saw all the debates as clear wins for the Dems. And yes, McCain fumbled the Wall Street crisis. Afterward, his campaign clung desperately to a vapid set of tactics: flimsy Obama attacks and Joe the Plumber hagiography. It was a combination of all those factors that brought McCain down. And it’s pretty clear that Palin hurt the ticket more than she helped it.

  13. Tunder

    Dick Morris!?!Good God, o-fish, do you get your news from anywhere besides FOX and Rush Limbaugh?The economic crisis certainly helped Obama, but the train-wreck that is/was Sarah Palin proved to be disasterous. Look at all of the polls about her effect on the ticket.By the way, very tasteful refence to “tire necklace” and the images that invokes. Way to go…

  14. theresa

    It seems to me, historically, that the incumbent has managed to maintain the appearance of economic stability long enough so that the consequences of his fiscal policy implode on the next Administration. Bush’s failure to maintain his House of Cards seems to have pre-empted McCain’s campaign strategy of resurrecting a Vietnam referendum. What else did he have to sell?Since Republicans have told me that they refused to vote for McCain because of Palin, let’s not blame Democrats for her downfall when, in fact FOX has been the most willing to erect the pyre. Palin convinced many undecideds not to vote for McCain. You betcha!

  15. Dunwich

    You know you are in the wilderness when operatives are worried that the Obama puppy choice, will solidify the dog-lover vote as well. These are times that try men’s souls.

  16. Ani

    While I don’t disagree with these analyses of what’s gone wrong with the GOP, there’s also the problem of what’s gone wrong with the attempts at leadership by people like Alan Greenspan — it ain’t just about ignorance, stupidity, and populism.

  17. mike_b1

    Among presidential races with effectively two candidates, Obama won by the largest margin of victory in 20 years, and o-fish thinks “minor tweaking” is all that is needed.Enjoy your wet house.hehehe

  18. tvoh

    “I voted for Obama, who actually knows quite a bit and demonstrated that, and knows where to go for what he doesn’t know (Biden VP, for example).”C’mon, Zadig. Sarah at least has the excuse (if she wanted to use it) that she had no real experience with foreign policy. Katie may have made a fool of her, but Biden has made a career of doing it to himself.Hey, Barack, if you are reading this, go ahead, consult with Joe and then do the opposite.

  19. mike_b1

    There’s no excuse for someone running for VP to have so little command of foreign policy. Traitor John basically said to the American people: “Your opinions don’t count.” To which Sarah Palin added, “You betcha!” *wink*You don’t win the White House by insulting the voters.

  20. zadig

    tvoh, Don’t confuse Biden’s (or anyone’s) foot-in-mouth disease for lack of intelligence or experience. Here’s the test: when he’s not mis-speaking, is what he says smart, informed, and well thought-out? For Biden, I’d have to say yes. His occasional gaffes in no way mean he’s an idiot like some VP candidates.

  21. tvoh

    Zadig,Anyone can make a mistake, but Biden is a mistake machine. The occasional gaffe can be understood but not a career of goofiness.If he is so smart, he and the rest of the placemen would have asked some tough questions and not voted for the Iraq war.76th out of 85 at a second rate law school doesn’t say brilliant.

  22. zadig

    Well, you got me there, tvoh. A whole lot of people, Biden included, were stupid enough to vote for the war.But I still think he’s a decent source of foreign policy expertise for Obama, which goes back to my earlier point that Obama’s neither a know-it-all nor a know-nothing, but instead is a smart guy who knows where to go for what he doesn’t already know.

  23. mike_b1

    The Republicans’ defense for the war is always the same refrain: “Hey, you voted for it. You should have been smart enough to see that Bush and Cheney were lying, to see that we sent out Colin Powell — the only person in the Administration with any credibility — to lie as well, and then convinced the shell-shocked American people that you weren’t coddling terrorists by doubting our ‘evidence,’ which, by the way, you weren’t allowed to see, either.” Even funnier: Traitor John bought it all, too. The one guy who supposedly knew the military better than the military knew itself was so far out of the loop, he didn’t know there was a loop.

  24. tvoh

    Zadig,Obama called it a dumb war. Since then he’s flipped the flop and become a neocon in training, but his earlier instinct was dead on and a lot smarter than Biden, and, yes Mike, John the Strait Jacket Talker.Sorry, Zadig, but being there a long time doesn’t mean you’ve profited by the experience.

  25. Doug Shugarts

    tvoh –Seriously. Read this book by the late Jeanne Kirkpatrick and try to keep up. Once you’ve finished, send it to o-fish-l. You both might learn a good deal about the intellectual tradition you seem so eager to abuse.

  26. tvoh

    Doug,If you have a point, make it. Don’t throw around a book.I have nothing against abusing any tradition but I can’t tell from your comment.

  27. Tunder

    Doug,Please don’t waste your time recommending books to tvoh and o-fish. Remember? They get all of the news that they need from Rush, Sean and the gang. God forbid they might actually attempt to read something outside of their narrow little world.Anyway, expanding ones mind goes against everything the pea-brains on the Right stand for and makes one look embarrasingly intellectual (for shame!)

  28. Doug Shugarts

    tvoh: I know words can be difficult. Instead, have a look at this 1995 Kirkpatrick interview conducted by Charlie Rose. Pay special attention to her remarks on the hazards of nation building.Now envisage her and Sarah Palin on the same stage and ask yourself what has become of the conservative tradition, and why thoughtful debate within the Republican party has been stifled by the screeching baboons in right-wing populist media. Country first.

  29. tvoh

    Tunder,As I said before, when wit fails, go for the ad hominem.I would guess my reading is more catholic* than yours.*hint Tunder, that was small c catholic.

  30. tvoh

    Doug,”I know words can be difficult.”Surely with some effort you can learn.I watched Jeanne as long as I could. When Charlie asked for the right policy and she said “effective use of air power” I was done.Bismarck enunciated the correct policy for outsiders as regards the Balkans.

  31. Tunder

    Right, tvoh…”And if you screamed “yes we can” you haven’t left adolescence.”I’ll take my ad hominen and raise you yours…

  32. tvoh

    To observe stupid behavior is one thing Tunder.To denigrate another’s arguments by implying unobserved behavior is another.

  33. Tunder

    You go me there, tvoh…However, since you have deemed me an expert in “unobserved behavior” here’s what I assume happens when anyone stumbles upon a conversation with you. You always have a snappy comeback and your ego demands that you have the last word which annoys those around you to know end.Enjoy President Obama and the Democrat majority. I’ll be thinking of you…

  34. tvoh

    “your ego demands that you have the last word which annoys those around you to know end.”If you go to my blog and see what tvoh stands for you would realize how wrong you are.I yield to no one in taking pride in my humility.

  35. tvoh

    Oh, Tunder, if you want to see what I think of Hannity, it’s here:

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén