False choices

Author's note, 2016-10-14: It's a measure of how far I've traveled politically in the last eight years that I call myself conservative in this post. Let it be noted that it is no longer true--if it ever really was.

I haven't blogged anything yet about the nomination of Sarah Palin to be the Republican vice-presidential candidate, because I've been waiting for the dust to clear. Her speech to the GOP convention was about par for the course, albeit delivered flawlessly. It's the job of the vice-presidential candidate to be an attack dog, and she clearly fulfilled that mandate. So far, so good.

What has been interesting to me is the reaction of conservatives of all varieties to her nomination. For the most part, they've been falling all over themselves to praise her, and even people who should know better are joining the chorus. There's been a great deal of talk about how refreshing it is to have someone on the ticket who is such a regular person, someone who knows what it's like to shop at Wal-Mart, someone who goes hunting and has membership in the NRA. This is usually contrasted with the usual culture-war stuff about the liberal elite and how they're out of touch with ordinary Americans, how they look down on them and consider themselves to be their betters.

Frankly, all that makes me want to throw up. It's setting up a false dichotomy between so-called "ordinary Americans" and those who have a more cosmopolitan outlook. I'd like to know just what an "ordinary American" is. Is it the closeted gay teacher in Bismarck, North Dakota who drives his F-150 to shop at Wal-Mart? Or is it the conservative Russian Orthodox deacon in New York City who always rides public transportation and buys organic? I'm conservative, but I'm a Californian with an imported car and I'm married to a woman with a Ph.D. Am I an ordinary American?

It will come as no surprise to anyone who opens their eyes occasionally that America is a bit more diverse than the crowd at the GOP convention in St. Paul, which was 92% white and chock-full of party loyalists. Palin was a hit with the base. Great. Now, the real question is this: how will she play in Peoria? Or New York? Or New Orleans?

It's one thing to energize the base of the party. It's another thing to win an election. I happen to think there is a middle ground, something between giving Islamic extremists everything they want in the name of political correctness and going into an invade-Russia-and-drill-in-the-Arctic mentality.

What I'd like to see, ideally, is some understanding that the world is a complicated place. I'd like to see a candidate who knows enough about history to understand why Russia views Ukraine as its own backyard, or has foreign policy advisers who do. I'd like to see a candidate who has the insight to ask the Patriarch of Antiochif he might have any insights into living with Islam, seeing as how his church has been doing it for around six hundred years.

Of course, none of that will happen. The American political process doesn't lend itself to a lot of thoughtful discussion. What we will probably get instead is more of the same speechifying about "putting the country first," comparisons between pit bulls and hockey moms, and divisive culture-war nonsense about "real Americans" in places like Alaska and Idaho vs. the Volvo-driving, espresso-swilling, Atlantic Monthly-reading, homosexual-loving, liberal coastal elites who want to make your kids Wiccans and teach them Darwin.

Lord, have mercy.