Republicans have entered an ugly phase. Cynical jeering at the national convention, angry rally crowds, divisive populism. An optimist might call these the death throes of a hobbled conservative movement. But a realist can only be alarmed by John McCain's solicitation of his supporters' worst instincts. All of it, as Peggy Noonan gracefully warned, is bad for America.
Before McCain's public summons of darkness ("Who is the real Barack Obama?"), Gov. Sarah Palin was displaying equally flag-raising tactics.
Let's begin with some simple illogic:
The nominee for vice-president says that climate change is real and supports caps on carbon emissions.
But Sarah Palin does not believe that man is responsible for climate change.
Among several contradiction made during the debate, this one was exquisite.
One plus one equals not three, but nothing at all. With this logic, you can join Alcoholics Anonymous and deny that you drink when you get there. AA will cure you of a disease you don't have. The doublespeak is distilled to such potency, meaning has vaporized. Only fumes remain.
To unpack her position: If humankind plays no role in climate change, there is little point in hobbling industry with carbon restrictions. An honest (if wrong) politician would admit as much. Climate change is bunk, they would say, so why sacrifice for a fraudulent theory? (In Idaho, they actually do say this.)
Say what you will about the contrarian views of conservative outliers on global warming (every issue needs its maverick), Palin's catchy nonsense is dangerous. It is a gateway political drug. When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead, the song goes, into the rabbit hole we go.
This was not an inevitable end for the GOP. Before George W. Bush and Fox News, before Buckley died and Brooks contorted to hide his weekly hard-ons, the party had intellectual backbone. The party of mahogany walls and heavy-bottomed tumblers pushed economic theories that, while greedy, were at least logically defensible.
Conservatives once derided liberal excess. Their movement won battles against spotted owls, fascist impulses dressed up as political correctness (remember your "Freshperson" year in college?), and wasteful spending.
The party of McCain believed, above all, in honor.
That is now over. And how poignant and tragic and fitting that McCain is the man to invoke the shadow. McCain, the man who deserved the presidency eight years ago. McCain, the man who fell in South Carolina to such hideous racism and lies about his own family (Cindy was inconsolable). Thirty years ago, under unimaginable physical duress, John McCain peered into the darkness and pulled back. Today, with just as much honor on the line, he shakes hands with the demon.
Enter Sarah Palin. If darkness comes from a bright, white star, the reasoning goes, it can't be all that bad. But the policies have become so unspeakable (torture, schmorture; Iranians are "a bunch of assholes"; and on the seventh day, God created triceratopses) and the campaigning so base (terrorist, kill, terrorist, kill), that down-home sex-appeal is the only hope to sell it to what Pat Buchanan calls the "Middle American Radicals."
Palin paradoxes will continue.
To chaperone Wall Street, "greater oversight" is needed, she says. But government is not the solution.
America is tired of politics as usual, she says. But her opponent, he's a Muslim-terrorist mole.
Republican rallies turn reptilian. McCain darts his tongue and flashes his teeth. His movement abandons logic and honor, anything to hold power. In the days ahead, remember that America is too good for this John McCain.