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Sarah Palin as the American Thatcher?

12/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the waning hours of the campaign, otherwise known as the end days of Republican rule, acolytes of Sarah Palin are preparing the way for her triumphal return after the dust of defeat has settled.

She is the future of a re-born party and the flag bearer for a new populist Conservatism --so they say - an American Thatcher.

One wonders if these promoters know anything at all about Margaret Thatcher or indeed about the long and honorable Conservative tradition. Margaret Thatcher was reserved, collected, calm and serious. She was the embodiment of gravitas, inner strength and a deeply informed conviction. Yes, she was from the common man. But like most thinking commoners, she appreciated a sharp mind, thriving in the presence of men and women of high wattage intellectual power. She was well read and formally educated at Somerville College, Oxford. Its what contributed to the thoughtful, considered way in which she comported herself, argued her positions in the presence of hostile politicians and made her decisions. She may have been an Iron Lady, but she was no Tin Thinker.

Anyone who doubts this description wasn't watching her at the time. Maybe some of those who seek to make the ludicrous comparison with Sarah Palin just weren't old enough to live through the Thatcher era. In case you missed it, read John O'Sullivan's The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister, among other excellent accounts of Britain's formidable leader.

In normal circumstances Sarah Palin or anyone like her would never be placed in a position to invite comparison with Margaret Thatcher. But that changed when the governor of Alaska was plucked from obscurity and thrust to the center of the world stage in the self-serving, desperate act of a war hero who lost his own center of gravity.

Long after John McCain's candidacy fades into a historical foot-note, his lingering gift to America will have been Sarah Palin.

Thanks to John McCain there will be a Sarah Palin wing of the Republican Party for years to come. This shrill, pandering, small-minded, anti-intellectual lite-weight will be pontificating on all manner of issues, pretending to represent rural America, or Christian America, or Joe six-pack America or Joe the Plumber America. As Barack Obama recognizes in the American people a deep yearning to get beyond divisive labels and the politics of disunity, Sarah Palin can only talk in terms of slicing, dicing and dividing Americans into ever smaller sub-groups and simple-minded abstractions: soccer moms, pit-bulls with lip-stick, real Americans, patriotic parts of the country, good guys and bad guys.

Even a casual observer would notice that if Sarah Palin were a man she would never have been selected by John McCain. The same human being in the opposite sexual package, with the same inexperience, lack of curiosity, intellectual dimness, pettiness, inarticulateness, inability to form and express cogent thoughts and ignorance of history and the modern world would not have made the long list, let alone the short one. What is truly remarkable about Sarah Palin is the juxtaposition of her outsized ambition and high self regard with the small person who is really there. Its not to be fixed by a shopping spree at Neiman-Marcus or Saks. Did ever a politician more personify the fable of The Emperor's New Clothes?

It isn't good enough just to spout the expected slogans or to take the "correct" positions. With all due respect, taxi drivers do that every day. (Or should we call him Charley-the-Cabbie?) Whether their politics arise from traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment on the Right or from the French philosophes on the Left, we should expect our potential leaders to have learning, discerning minds and personal qualifications of distinction.

A sad part of this spectacle has been to watch the effusive, unwarranted praise from so many people who should know better. Are thoughtful Conservatives so desperate that they will suspend disbelief to this extent just for temporary political advantage? And did they figure on just how brief that temporary advantage would be? What was it, two, three weeks? To persist any longer in this blind celebration of Sarah Palin is to make a mockery of Conservatism and to provide its distracters with an easily ridiculed caricature.

The Palin phenomenon seems to have mesmerized a hard core in the Republican Party, transforming a mere mortal into an article of faith. But upon closer scrutiny what is plain to see is nothing more than an eccentric variation of the cult of celebrity, unhinged from tradition and the accumulated wisdom of generations. It is precisely to guard against this kind of demagoguery that we need learning and books and teachers - that we need to study history, politics and literature. The abandonment of rigorous intellectual discernment, true merit and earned accomplishment is the antithesis of Conservatism.

In the memory of Richard Hooker, Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and yes, in honor of Margaret Thatcher, can we end this nonsensical talk of Sarah Palin as the future of Conservatism in America? Please.

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