Like a Hurricane – Sarah Palin at the Republican Convention
By Bernie Quigley
For The Hill on 9/3/08
I would like to outline a brief history of the so-called culture wars and what potential future they hold because I am getting the feeling that they could actualize out of abstraction very quickly around one extraordinary woman: John McCain’s selection for Vice President, Sarah Palin. She will not let go and the Republicans will not let her go. As David Brooks said last night, he has not met one delegate who opposes her. In fact, they’re crazy about her. All of the blue collar people I have talked to up here in northern New Hampshire, and this is a blue collar, bears-in-the-yard, libertarian Republican state, are likewise utterly crazy about her. They will not let go of her either, from what I can see, under any circumstances.
Power Points RE culture war:
1 - The culture wars or the division between red and blue states is a continuation of the Civil War. To paraphrase Carl Von Clausewitz, culture war is hot war by other means; by political and cultural means. Historian Dan Carter, in his biography of George Wallace, The Politics of Rage, makes the point that the Christian Coalition and the Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson movement arose in direct opposition to the perceived decadence of the Sixties – the hippies, racial integration, sexual freedom, etc. Wallace correctly guessed that the regional values of the rural South would serve as a national theme in opposition. It did when amplified by Falwall and Robertson.
2 – Northern people are educated to believe that the Civil War was about slavery, which it was, but the inherent philosophical and underlying difference between North and South was a division between the view of the world of the New Yorker, Alexander Hamilton, and the view of the Virginian, Thomas Jefferson. Historian Frank Owsley identifies this here: “In the beginning of Washington’s administration two men defined the fundamental principles of the political philosophy of the two societies, Hamilton for the North and Jefferson for the South. The one was extreme centralization, the other was extreme decentralization; the one was nationalistic and the other provincial; the first was called Federalism, the other Sates Rights, but in truth the first should have been called Unitarianism and the second Federalism.”
3 – This Christian Coalition’s perspective was empowered when big economy came to the South and the Southwest in the post-war period. Once the South came to power it could bring forth its own traditional values, called Jeffersonian values, and leave behind passive submission to the way of Hamilton and the North. In the later ‘80s and ’90, my old rural neighborhood in Tobaccoville, NC, which had voted Baptist and Democrat since the mid-1800s changed: More than 80% of my precinct suddenly registered Republican. Very many changed church as well to Assembly of God. It was a full-scale cultural transformation. What we are seeing today is western states adopting the traditional Jeffersonian values of the South, particularly Arizona and now Alaska. The North/South division is opening now to an East/West division.
4 – By choosing Sarah Palin for his Vice President, McCain has chosen an independent person from the most independent region of America who embodies the Jeffersonian ideal. As The Hill’s A.B. Stoddard says here this week, “she walks the walk . . . .” Managing her daughter’s pregnancy through family tradition (Jefferson) rather than ideological, institutional or technical strategies (Hamilton and the Northeast) brings folkloric cachet to Palin at a critical moment and brings broad sympathy to her through the Republican ranks. The Republican ranks have been awakened by her, particularly the common class. There is a distinct class difference now between political parties: Palin represents a common class; blue collar America, whereas Obama/Hillary appeal to an “elite” – but a Northeastern elite made up primarily of middle class people only one or two generations out of the working class.
5 – Goldwater, Reagan, McCain and Palin represent a complete breach with the Hamiltonian tradition in our time. When the northern urban Irish and the other common ethnic people of the Democratic Party came to power with Jack Kennedy, they hoped to join the same tradition of those of the elite schools and the traditional agents of the so-called Protestant Ethic (“This is a Protestant country,” FDR said to Joe Kennedy, “And you Jews and Catholics better get used to it.”). The urban ethnics of that age adopted the Hamiltonian direction with a difference of style and modified by European (Marxist) ideas. Carroll Quigley, an influential post-war historian, writes about this “Establishment” – ethnics now come to power wanting a place at the same table as the old Northeastern elites. But a greater division occurred in our period when Barry Goldwater ran for President against Lyndon Johnson. Goldwater didn’t want a place at the table. Goldwater rejected the table and the entire Eastern Establishment (Hamilton or the Hamilton/Marx hybrid) for a restored Jeffersonian position. The Republican from Arizona challenged the Eastern Establishment, both Democrat and Republican. Reagan did so likewise with far greater impact although with his vast federal spending turned out to be a federalist. Nevertheless, he was Jeffersonian in principle.
6 – McCain and Palin are both Jeffersonian in spirit; Palin is the perfect contemporary model of the Jeffersonian vision. Through McCain and Palin, the abstractions of the red state/blue state contention could materialize into a real-life social division in our time, possibly with territorial implications.
7 - Historians like William Strauss and Neil Howe who study generational patterns in politics point out that around the 60th year, the end of the third post-war generation, a breach occurs which will bring about the major change in the country’s destiny. We are at the 60th year more or less right now. I’ve felt that could well be an internal rather than an external division as party divisions today suggest the 1830s to 1850s when party lines broke and realigned. Ron Paul, Jeffersonian Trickster incarnate, could be a harbinger.
Sarah Palin’s speech tonight and how the Republican base responds to it should be telling and important in determining how this will proceed.
The Biden vs. Palin debate will be the key event of the fall season. In this Goldwater-Reagan tradition it will pit the old Eastern Establishment against the new Jeffersonian West. It will be a key moment. Joe Biden is the perfect exemplar of the liberal mask of the Eastern Establishment which Quigley (no relation) outlines ( – y’all watch The X Files ? The Elders – the secret coterie which “runs the world” from a paneled room in New York). Palin is the perfect avatar for the new American West.