Matt Lewis, echoing Rush Limbaugh and Erick Erickson, takes conservative writers to task for daring to question Sarah Palin’s readiness for higher office, even putting quotes around the word “conservative” as if to question their ideological purity. Given that I’ve been critical of Palin in recent weeks and have received some reader feedback on this myself, I’d like to address this issue.
Let me say right off the bat that I don’t get out of bed every morning and ask myself what I can do to get Republicans elected. If that were the way I operated, I’d work for the party or join a campaign. Were I to merely say whatever is helpful to Republicans at any given moment, I would have no value as a writer. All I can do is tell the truth as I see it.
Anticipating this point, Lewis writes that, “there is a vast difference between asking a conservative to be blindly loyal to the GOP — something neither Rush or I would suggest — and asking a conservative to simply not become a liberal.” But how does the mere act of criticizing a conservative politician mean somebody has “become a liberal”? If the commentators in question were attacking Palin for being staunchly pro-life, favoring gun rights, opposing talks with Ahmadinejad, and advocating lower taxes, then it would be one thing. But what does one’s opinion on whether or not Palin is prepared to be VP have anything to do with whether somebody is ideologically liberal or conservative? When I closely watch several interviews and honestly reach the conclusion that Palin is out of her depth when talking about foreign policy as well as many national issues, what should I do? It seems that in Lewis’s view, I should either a) keep quiet or b) lie and say that I thought she did great and the interviewer is just a biased liberal hack. Or did I betray conservatives merely by thinking that Palin was unready?
Lewis focuses on the fact that when conservatives criticize Palin it provides fodder for liberals. But incidentally, I don’t think it does Palin any favors for conservatives to cover up for her and convince the campaign that her performances in interviews have been adequate for the office she’s seeking. If it’s only liberals who are doing the criticizing, she can chalk it up to their built-in biases. But when it’s coming from those who should be her natural allies, it’s much more likely that she’ll work harder to improve.
I write this having just completed an essay for our upcoming issue on the Bush legacy in which I argue that one of the biggest mistakes conservatives made during his presidency was to circle the wagons defending him because he was on our “team” against the liberals. Now, the failures of the Bush administration have come to be identified as failures of conservatism, even though they are nothing of the sort. I don’t think conservatives should make the same mistake yet again.