Sunday, November 20, 2011

Kathleen Parker Gets Reagan and Buckley Wrong

Kathleen Parker seems to think the best way to emphasize a point is to demean others. Her current column not only takes a hit at Sarah Palin (who Parker targets even though Palin is not running for president or leadership of the Republican party). It also mischaracterizes Ronald Reagan and, strangely enough, questions William F. Buckley Jr.'s friendships.

Parker says the GOP has been Palinized--meaning it has become anti-elite and anti-intellectual.
"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."
Interesting that this was the same charge thrown at Ronald Reagan. According to his critics, he was a B movie actor who could smile and look good on camera, who went to a no name college, and was known as a rancher not an intellectual. His persona was of a guy out riding horses or clearing brush rather than spending long hours in his personal library reading. Some questioned whether he read much at all. Not a really smart guy like Jimmy Carter or the reporters and pundits who wrote about Reagan's manifest intellectual weaknesses. Nor was Reagan Ivy League, with a pedigree like George H. W. Bush (son of Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush). Shoot, Reagan wasn't even top tier in the Hollywood set.

Parker omits these facts about Reagan because they weigh against her analysis. To sort of smooth over the manifest Reagan common man appeal, Parker intimates that Reagan was a big tent Republican. Heh. Gerald Ford might dispute that since Reagan ran against Ford in the 1976 Republican presidential primary on the basis that Ford wasn't conservative enough. Big tent people don't usually challenge their own party's sitting president.

But Parker isn't satisfied with swiping at non-candidates like Palin and painting Reagan as "big tent" and, one assumes, different from Sarah Palin, in being pro-elitist and pro-intellectual. Parker takes a swipe at people who were Bill Buckley's friends.
"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."
The intimation is that people who "boast" of being Buckley's friends couldn't really have been such because they don't have the same sparkling wit and intellectual class as Buckley himself. Of course, that would mean that Buckley had almost no friends since few were his intellectual equals.

The most prominent talk show host who has mentioned his friendship with Bill Buckley is Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh from time to time talks about Buckley's friendship, encouragement and kindness in welcoming Limbaugh to the conservative circle when Limbaugh was starting his rise. (Buckley even interviewed Limbaugh on Firing Line. See below.)

To imply that someone else's talk about a personal friendship is meaningless with no evidence other than that the friends have differences is not only anti-intellectual because no proof is given, it also betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of friendship.

Here's what National Review editor Rich Lowry had to say in March of 2008 about Bill Buckley's friendship with Rush Limbaugh when an unfavorable comparison was made between Buckley and Limbaugh:
"Let me stick up for Rush, though. Because Bill adored Rush. And you know, Rush is not a public intellectual. That’s not what he’s doing. And no one would have ever for all Bill Buckley’s talents, 20 million people would never have listened to Bill Buckley on the radio for three hours every day. So, it’s an unfair comparison." (about the 30:50 mark in the discussion)
Ms. Parker seems to have missed one of the main points of friendship--to admire differences while basking in the points of similar interest that brought you together.

One can only feel sorry for a professional political pundit who not only gets it wrong that Reagan stood for expanding the Republican Party to include elites and intellectuals (rather than calling in the conservative, non-elite, non-intellectual working class Reagan Democrats), but who scoffs at other people's friendships just because one of the parties isn't of a "pedigree" that Parker personally likes. Sad.

Oh, and it goes without saying that Sarah Palin having been elected the first woman and youngest governor in Alaska's history (the forced dump of 25,000 of her e-mails showing her as an "effective", "attentive", "hands on", "decisive", governor in areas "ranging from small issues to very large issues"); having effectively fought political corruption and quit a well-paying public job to do so; having authored two best sellers (one vying for the best selling political memoir of all time); having been the first woman Republican vice presidential nominee; having had opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal (and here and just this week here), New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post (and here), and National Review (and here); and having negotiated the largest private sector infrastructure project in North American history has arguably done more intellectual and practical good work than Ms. Parker. Though one must admit that Ms. Parker had a longer running TV series than Governor Palin though with only a fraction of the weekly viewers Palin garnered.

UPDATE: Another good take by J. Robert Smith: Kathleen Parker's Trash Talk


James Nicholas said...

The most revered Republican leaders are always the dead ones. If the least informed received the loudest applause Kathleen Parker may very well receive a standing ovation. This is something more than simply getting it wrong. This is willfully misleading. The Republican party has not become "Palinized" (an inane concept to be sure). The party has become infused with conservatism, and though the party has not been deserving of this infusion, the conservatives see the Republican party as the best of two bad choices. Republican intellectuals and party bosses like Karl Rove are not committed conservatives. To better effect the changes the conservatives hope for they are attempting to steer the party toward more conservative principles of limited government and greater freedom. In their efforts to save the nation the conservatives hope to start by electing more conservative candidates into the Republican party. The 2010 landslide was a conservative landslide.

Ms. Parker may do well to review commentary of years gone by. Bill Buckley was not revered by the left when he was alive and well. In fact, Republican party officials were not enamored of him either. Parker is writing fairy tales.

Excellent post.

IlĂ­on said...

I couldn't agree more, Nicholas.

T. D. said...

I'm with you, Ilion. Excellent, concise summary, JN, of what is wrong with Parker's analysis as well as her role in trying to stop conservatives from gaining a bigger influence in the GOP.

Thanks to you both for stopping by and commenting.