Sunday, August 21, 2011

You likely didn't notice, but third-tier blogger Dan Riehl and his erstwhile patron and chunin-rank pundit Mark Levin engaged in a minor series of hissy-fits over vaguely, sort of, nominally not-complimentary things about Michelle Malkin and Sarah Palin, respectively, that appeared at RedState.

Now, I should note that I have no particular beef with Mark Levin -- among second-rate bloviators and pundits, he's easily in the top fifth or so -- and I think Dan Riehl, though utterly inconsequential, is likely charming whenever he's let out of obedience school, so I hope it's clear that I'm not trying really hard to make this personal. Rather, I'm making a larger point about how the dimmer the bulb, the more any perceived slight on one's personal political avatar becomes an assault on one's household gods; how this engages the brighter bulbs in the same battles over time; and how that tendency threatens to turn a primary season that should be wholly about finding the best candidate to defeat Captain Kitten and his merry band of Neiman Marxists into yet another round of bloodsport internecine warfare.

Let's put Michelle Malkin to the side before we start (a sentiment I would that the conservative movement would consider seriously in a larger sense). Malkin, who is undeniably ridiculously bright, telegenic, and media-savvy, is basically only useful for making sure that a small, easily irritated, not-overly-clever segment of the voting population shows up at the polls and vaguely intuits that the Republicans will be less bad than the Democrats when it comes to letting the filthy brown people come to the United States. Instead, let's talk about Presidential candidates, declared and never-to-be.

I am a fairly big Sarah Palin fan; I have believed for almost three years that she is too smart and too sane to run for the Presidency, as doing so would endanger her family, her ability to make money, and her sanity. To run for the Presidency in the modern era means alienating yourself from your family, pretending you think the good people of New Hampshire and Iowa have even minor modica of common sense (for which you must rigorously ignore their voting patterns over the last two decades), eating bad food, wearing ridiculous clothing, and sleeping in the hotels and motels everyone else must to show that you can pretend you've slept in a hotel with less than three stars in living memory. All of that, of course, precedes the relentless harassment of your spouse and children, parents, colleagues, college roommates, and, unless you're Barack Obama, your doctor and/or your college registrar. Mrs. Palin has been through too much of that; so far, she appears to be vindicating my faith in her. My good money says she doesn't run.

But regardless of whether she does or not, the critical, the most important, the single-most-useful thing to remember about her is that she is a politician. Oh, Lord, she is crafty, and as Leon noted, you don't boatrace the two biggest names in Alaska politics in one fell swoop without being at least not-dumb. She has an eye and an ear for the media the likes of which we rarely see. If that useless pile of flesh John McCain hadn't wasted her talent, she would surely be a fresh, new face on the campaign trail this year or in 2016. But she is a politician, she is a Republican politician, and she is neither a goddess nor an avatar nor a living embodiment of anything. She's a mother of five who clawed her way up the chain, which means she also has good political instincts to boot; but she will use, chew up, and spit out whatever and whoever is needed to accomplish her goal.

That is what politicians do.

To be a successful Republican politician means knowing when to work with and when to buck the Party establishment, because if you don't, you're not a Republican, you're an independent or a member of a fringe group like the Constitution Party, the Libertarians, or fans of Third Eye Blind. How you balance punching the party in the eye and moving it along is the measure of your effectiveness as a politician. John McCain, in twenty years of trying, hasn't figured this one out yet, and not unrelatedly, he was doomed never to be President McCain. George W. Bush ran this gauntlet in 2000, and not unrelatedly, he became President Bush.

But there is nothing insulting -- or at least so insulting that a B-level pundit would feel the need to assert how seriously conservative he really is where everyone can laugh at him -- in saying that Sarah Palin sometimes runs with the Republican establishment. Of course she does. Her schtick is dependent on having sway inside and outside the party, and God bless her for pulling it off. I hated her endorsement of Fiorina (whose campaign was a waste from its announcement through its agonizing and entirely predictable failure) and I think her non-endorsement endorsement of Orrin Hatch is beyond ridiculous. But she needs to balance the ridiculous establishment endorsements against the rebel challenges or she will lose all of her influence in the party's establishment; and without that, she's a significantly hotter Rush Limbaugh with a lesser radio talent and a greater new media talent.

But more importantly, who cares? Even assuming she is running for President -- and she is not -- she hardly needs would-be-surrogates to defend her, to feign or feel indignation on her behalf. Part of why I'm a big fan of hers is that she clearly has steel in her spine, and the brains and mouth to back it up.

This is as true of the nominally real candidates in the race. Jon Huntsman's vanity campaign is well-enough funded -- if colossally stupid enough -- to hire people to insult his Party's base for him. (Dear Huntsman consultants: Before you get to the general electorate, you must convince Republicans to let you. Send my fee to Eagle, they'll forward it to me.) Mitt Romney's incredible astroturfing skills from 2007-2008 are doubtless even greater this time around, and if I cared enough, I'd probably be impressed. Rick Perry has a dangerously good -- if at times self-destructively petty -- campaign team, all of whom draw salaries for a reason. Michelle Bachmann has a long history of giving as good as she gets, which is just as well given the sometimes too-short relay time between her brain and her mouth.

Ron Paul and his delusional followers have long experience with onanism, so they don't particularly care what you think.

But one of these people will clear the primaries. (Obviously, not Ron Paul.) Because they are politicians and see voters as tools to achieve goals, they don't care what you or I think of them so long as we vote for them. Let me repeat that: THEY DON'T CARE. They see us as means to ends, and if the means happen to gripe while they get used, well, that's pretty amusing, but as long as the end is accomplished, the griping is irrelevant.

This fundamental inability to understand the politician's relationship to his constituents underlies everything from the intra-party rancor you inevitably see in primaries to Captain Kitten's election in 2008. I watched the dynamic play out in 2008, and it goes like this:

Step One: Beloved candidate is attacked/not properly appreciated/made out to be less than other, less-awesome candidate.

Step Two: Stupid people who believe Step One to be literally true rise to nominally beleaguered candidate's defense. Not-dim people sit back, with their hopes and dreams invested in the politician, but brains still engaged, and try to be reasonable.

Step Three: All-out war begins between the politicians' proxy-moron armies.

Step Four: Slowly more enraged by the attacks playing out between the cretins, the non-cretins jump into the fray.

Step Five: Someone wins the primary. A small portion of his opponents' supporters refuse to help because they are either too angry or too convinced of the awfulness of the winner because of the slapfights in Steps Three and Four. A larger portion won't go to the ground to help because of the same reasons, even though they'll vote for him.

Step Six: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passes both Houses through the use of parliamentary tricks unbecoming an adult Republic.

Our first, primary, and overriding goals should be the absolute destruction of the Obama Presidency by all legal and more-or-less ethical means, and retaking the Senate. Anything constructively aiding that goal -- including good-faith debate of each candidate's strengths and weaknesses -- is good. Anything else is like being a Ron Paul follower: Yelling for the way your pants feel afterward.

We didn't remotely grasp that lesson in 2008. We have two Supreme Court justices, one unconstitutional government behemoth of a health care law, and a gigantic regulatory mess to show for it. If we continue acting like Riehl and Levin are now, it will get worse from here.