The Spectacle Blog

Palin or Paleo?

By on 9.30.08 | 3:39PM

Remember the controversy over whether Sarah Palin was, gasp, a Buchananite? Sean Scallon has an interesting article in the current issue of the American Conservative exploring how Jacksonian social conservatives migrated from the 1990s Buchanan Brigades to the Bush Leagues, even though they represent polar opposites in terms of foreign policy.

The break between Buchanan and Jacksonians like Palin had at least as much to do with foreign policy as with his split from the Republican Party. The anti-interventionist arguments of his 1999 book A Republic, Not an Empire might have thrilled old Taft Republicans in the upper Midwest and warmed the ground around Col. Robert McCormick's grave, but they alienated Buchanan's demographic base, which preferred the culture warrior to the anti-warrior. The America First movement had always been weak in the South and border states-with all their bases and military industries and their martial culture extending back to Scots-Irish roots-and the surplus population from those areas continued to settle throughout the country even after World War II, including in Sarah Palin's Alaska....

Palin represents not the return of the Buchanan Brigades but, as Daniel Larison has said, the "recreation of the Bush II coalition" of Jacksonian Protestants and neoconservatives. Her presence on the ticket reconnects the voters who supported Mike Huckabee to the Republican establishment from which they were alienated between 2006 and the moment of Palin's nomination. That's why Bill Kristol is as much a fan of Palin as Buchanan is: her presence on the ticket reinvigorates the party's base and gives the GOP a chance to keep Kristol's friends and associates in power. He knows the neoconservatives need the Jacksonians in order to win, which is why he wasn't promoting Joe Lieberman as McCain's running mate.

How in line with the neocons Palin ends up being could help shape the direction of the American right, Scallon concludes. But for now, he says, "The Buchanan Brigades of which Sarah Palin was a member are long gone, their ranks now firmly in neoconservative hands." The one question I wished he'd explored is whether there is anything paleos themselves could do to influence conservatism and appeal to the voters who have gone from Buchanan to Bush. The last few years have shown paleos were wrong to romanticize "Middle American Radicals." Dismissing them as red-state fascists may also prove a mistake.

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