Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sarah Palin and The Jacksonian Republicans – the revolt of the rustics

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 12/04/08

Tobin Harshaw, The Opinionator at The New York Times, can’t resist the woman in the red dress. He cites a report by Politico’s Andy Barr that Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss credited Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin with firing up his base.

“I can’t overstate the impact she had down here,” Chambliss told Fox News. “When she walks in a room, folks just explode.”

This could be a significant historic turning. There are now two schools of Republicans: The traditional H.W. Bush conservatives which young son Jeb will likely lead again into the Senate in 2010 and the others; those who just explode when the Governor of Alaska walks into the room.

These must be called Jacksonian Republicans - heartland populists rising up now in opposition to the Eastern Establishment. A similar countervailing movement divided the country red and blue when it was called North and South. It might well or better have been called frontier west vs. the Eastern Gentry; the ruling class, if you will, of Adams, Jefferson and even Washington in the 1830s. Cohesion was only restored by conquest 30 years later.

Chambliss’s comments bear out the observations of The Hill’s A.B. Stoddard, who directly after the election found lots of folk who wanted to talk about Palin. Peggy Noonan, on the other hand, returning from a conference, said the name brought only appreciative laughter. Perhaps she was protecting her base.

When Noonan brought her inspired wordmanship to Ronald Reagan and his Vice President George H.W. Bush the phrase and the concept “compassionate conservative” began to appear and it came to identify a new approach for Republicans. It evolved at a time in which Catholic social theory was becoming an influence on Republicans.

This could well identify George H.W. Bush, Noonan, and the traditional conservatives of the Eastern bent who were once politically polarized in opposition to Catholics here in the Northeast. Jeb Bush, younger brother of W and former governor of Florida, could well bring this evolving tradition to a higher profile in Washington when he runs for Senate in 2010. Jeb is what we used to call a “good Catholic”; that is, a devout Catholic committed to its discipline. So is Bobby Jindal, governor of Lousiana, who could well be Jeb’s running mate in 2012.

But the real division today in Republican politics is not about religion which, in a fair and democratic state should be irrelevant, but about economics.

And there is a growing backlash against the bailouts throughout the heartland which many of the traditional Republicans holding national office today have supported. Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, and Rick Perry, governor of Texas, have recently spoken in opposition to the bailouts. Likewise, Mike Huckabee and others oppose.

They, and Palin and Mitt Romney as well, speak to the frontier spirit of the heartland and the independent nature of Americans who live away from the coastal cities. The traditional Eastern Republicans are moving toward a Europeanist position and so are the Democrats. They are moving toward an economic system which might be considered a Hamilton-Marx hybrid. The Jacksonian Republicans are moving in the opposite direction.

W. Bush was actually the first Jacksonian Republican. His clear distaste of things Eastern and European in his first term awakened a new theme in opposition. This was in fact, very Emersonian, as the Concord Bard saw default to Europeanism as a decadent retreat; a default of America’s unique character and responsibilities. Americans were not Europeans and were born free of that - we could more readily find our fuller nature here in the new world on farm or town common, or heading west to the forest.

Purely from a marketing point of view, the Jacksonian Republicans could have a future. Politicians are subject to market trends same as ad and TV executives and Obama’s Democrats may already have jumped the shark. In the last year Kelsey Grammar, star of the hit comedy Frasier, and Jerry Seinfeld have both attempted to repackage themselves. Both were brilliant and archetypal representatives of the Clinton era and both seemed shocked that their return efforts failed this year.

They failed because the Clinton age is over. Obama has made the same marketing mistake in trying to repackage Hillary and the Democrats’ own brilliant but troublesome Plaxico, hubby Bill, who is struggling now to get just any job in this administration and will probably get one. Good luck with that.

This week on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Madeline Albright, Secretary of State in the Bill administration, in referring to Hillary as Obama’s Secretary of State, said Hillary would be good to “reintroduce America to the world.” She used the exact phrasing Hillary used during the campaign when she said as President, she would first send Bill around the world for the same purpose. Grammar, who seems to be at loose ends now that they have cancelled his new show, told Mike Huckabee that he might run for office in California. Perhaps he could get a position in the Obama administration.

If Obama’s only success is in being the first black President it will grow stale fast. He has already succeeded in that. By 2012 we will be ready for something new. We were already in 2008 but so far have seen only nostalgia. Perhaps the Democrats have lost their purpose in a varied, service economy; nostalgia is always a symptom of lost purpose and direction.

If so, the real fork in the road ahead will be between the H.W. Bush Republicans in the Eastern tradition and the new renegade Jacksonian Republicans that Sarah Palin is awakening now throughout the heartland.