The Times: a force to be reckoned with … and more

Here is an interesting opinion piece from The Times.

This is a fascinating bit of writing with provocative insights.  Not the usual blather I have been scanning.

My emphases and comments.

September 5, 2008

Sarah Palin: it’s go west, towards the future of conservatism

Her thrilling convention speech showed that the Governor of Alaska is a force to reckoned with. But she might be more than that

Now we know, thanks to her triumphant debut at the Republican convention on Wednesday, that Mrs Palin not only slaughters her prey. She impales its head on a stick and parades it around for her followers to jeer at. For half an hour she eviscerated Mr Obama in that hall and did it all without dropping her sweet schoolmarm smile, as if she were handing out chocolates at the end of a history lesson.  [Nicely done.  He moves from images of Lord of the Flies to Little House On The Prairie.]

There’s a powerful danger in the sheer thrill that has followed her astonishing performance that we could get carried away with John McCain’s running-mate. Some of the coverage has a hyperbolic tone to it. Not since Paris handed that apple to Aphrodite has a man’s selection of a woman had such implications for the future of our civilisation.  [The seemingly endless Trojan War stared with that little gesture.  But what we must remember is that both sides were hosed by the gods in that tale.  It made no difference to whom he would have given the golden apple: either way someone was going to exact vengeance.]

So let’s stipulate one obvious and important piece of wisdom about US elections. The choice of a vice-presidential candidate rarely makes much of a difference. The pundit class waxes historical in the excitement of the moment but usually the vice-presidential choices go back to playing second banana. However mawkishly we dwell on the mortality of the presidential contenders, it is they who determine the voters’ decision.

This one, to be fair, could be different. For at least the next few weeks the press will follow Mrs Palin’s present and dig deeper into her past, still hoping for some morsel of stupidity or evidence of cupidity to doom her. But in the end, barring such a discovery, this is still an Obama-McCain contest.

But let me try to explain why Mrs Palin, whatever impact she might have in November, may be a figure of real consequence in our lives.

It’s partly about what she represents and partly about what she has already done, but mostly about where she and her ilk [Not flattering.] might take the Republicans – and possibly America.

It never ceases to amaze me how the Left falls again and again into the old trap of underestimating politicians whom they don’t understand. From Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to George Bush and Mrs Palin, they do it every time. [Puts her in amazing company, including two of the greatest figures of the 20th century.] Because these characters talk a bit funny and have ridiculously antiquated views about faith, family and nation, because they haven’t spent time bending the knee to the intellectual metropolitan elites, they can’t be taken seriously[Launched like a jovian bolt from on high.  You can hear the writer’s attitude swell with his own depth of insight even as he glances down from the clouds.]

So the general expectation was that Mrs Palin would stumble on to the stage in high heels, clutching her sprawling, slightly odd family (five children! how weird), mispronounce the name of the Russian Prime Minister, mutter a few platitudes about God, and disappear for ever to a deafening chorus of sniggers[A well-written description of the attitude of the lefty East coast elite.]

No one paid much attention to the fact that she had been elected governor of a state. Or that she got to that office not because, unlike some politicians I could mention, her husband had been there before her, [meaning Mrs. Clinton, of course] or because she bleated continuously about glass ceilings, [well said] but by challenging the entrenched interests in her own party and beating them. In almost two years as Governor she has cleaned out the Augean stables of Alaskan Government. You don’t win a statewide election and enjoy approval ratings of more than 80 per cent without real political talent. [Indeed.  This is obvious.  So why aren’t more people on the left and in the media getting this point?]

Never mind all that. She didn’t have a passport! [How un-cosmopolitan!] She was a former beauty queen[She must be vapid!] It was so axiomatic that she was a disaster that I was told by lots of savvy men – with deliciously unconscious sexism – that the real problem was what the choice said about Mr McCain and his judgment: cynical, irresponsible, clueless. It was as if Mrs Palin wasn’t really a human being at all, but an article of Mr McCain’s clothing that showed his poor taste, like wearing brown shoes with a charcoal suit[This guy can write!]

So here’s why she matters.  [Let’s get down to business.]

First of all she offers an opportunity for an ailing Republican party to reconnect with ordinary Americans. She’s conservative, but her conservatism is not that of the intolerant, uncomprehending white male sort that has so hurt the party in recent years. She is much closer to a model of the lives of ordinary Americans – working mother, plainspoken everywoman juggling home and office – than any Republican leader in memory.  [I think he is spot on.]

The contrast with Mr Obama is especially powerful. The very fact that Mrs Palin didn’t go to elite schools but succeeded nonetheless – the very ordinariness with which she so piquantly jabbed Mr Obama on Wednesday – is what will make her so appealing to Americans. And as a pro-life conservative she debunks in one swoop the enduring myth that all women subscribe to the obligatory nostrums of radical feminism[Yes.]

But there’s more to it than that.

The Republicans have decided that they are not going to make the mistake Hillary Clinton made and run against the effervescent Mr Obama on the premise of experience[Right!  The experience argument didn’t work for past incumbents Ford, Carter, Bush 41.]

Experience hasn’t got Americans into a very comfortable place. They want change. Before he signed up to some of the less attractive Republican attitudes this year, Mr McCain’s career had embodied that change – the anti-establishment candidate running against his own party. Now he is joined by a woman who, in her short career, has done the same thing. [He seems to be siding with the sort of change that McCain, rather than Obama or the morphed McCain, represents.]

Democrats think that Mr McCain, with the social conservative Mrs Palin, will launch an old-fashioned culture war at them, [I think that is probably the case.  The culture war just became hotter again.] using her appealing manner to drive a populist assault on the familiar Republican issues of God, guns and gays. [That is a reduction of the real issues of the unavoidable, and now necessary, culture war, to a punchline.]

Perhaps this Manichean interpretation [In other words, dichotomous conflict of an force of good and a force of evil.  But to whom is he referring?  The two sides of the culture war?  The Dems v the GOP?  Are those effectively the same sides?] will prove true. But I suspect that it misses the real appeal of the Republican team. The opportunity for McCain-Palin is not reaction, but reform – a reform rooted in a distant conservatism that could be due for a comeback [Refer back to the old McCain who has now made a comeback versus the weaker, less-effective updated McCain who lost his appeal by caving in… as the writer points out above.]

Hailing from Arizona and Alaska, the Republican ticket has a chance to rekindle a western conservatism different from the old Yankee paternalist sort or the Bible Belt version. [Interesting: He seems to have a sort of respect for Western version, and disdain for the East and the South.  But didn’t he also use words above like "ilk" and "danger"?] They like their guns out there (some still kill their own food) and they are pro-life and deeply pro-America, of course. [And those are bad things?] But at a time of grave challenges, the themes of economic freedom and opportunity, the resistance to the idea that government holds all the answers, could resonate with voters. [Again, I get the sense that the writer is trying to remain on his olympian perch while regarding those little people below who have so short-sightedly divided into various deeply flawed camps.  But has he taken a side?  I think so.  He just doesn’t want us to see that he walks the earth with us.]

This is an election, as the Democrats have realised all along, about an America on the cusp of change. With the moose-hunting, establishment-taunting Mrs Palin at his side, Mr McCain might represent a bigger change than the one that his opponents are offering. [What is his message: "And a bigger danger?"]

You have to hand it to him. This was a subtle and interesting bit of writing. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Jerry Boyd says:

    And he nailed the very reason the elite leftists are in a state of panic…because McCain/Palin threaten everything the elites hold dear. Hungry for some moral structure, for a preservation of God in our nation, for an emphasis on family values, for a pro life perspective at the top, U S Voters may (hopefully) rush to support the Republicans and reject the empty suited promises (of nothing) that Obama and the confused Catholic offer. Pray to God that will happen.

  2. Adam says:

    I found all the “Country First” signs being waved about at the Republican convention extremely disturbing.

  3. TNCath says:

    Yes, the Times (and the majority of Europe and the world) is clearly worried about a McCain/Palin victory.

  4. Xpihs says:

    Do any think that Obama and the Democrats are afraid that they don’t know how to campaign against this kind of Republican ticket? If McCain/Palin are poor archetypes for the Republican Party that the Democrats are used to being against, this may all prove to be at least an interesting election cycle. It seems to me, on the other hand, that Obama/Biden, are rather good archetypes for the Democrat Party.

  5. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Fr Z, thanks once again for identifying an excellent article and for your insightful “translation”.

  6. TJM says:

    Adam, but the Democratic Party is really the party of “Country First” or even more accurately “Me First.”
    They are the Party that want to go the protectionist route (so much for being cultivated “citizens of the world” and multi-lateral!)
    by trashing trade agreements with our Allies and friends and re-establishing the dominance of Unions. Ironically, those 2 positions alone would serve to destroy jobs at home and make our economy so weak that this year will look like a walk in the park. They just don’t get it. Obama is for
    change all right, change back to the 1970s with double digit interest rates, unemployment and inflation rates brought to the American
    people, compliments of high taxes, burdensome government regulations, and large government. People who do not read history are bound to repeat the
    same mistakes. Tom

  7. Phil (NL) says:

    Adam, what do you rather have on those signs?

    A US president takes an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and by extention the country itself. Putting any other interest first would, in my book, count as a violation of that oath.

  8. TomG says:

    Fr. Z,

    I really think you’re a little off on this. I’ve read Mr. Baker many times and he is a very pro-American sort of Brit, something of a high Tory type. Anyone who has read Evelyn Waugh or Kingsley Amis knows the sort. They can come off as icy and arrogant even when they’re in total agreement with you.

    His use of “ilk”? I really don’t think he meant it disdainfully, especially when his context evoked the memory of President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher, both of whom he clearly revered.

  9. ThomasB says:

    Maybe Adam would prefer that the signs said “God First”.

    “Country FIrst” is disturbing? To whom, and why?

  10. Cathy says:

    I’m with Adam.
    “Country First” is a bit too “Fazzerland First”-ish.

    Even the United States Marine Corps knows that it’s GOD, country, Corps.

    I’m not suggesting “God First” as a slogan – I’m merely pointing out that it’s very dangerous to say “Whatever” First when in fact the majority of the conservative base believes that that’s a spot reserved for the Almighty.

    Worship of the United States is a violation of the 1st Commandment.
    Now, I don’t think John McCain “worships” America; I just think he needs a better slogan-maker.

    And yes, I’m thrilled to vote for Palin, I’m a military veteran, and I cry every time I hear “America the Beautiful.”

  11. Antiquarian says:

    I believe “ilk” is a term more commonly used in the UK– especially in Scotland– and it has no pejorative connotation there. Some titles of nobility even have the suffix “of that ilk” to indicate that the titleholder is head of the entire family. So “Father Zuhlsdorf of that Ilk” would mean you were THE Father Zuhlsdorf.

  12. Phil (NL) says:

    That’s a line of thought I can understand, Cathy. However, it’s rather a strech to assume it makes ‘Country first’ disturbing, so I assume for now Adam has a somewhat different motivation.

    Added to that, it is an election for president, not religious/moral person-in-chief, but Commander-in-Chief. It comes with that job to take decisions that a ‘God first’ approach might not allow; turning the other cheek – to name a basic example – is not something we expect from a US president.
    Ofcourse there are limits, and that’s why one wants a person with a sounds moral compass for the job, but though an excellent way of leading a sanctifying life, ‘God first’ does not only make a bad slogan, it is also a bad philosophy for executing that particular office.

  13. roydosan says:

    “From Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to George Bush and Mrs Palin, they do it every time. [Puts her in amazing company, including two of the greatest figures of the 20th century.]”

    I’m hoping you’re not referring to Margaret Thatcher as one of the greatest figures of the 20th century. Those of us who had the misfortune to live in Britain during her period in office wouldn’t describe her as one of the greatest figures of the 20th century. One of the most infamous perhaps. She is the one who stated that: “there is no such thing as society” and “greed is good”. Britain is still suffering from the effects of her misrule to this day. The almost complete breakdown of traditional society and civic pride. She created in its place a self obsessed individualistic consumerism that excludes the place of God in daily life as an irrelevance to be pushed to the side along the path to greater material riches.

    If Mrs Palin turns out anything like Margaret Thatcher I wish you the best of luck.

  14. Austin says:

    “she and her ilk ” reflects a now almost ubiquitous error of usage. Ilk is a
    Scots word meaning “same,” from Old English “ilca.” It is used for places or clan chief titles which can be rendered “Lamont of Lamont” or “Lamont of that ilk.” Somehow seekers after archaisms decided that it meant “kind” or “type.” It does seem to have taken on a pejorative connotation. For no good reason, except possible anti-Caledonian prejudice. But one wishes people would just stop using it. It is precious and inaccurate, and what the inestimable Fowler would call a “Wardour Street” term best suppressed.

  15. Fr. Angel says:

    Adam and Cathy:

    If you listened to McCain’s speech at the convention, you would have noticed his constant reference to putting the country ahead of party. Some lines of the speech obviously did not get too much applause, because they were a rebuke to his own party. He said he wanted to reach across the aisle, a reference to working with Democrats, and that he was not going to Washing to serve the party, but the people.

    As I see it, the sign holders and McCain may have different understandings of that motto. Perhaps some use it to mean, “America is first, and we take care of our own before we run around the world.” Or, in the realm of international relations, it could mean “stop worrying so much about what Europe or the UN thinks, a president answers first to what Americans think.”

    McCain refers often to petty bickering between the two parties which impedes the passage of helpful laws, each side being fearful that the adversaries “will get the credit.” As I see that motto, it is a hint that McCain, in Washington, will not be afraid to go against his party if he thinks he is making a decision for the good of the entire country.

    By the way, Obama agreed with the motto and subscribes to it. However, in his speech, he said it was the Democrats who are the ones who put country first, not the Republicans.

  16. Fr. Angel says:

    TomG and Antiquarian:

    Many thanks for your helpful notes. At first, I suspected Baker was negative about Palin. After reading your posts, I went through the article again and picked up an entirely different perspective.

  17. Deusdonat says:

    This whole polemic around what “country first” is really splitting hairs. For those who watched the speech, it was made very clear. For those who are just reading it or hearing the sound-bite, of course they are going to slice it/dice it and extrapolate some hidden meaning. I see nothing wrong in the phrase on a political level.

    I think it is actually right on the mark for a politician in a Democracy to say this. Were we in a theocracy, it would of course be “God First”. And Cathy, if you actually believe the marines put “God first” when they go into battle, or even get dressed in the morning, you are really in a wonderland. [Wow. I think you can’t know what goes on in the hearts and minds of all the Marines in the Corps when they go into battle. But to say that they have “nothing” to do with God is over the top.] The marine corp has one objective, and it has nothing to do with God. I’m sure there are many within the corp who attempt to reconcile their indoctrination with Christianity or other faith ideals, but to say “God first” is grossly innaccurate.

  18. Cathy says:

    One more time, folks:
    I don’t think McCain worships America.
    I agree that America SHOULD come before a political party.
    And for those of you peeking into my windows last night, I wasn’t watching “American Idol” – I was indeed watching the speech.

    I just think it’s a dumb slogan, right up there with “Yes, We Can!”

    And it sounds like a mortgage company.

    “Call CountryFirst today and get into a new, fixed-rate loan…”

    The motto of the Corps is not meant to be a peek into the soul of every Marine.
    It isn’t meant to imply anything about a state of mind when walking onto a battlefield.
    It’s a motto, a slogan. Like “I’m Lovin’ It.” (No you aren’t. Not really.)
    Or “Country First.”

    Having said all that, yeah, maybe I read too much into things.
    If the majority of y’all like it, perhaps it’s fine.

    See how diplomatic I am?

  19. Deusdonat says:

    Father Z – [RABBIT HOLE]

  20. Jackie says:

    The phrase “Country First” came out when the Huricane was about to hit New Orleans and the RNC put the convention on hold to raise money for the disaster relief- although it was mainly canceled after the huricanne hit because the damage was not nearly as bad as they thought it might be. It was said Country First, not Party. It was just saying that they are Americans before they are Republicans. I see nothing problematic about it.

  21. Patricia says:


    Is it correct that Fr Z reads and approves all posts that appear in order to eliminate the extremely offensive? No. I give most people the benefit of the doubt. But if they annoy me long enough, I delete and then block access.[]


    Fr Z, do you agree with this statement? [I forgot the question.]

  22. techno_aesthete says:

    “It never ceases to amaze me how the Left falls again and again into the old trap of underestimating politicians whom they don’t understand.”

    I can name that tune in three words: arrogance and condescension.

  23. Deusdonat says:


  24. About ilk

    I found this:

    When one uses ilk, as in the phrase men of his ilk, one is using a word with an ancient pedigree even though the sense of ilk, “kind or sort,” is actually quite recent, having been first recorded at the end of the 18th century. This sense grew out of an older use of ilk in the phrase of that ilk, meaning “of the same place, territorial designation, or name.” This phrase was used chiefly in names of landed families, Guthrie of that ilk meaning “Guthrie of Guthrie.” “Same” is the fundamental meaning of the word. The ancestors of ilk, Old English ilca and Middle English ilke, were common words, usually appearing with such words as the or that, but the word hardly survived the Middle Ages in those uses.

  25. Martin says:

    Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    Gerard Baker, the author of the article, was one of the founder signatories of an outfit called The Henry Jackson Society; a group of politicoes, journalists and intellectuals pretty much dedicated to interventionist foreign policy. Having read his output for some time, Baker doesn’t write for the little guys, but for the economic winners.

    The belligerence of many of Sen. McCain’s comments concerning foreign policy, e.g, ‘Bomb-bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran’, ‘We are all Georgians now’, etc, casts a very grave shadow over his whole judgment. The guy is a bull in a china shop, maybe not the best pick one could hope for in a world which is now considerably less stable than it was at the last election. Sad as it is to say, most elections are fought on the basis of the electorate’s pockets, not their prayers. Sen. McCain is very much a creature of the utterly godless globalist variant of free trade economics which has prevailed since 2000. His choice of a pro-lifer as his running mate is to be welcomed – whether or not this was just a cynical, condescending sop to what the global elitists in the GOP leadership consider to be its rustic conservative base is a matter for the autobiographies.

    If so, then American has been ill-served.

  26. Deusdonat says:

    Father Z – thanks for the correction. I will try to avoid rabit holes in the future. Maybe since today is friday and I tend to eat like a rabbit, my mind has actually become a bit leporian at present : )

  27. JohnE says:

    Just an observation that I haven’t heard mentioned anywhere: In this year where the Church is celebrating St. Paul, the GOP held the RNC in St. Paul.

  28. Martin: Gerard Baker, the author of the article…

    Interesting observations. Thanks.

    McCain is very much a creature of the utterly godless globalist variant of free trade economics which has prevailed since 2000.

    Really? Can you explain why you say that?

    Also, I gather that you think that Gerard Baker’s article is favorable, in the main, toward the McCain ticket because of his “utterly godless globalist variant of free trad economics”?

  29. Robert Lee says:

    I read the Times regularly, and I’ve read pretty much every column Gerard Baker has written over the past 3 years. In that time, I’ve seen him write several strongly pro-life articles, several commenting on Christmas and Christian values. I do not know what his religion is, but, from other articles that I’ve read, I would be shocked if it is anything but Catholic or conservative Anglican. I agree that he tends to be in favor of an interventionist foreign policy, but to say that it is the only reason he is in favor of McCain is, in my opinion, to do him an injustice.

  30. fra paolo says:

    ‘I’ve read Mr. Baker many times and he is a very pro-American sort of Brit, something of a high Tory type. Anyone who has read Evelyn Waugh or Kingsley Amis knows the sort.’

    High Tories, like Waugh, don\’t really care for the United States. They regard it with that icy disdain. Amis went from Labour to the Tories, and used to belong to a dining \’club\’ that called itself something like Bertorelli\’s Blackshirts. Rather parvenu, what? He\’s no more a High Tory than Churchill was.

    ‘[Thatcher] created … a self obsessed individualistic consumerism that excludes the place of God in daily life as an irrelevance to be pushed to the side along the path to greater material riches.’

    Spot on. Thatcher has more in common with Punk than with Waugh. She purged the Conservatives of most of the High Tories.

  31. For the record, Margaret Thatcher, one of your possible ‘two of the greatest figures of the 20th century’, tried to abolish the Lord’s Day in England and Wales in 1986: . She also voted in favour of abortion:

  32. Martin says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf,

    By ‘utterly godless globalist variant of free trade economics’, I refer to the open borders/outsourcing extremism which places profit before human dignity. This demands that perfectly profitable manufacturing plants in the First World be closed and reopened in the cheap labour Third World, and so much migrant labour allowed in to the First World that the wage rates of those remaining are inexorably sucked down. This is the pursuit of profit without regard for the dignity of labour; it pornographies workers by describing them as ‘Human Resources’, as if people were little more than tools. McCain will not stop offsharing; he will do nothing to stem the migrant tide; that is why I described him as I did.

  33. Christabel says:

    Over this side of the pond :

    A straw poll of my work colleagues (of all political persuasuions) produced one consistent comment : Governor Palin reminds everyone of Margaret Thatcher when she started out. Some think this is a very good thing, and some think it is a very bad thing, but EVERYONE was impressed, one way or another.

    Who would have thought that at the end of the convention season, the woman most in the public consciousness would be neither Hillary Clinton nor Michelle Obama?

    I wish we had just one politician, male or female, who had an ounce of the personality, charisma and ability of any of these three. The state of British politics is dire.

    This is going to be very, very interesting to observe.

  34. Fr. Coyle: Margaret Thatcher has to be given her due: with Pope John Paul and President Regan, she was one of the key figures in collapse of the Soviet bloc. If for nothing else, she deserves some respect for that. About her domestic policies or her errant position on abortion I am entirely ignorant.

  35. Martin: Fair enough. I understand now your reasoning. I wonder if you are right about what McCain will do. Also, I am not sure what the solution is about outsourcing, unless lots of government controls are placed on companies. And we all know that figuring out reasonable and just immigration policies is one of the great problems of our day. But that is grist for a different entry.

  36. ALL: I have deleted a few weird comments or interjections that stray from what I perceive to be the meat of the article at the top.

    However, this is a very instructive entry… for me, at least. I appreciate instruction and good information.

  37. Sandra in Severn says:

    I am finding that as a woman of faith, Governor Palin position appeals to me more than Senator Biden’s. That as a veteran and military retiree with a son in uniform, as well as many of my former airmen, Senator McCain’s position apeals to me more than that of the Junior Senator from Chicago Il.

    I have no problem with “Country first” or “Service first” than with some of the hateful speeches that were done in Denver Co.

    A government that GIVES you everything, is the same government that can TAKE everything, including your life. The Democrat party is not a life embracing one.

  38. johnny says:

    Although I am late to this, if I can make a couple of points, that I hope are not out of place.

    About “Country First”: You may not have heard it unless you watched C-span, but McCain’s Pastor said at the benediction at the end of the convention that “we cannot put our country first unless You [God the Father] are foremost” It’s just a political slogan, and to my mind McCain made it sufficiently clear that he only means country first as opposed to either self interest or some vague idea of internationalism.

    About Mrs. Thatcher: I highly recommend John O’Sullivan’s “The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister” a Catholic who worked for her. The late Pope was always very appreciative of the work esp. as regards the cold war, of both Reagan and Thatcher, it doesn’t mean he endorsed everything they did.

    In general terms, if its not out of place to quote Bismarck: “Politics is the art of the next best”.

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