“Republicans aren’t really stupid, of course, and Begala acknowledges this. But, as he also pointed out, the conservative brain trust once led by William F. Buckley has been supplanted by talk radio hosts who love to quote Buckley (and boast of his friendship) but who do not share the man’s pedigree or his nimble mind. Moreover, where Buckley tried to rid the GOP of fringe elements, notably the John Birch Society, today’s conservatives have let them back in. The 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference was co-sponsored by the Birchers.
“Meanwhile, the big tent fashioned by Ronald Reagan has become bilious with the hot air of religious fervor. No one was more devout than the very-Catholic Buckley, but you didn’t see him convening revivals in the public square. Nor is it likely he would have embraced fundamentalist views that increasingly have forced the party into a corner where science and religion can’t coexist…
“It takes courage to swim against the tide of know-nothingness that has become de rigueur among the anti-elite, anti-intellectual Republican base. Call it the Palinization of the GOP, in which the least informed earns the loudest applause. The latest to this spectacle is Herman Cain, who has figured out how to turn his liabilities into assets. After fumbling for an answer during an editorial board meeting to a simple question about his position on Libya, a lead news item since February, Cain blamed — who else? — the media.”
“To know little and to be proud of knowing little is disrespectful of the democratic process, and of the moment we’re in.
“The purpose here isn’t to slam Mr. Cain but to point out that when Republicans talk like this—no, when GOP voters cheer Republicans who talk like this—it leads their opponents to smile in smug satisfaction.
“A central line of Democratic attack against Republicans is that they’re not really for anything, they just hate government. That, Democrats say, is why Republicans speak so disrespectfully of government as an institution, that’s why they blithely dismiss the baseline requirements of a public office, as Mr. Cain does.
“The charge that Republicans just hate government carries other implications—that they’re stupid, that they’re haters by nature, that they’re cynical and merely strategic, that they enjoy having phantom foes around whom to coalesce, like cavemen warming themselves around a fire.”
“Cain gives every impression of having run for president to showcase his enviable strengths as a communicator, before the gambit got serious when he vaulted to the top of the polls. As the inspiring outsider-businessman, Cain needn’t sound like he’s auditioning for the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. But is it too much to ask that he sound like he reads the newspaper every day?
“His typical answer on national-security questions is that he would consult the experts, a thinly disguised dodge. What if the experts are wrong (as they often are) or disagree (as they often do)? Because Cain has no independent knowledge base or bearings, he would be entirely a creature of others on foreign policy…
“Cain’s candidacy reflects the ever-lowering bar for running for president. Pat Buchanan was a media figure who ran for president; now some people run for president to become media figures. Cain is such a winsome personality that he gets away with shameless excesses of self-promotion. He refers to himself in the third person more than the notoriously self-referential Bob Dole ever did. The title of his campaign book is This Is Herman Cain! It’s impossible to imagine the great conservative insurgent of 1964 writing a book titled This Is Barry Goldwater!”
“It’s not clear when Parker wrote her column, but a glance at the RealClearPolitics average of polls shows a clear trend: Cain, now third in the GOP race, is going down. And, just anecdotally, discussions with a number of political insiders and regular voters around the country in recent days suggest the reason for Cain’s decline is precisely his difficulty in answering basic questions about U.S. policy. That decline is not the result, or certainly not fully the result, of sexual harassment allegations against Cain, which many in the Republican base view as insufficiently substantiated. In fact, to the degree that some in the GOP believe Cain is being treated unfairly, the harassment issue might actually contribute to some of his continued support. But in any event, Cain is trending downward.
“It’s not an anomaly. So far, there have been three Republican candidates who rose and fell quickly in the polls: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Cain. Each rose because voters liked some combination of his or her message, experience, and personal appeal. But each fell mostly for one reason: Republican voters became concerned about whether they knew enough to be president…
“The candidate who has consistently stayed near the top of Republican polls is Mitt Romney. There are no questions about whether he knows enough to be president. The candidate who is rising at the moment, as Parker points out, is Newt Gingrich, about whom the same is true. And the candidate who has stayed around the middle tier of the race is Ron Paul, who, for whatever problems exist in some of his policy positions, has not faced questions about his knowledge of the issues. At the bottom tier of the race, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman have also not faced such questions.
“Somehow Parker styles all of this — informed candidates rising, uninformed candidates falling — as a ‘tide of know-nothingness’ engulfing the Republican party. If that were really the case, wouldn’t it be the other way around?”
“Never mind that there’s a solid argument to make that the Tea Party movement echoes the Jacksonian uprising of the early 1800s. Those Jacksonian Democrats were louts, too; they had no respect for the elites of the day. Jacksonian Democrats’ boots were muddy, and they swilled whiskey. Heavens, where were their manners? They practiced such common trades. What lady or gentleman would keep their company? And that Andy Jackson, what an intellectual lightweight!…
“Parker’s opinions are representative of establishmentarians’ reaction to a grassroots conservative movement that they 1) may not understand very well; 2) disdain because they’re worldviews and values are so at odds; 3) feel threatened by – as well they should.
“Keep Kathleen Parker before you, she who trumpets for the American establishment. It’s good to keep tabs on the ever evolving, wickedly smart, amazingly sophisticated perceptions of the very people grassroots conservatives need to defeat.”