Monday, September 22, 2008

Chesterton on Politics

When Barack's berserkers lost the plot

Nick Cohen
07 September 2008

My colleagues in the American liberal press had little to fear at the
start of the week. Their charismatic candidate was ahead in virtually
every poll. George W Bush was so unpopular that conservatives were
scrambling around for reasons not to invite the Republican President to
the Republican convention. Democrats had only to maintain their
composure and the White House would be theirs. During the 1997 British
general election, the late Lord Jenkins said that Tony Blair was like a
man walking down a shiny corridor carrying a precious vase. He was the
favourite and held his fate in his hands. If he could just reach the end
of the hall without a slip, a Labour victory was assured. The same could
have been said of the American Democrats last week. But instead of
protecting their precious advantage, they succumbed to a spasm of hatred
and threw the vase, the crockery, the cutlery and the kitchen sink at an
obscure politician from Alaska.

For once, the postmodern theories so many of them were taught at
university are a help to the rest of us. As a Christian, conservative
anti-abortionist who proved her support for the Iraq War by sending her
son to fight in it, Sarah Palin was 'the other' - the threatening alien
presence they defined themselves against. They might have soberly
examined her reputation as an opponent of political corruption to see if
she was truly the reformer she claimed to be. They might have gently
mocked her idiotic creationism, while carefully avoiding all discussion
of the racist conspiracy theories of Barack Obama's church.

But instead of following a measured strategy, they went berserk. On the
one hand, the media treated her as a sex object. The New York Times led
the way in painting Palin as a glamour-puss in go-go boots you were more
likely to find in an Anchorage lap-dancing club than the Alaska
governor's office.

On the other, liberal journalists turned her family into an object of
sexual disgust: inbred rednecks who had stumbled out of Deliverance.
Palin was meant to be pretending that a handicapped baby girl was her
child when really it was her wanton teenage daughter's. When that turned
out to be a lie, the media replaced it with prurient coverage of her
teenage daughter, who was, after all, pregnant, even though her mother
was not going to do a quick handover at the maternity ward and act as if
the child was hers.

Hatred is the most powerful emotion in politics. At present, American
liberals are not fighting for an Obama presidency. I suspect that most
have only the haziest idea of what it would mean for their country. The
slogans that move their hearts and stir their souls are directed against
their enemies: Bush, the neo-cons, the religious right.

In this, American liberals are no different from the politically
committed the world over. David Cameron knew that he would never be
Prime Minister until he had killed the urgent hatred of the Conservative
party in liberal England. A measure of his success is that hardly anyone
now is caught up by the once ubiquitous feeling that no compromise is
too great if it stops the Tories regaining power. Hate can sell better
than hope.

When a hate campaign goes wrong, however, disaster follows. And
everything that could go wrong with the campaign against Palin did.
American liberals forgot that the public did not know her. By the time
she spoke at the Republican convention, journalists had so lowered
expectations that a run-of-the-mill speech would have been enough to win
the evening.

As it was, her family appeared on stage without a goitre or a club foot
between them, and Palin made a fighting speech that appealed over the
heads of reporters to the public we claim to represent. 'I'm not going
to Washington to seek their good opinion,' she said as she deftly
detached journalists from their readers and viewers. 'I'm going to
Washington to serve the people of this country.'

English leftists made the same mistake of allowing their hatred to
override their judgment after the Iraq war. If they had confined
themselves to charging Tony Blair with failing to find the weapons of
mass destruction he promised were in Iraq, and sending British troops
into a quagmire, they might have forced him out. They were so consumed
by loathing, however, they insisted that he had lied, which he clearly
had not. They set the bar too low and Blair jumped it with ease. 'When a
man believes that any stick will do, he at once picks up a boomerang,'
said GK Chesterton, and when the politically committed go on a berserker
you should listen for the sound of their own principles smacking them in
the face.

Journalists who believe in women's equality should not spread sexual
smears about a candidate, or snigger at her teenage daughter's
pregnancy, or declare that a mother with a young family cannot hold down
a responsible job for the pragmatic reason that they will look like
gross hypocrites if they do. Before Palin, we saw hypocrisy of the right
when shock jocks who had spent years denouncing feminism came over all
politically correct when Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky.

In Britain, the most snobbish attacks on Margaret Thatcher did not come
from aristocrats but from the communist historian Eric Hobsbawm, who
opined that Thatcherism was the 'anarchism of the lower middle classes'
and the liberal Jonathan Miller, who deplored her 'odious suburban
gentility'. More recently, George Osborne, of the supposedly
compassionate Conservative party, revealed himself to be a playground
bully when he derided Gordon Brown for being 'faintly autistic'.

In an age when politics is choreographed, voters watch out for the
moments when the public-relations facade breaks down and venom pours
through the cracks. Their judgment is rarely favourable when it does.
Barack Obama knows it. All last week, he was warning American liberals
to stay away from the Palin family. He understands better than his
supporters that it is not a politician's enemies who lose elections, but
his friends.
H/T: Dale A.


  1. "All last week, he was warning American liberals to stay away from the Palin family."

    Well, he was warning them publicly. what was he saying to them privately?

  2. The Jawa Report has something to say about that.

  3. I find it very amusing that you use the same word to descibe the American Media (liberal) as I use to describe myself. There are, in fact, no less than 5 meanings to the word ("Inconceivable!" "I don't think you are using that word correctly.").

    1. Suited to a free person. (As in the seven Liberal Arts (arts that use the theoretical, rather than the practical, intellect), the reasons why I (quite pretentiously) put the word in my pseudonym.)

    2. Generous with matter or ideas, tolerant. (And few things are less tolerant than abortion, brainwashing, and the non-phonetic teaching of reading).

    3. Following the principles of the Enlightenement.

    4. Following the principles of Socialism and/or relativism.

    5. Unable to think clearly, and thus presenting the facade of being all of the above, and in actuality being the perfect lackey for the last kind.

  4. OFL: Who is the "you" you are referring to?

    And, as this is the ACS, does the thought not occur to you that we may already know the meaning of the word "liberal" as you refer to yourself? You need not continue to feel the need to define yourself. Now, let's get on to the arguments.

  5. The basic gist of the essay seems to be that destructive politics can be counted on to eat its own children, but is that really true?

    My feeling is that the backlash against unfair treatment of Palin by the media and liberals has run its course, and has been replaced by something else, namely a resignation that the candidate is damaged goods. (I hope that's not the case, by the way.)

  6. "You" is the author of the original post. I suppose I should have considered that you all would have known what liberal really meant, but (and this wasn't my intention, as I was merely being vainly vocal) the post will make any less-informed-visitors aware of it. Hopefully, it will also help all of us (myself included) to use words other than liberal to describe the leftist leanings of the American media. Frankly, it is a misuse of the word.

  7. OFL: then I suggest you take this up with the author of the article (Nick Cohen) I am quoting, and not with me.

    However, that said, I probably need not have to remind you that common usage of a word means something, too. You will be fighting till you're blue in the face if you decide to correct every writer who uses the current meaning of the term "liberal" when he writes. This seems Don Quixote-ish to me, and there are many other more important battles worth fighting for than over the current usage of the word "liberal". Just my 2 cents.


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