The Beat (It) Goes On: A Conservative Stampede

11/15/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This first decade of the 21st Century is "the best of times, the worst of times" for political journalists, just as it was for the citizens of late 18th Century France in A Tale of Two Cities, the source of that memorable quote. Charles Dickens was referencing the period of the class warfare between the aristocracy and the proletariat during the French Revolution, and it has an intense echo in the conflict between conservatives and liberals in the United States today. The incessant drumbeat of charges, countercharges and events in the 2008 presidential campaign provides journalists on both sides of the ledger with a rich supply of dramatic material for their commentaries. This is not your garden variety grandmother's tea party, and it makes for the best of times for writers.

But the rapid twists and turns in the campaign also make for the worst of times because they challenge the long-held and deeply-committed positions of the pundits, particularly among conservatives. The McCain-Palin ticket has had a severe impact on the writers of the right and sent them running for the hills. Witness the crescendo of the stampede:

Item: Last month, Kathleen Parker, a conservative columnist for the conservative National Review Online, wrote an article called, "Palin Problem: She's out of her league," that drew 12,000 emails, most them in protest.

Item: Last month, George Will, the dean of conservative writers, wrote in the Washington Post, "McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency."

Item: Last week, David Brooks, the New York Times conservative columnist spoke at a reception for The Atlantic Magazine where he called Sarah Palin a "fatal cancer to the Republican party."

Item: Last weekend, David Freddoso, a staff reporter for conservative National Review Online, and the author of The Case Against Barack Obama, a high flyer on the New York Times bestseller list, wrote an article in the New York Post entitled, "Wrong for the Right," in which he said that "McCain's abrupt embrace of a big-government solution to the mortgage crisis during last week's debate places an exclamation point upon his many apostasies from conservative thought."

Item: Last weekend, Christopher Buckley, the son of William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review, wrote an article called, "Sorry, Dad, I'm Voting for Obama," that produced such an outcry among conservatives, he was forced to resign from the publication.

Item: On Monday, the pace accelerated. At the Time Warner Summit conference on the 2008 election, Byron York, the National Review White House correspondent, and Peggy Noonan, a former speech writer for George H.W. Bush and current Wall Street Journal columnist, two prominent conservative journalists, spoke about Sarah Palin.

York said, "She may be a very effective governor of Alaska who wasn't able to pick up on what you need to be an effective vice presidential candidate."

Noonan said, "From an unveiling that gave rise to questions to a very strong convention speech, to interviews that were disastrous, to a debate in which she came back very strong, to now, ten days on the campaign trail, where I think it is fair to say: that didn't work."

Item: Also on Monday, Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and editor of the organization's City Journal, wrote of Sarah Palin, "the inability to answer a straightforward question about economic policy without becoming tangled in words suggests either ignorance about the subject matter or a difficulty connecting between ideas. Neither explanation is reassuring."

Item: Also on Monday, William Kristol, the founder and editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, wrote in the New York Times, "The McCain campaign, once merely problematic, is now close to being out-and-out dysfunctional." Kristol went on to recommend, "It's time for John McCain to fire his campaign."

Item: Monday culminated with Kathleen Parker whose National Review article started the stampede. Coming full circle, she appeared on "The Colbert Report" where she told the host that her article had prompted off-the record emails and phone calls from the White House that agreed with her opinion of Palin.

The beat goes on.