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More Sullivan, Less Meacham Please

December 2, 2009

In a celebrity-obsessed culture such as our own, publicity, even bad publicity, trumps all else. (A sign of American decadence and decline, in my view. The list of people who are “famous for being famous” seems to have grown exponentially in the past year: Megan McCain, Joe the Plumber, Balloon Boy, Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag, the Salahis, etc.) As everyone knows, the way to gain publicity, and the money and influence it brings, is to outrage the mainstream media — by saying you want Obama to fail or by crashing a White House dinner, to take a pair of familiar examples.

Here’s an awful paradox: by constantly denouncing Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, the Left has only ensured their ongoing success and influence. If Rush Limbaugh is indeed the de facto head of the Republican party, he has the Democrats to thank, at least in part. In the short term, the stature of a Limbaugh or a Palin within the GOP helps Obama and the Democrats. Palin may have fired up the base in 2008, but she certainly alienated moderates, precisely the demographic McCain needed to win over if he was going to defeat Obama. Ultimately, however, everyone loses when the Republican Party becomes its worst self.

Think about it: unless we see unemployment rates drop significantly in the near future (which is unlikely), the GOP stands to win back any number of congressional seats in 2010, and the White House in 2012. Assuming that happens, who do you want in power – a Tim Pawlenty or a Sarah Palin? Now I’m no fan of Tim Pawlenty, but surely his brand of conservatism is the lesser of the two evils. Or suppose, on the other hand, that Obama does turn the economy around and the Democrats retain a congressional majority. In the absence of a serious opposition, the Democratic party might easily become lazy in its thinking, and corrupt in its politics.

So I think we need to start engaging the David Brooks, Ross Douthats, and Michael Medveds of the conservative movement – the conservatives with real ideas, however flawed. These are the conservatives with the potential to restore authentic ideals — personal responsibility, family values, limited government, and so on — to the GOP. These are the ones we on the Left should be sparring with in the blogosphere and the op-ed pages of newspapers, not Sarah Palin.

It may be too late, now that the purging of moderates is in full swing. Just yesterday, I read a Newsweek editorial by Jon Meacham encouraging Dick Cheney to run for president in 2012, and, a few hours later, an Andrew Sullivan blog post listing his reasons for leaving the Right. So the outlook is bleak.

Still, what the country needs from conservatism right now is more Sullivan, and less Meacham. Let’s make this a bipartisan effort.

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