Sarah Palin and the politics of elitism — III

Of all the dumb statements made about the recent presidential election, the absolute dumbest has to be the assertion that Sarah Palin cost John McCain the election.

Not only is there no evidence to support that conclusion, but the truth appears to be precisely the opposite: that McCain got more votes with Palin on the ticket than he would have received had he chosen someone else as his running mate.

Yes, I know, I know. There’s the small matter of that CNN exit poll in which 60 percent of the respondents did not think Palin was qualified to be President. But what those who cite that statistic don’t tell you is that, in the same poll, of the 60 percent of voters who said McCain’s choice of Palin was a factor in their decision, 56 percent voted for the McCain-Palin ticket, while only 43 percent voted for Obama-Biden.

And if the exit polls aren’t convincing, the history of the campaign should be. Going into the Republican convention, McCain was trailing Obama in the polls. After Palin gave her well-received speech at the GOP convention, McCain shot ahead of Obama and held that lead until it evaporated in the late-September subprime mortgage meltdown. McCain didn’t help himself any with his erratic, bull-in-a-china-closet response to the economic crisis. Obama was as clueless as McCain, but his calm demeanor inspired voter confidence and propelled him to a lead that he held through election day.

True, Palin did not help McCain much, if at all, with “moderates” and independents, but, says Chris Cillizza, who writes “The Fix” political blog in The Washington Post, “just because Palin doesn’t appear to have helped McCain move to the middle doesn’t mean that picking her was the wrong move…It’s hard to imagine conservatives rallying to McCain — even to the relatively limited extent that they did — without Palin on the ticket. And without the base, McCain’s loss could have been far worse.”

Those who blame Sarah Palin for McCain’s defeat are in most cases the same ones who blame social conservatives for the drubbings Republicans have taken in the last two elections. If the GOP would just throw the values voters under the bus and endorse unrestricted abortion, gay marriage, gun confiscation, and amnesty for illegal immigrants, they say, Republicans will once again be competitive in the Philadelphia suburbs and win national elections by huge margins.

We’ve heard all this before, usually from liberals who, if the truth be known, have no interest in Republicans winning national elections, or even winning in the Philadelphia suburbs, and from “moderate” Republicans who think the key to winning elections is transform the GOP into Democrat Lite. What’s different this time is that some putative conservatives are now buying into this idiocy.

Since late September the syndicated conservative columnist Kathleen Parker has devoted her columns to scarcely anything else, alternately dissing Gov. Palin and trashing her own readers. Last Wednesday, she unloaded on both in a single column that, in its snarky put-downs of Palin and religious voters, betrays an elitist attitude that is almost breathtaking in its sheer arrogance. Here’s a sample:

…the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn’t soon cometh…Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth — as long as we’re setting ourselves free — is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

…the GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows. In the process, the party has alienated its non-base constituents, including other people of faith (those who prefer a more private approach to worship), as well as secularists and conservative-leaning Democrats who otherwise might be tempted to cross the aisle.

“Oogedy-boogedy”? “Armband religion”? “lowest brows”? These slurs say a lot more about Parker and her prejudices than they do about the problems facing the Republican Party. Lest anyone misconstrue her message, the columnist disses Palin for saying, in response to a question from Fox’s Greta van Susteren about her plans for 2012, that she would seek God’s will in the matter. For Parker, it seems, just believing in God is enough to merit expulsion from the GOP.

Parker no doubt thinks she’s being cute and clever. Unfortunately, she gets so caught up in her own cleverness that she fails to see the errors and contradictions that run through her entire argument. Parker and the “party intelligentsia” may not like social conservatives in general, and Christian conservatives in particular, but the notion that they are “hurting” the Republican Party is simply not supported by the evidence.

First, consider the issues. Those of particular concern to social conservatives are abortion, gay marriage and immigration. After years of Republican Congresses and Republican administrations, on the abortion issue the only thing social conservatives have to show for their fealty to the GOP is a ban on partial-birth abortion — a position that has consistently been supported by more than 70 percent of the electorate. The electorate has also agreed with the social conservative position on gay marriage, which has been voted down in every state — about 30 so far — in which the issue has appeared on the ballot. Even in liberal California, where Obama trounced McCain by 24 points, voters passed a constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to a man and a woman.

And on immigration, what is there to say? McCain was not only to the left of the base on this issue, he was to the left of the overwhelming majority of Americans, who strongly oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants. According to a recent Zogby poll, even among Obama supporters, less than a third favor amnesty.

So, on these “hot button” issues, at least, it seems the views of the general electorate are not far from those of the social conservatives. The best evidence for this comes from the Obama campaign, which came out against gay marriage and tried to downplay their candidate’s previous support for late-term abortions.

The most important issue driving voters in this election — the issue cited by 63 percent of them in the CNN exit poll — was the economy. The next most important issue (10 percent) was the war in Iraq, followed by terrorism (nine percent), health care (nine percent) and energy policy (seven percent). None of these issues has much of anything to do with religious conservatives.

Then there’s the demographics. Parker seems to think they’re running against the GOP, but are they? In the CNN exit poll, 26 percent of the sample were white voters who described themselves as “evangelical/born-again”. Of these, 74 percent voted for McCain. Although this was about five points below President Bush’s white evangelical vote, that’s still a lot of oogedy-boogedies. Another key Republican constituency is gun owners. In the CNN poll, 42 percent of the voters lived in a household in which at least one member owns a gun. McCain received the votes of 62 percent of that group. Of course, there’s some overlap between these two groups, but that’s still a lot of voters.

One fact often cited by those who want to toss the values voters out of the GOP is that Obama overwhelmed McCain among African-American and women voters. This is true — McCain only received four percent of the black vote, while women voted 56 – 43 percent for Obama. But you’d think these people had never seen a Venn diagram. The set of women in the sample includes a lot of non-white women. If you just look at white women, McCain won that group 53 – 46 percent.

However, their point is well-taken. Republicans don’t do very well with African-Americans, and need to reach out to them. But reach out with what? The major area of common ground between African-Americans and the GOP is on precisely those issues that are of most concern to evangelical voters. In California, where 95 percent of blacks voted for Obama, 70 percent voted to restrict marriage to a man and a woman. And black voters — as well as Hispanics — have traditionally been more conservative than white voters on issues such as abortion and school choice. If the Republican Party won’t reach out to minorities with social issues such as these, what issues will it use? Increasing the H-1B quota? Doubling ethanol subsidies? Or maybe the GOP could just embrace complete socialism and outflank Democrats on the left.

The GOP can purge itself of the oogedy-boogedies easily enough. All it has to do is take positions on their core issues that are anathema to them and nominate candidates who think like Kathleen Parker. Of course, the party shouldn’t expect to win many elections.

The fact is, the Republican Party needs the social conservatives, and needs them badly. The party cannot win elections without them. Certainly, a conservative cannot be elected to the Presidency without them. Sarah Palin resonates with these voters — which is why 64 percent of Republican voters told the Rasmussen Poll that she is their first choice for the party’s nomination in 2012. If Kathleen Parker is so anxious to be rid of 64 percent of GOP voters, she had better have some plan for replacing them.

The late Murray Rothbard understood that the cause of liberty will not be advanced by dismissing the values voters. He knew that these are the people who live out there where life is lived, who ultimately must pay, sometimes with their lives or the lives of their children, for the disastrous policies that are dreamed up by the elites in the Washington think tanks. That is one of the reasons he left the Libertarian Party in 1992 and supported Pat Buchanan’s candidacy for the Republican nomination.

But Rothbard understood more. He understood that, while they might not have the polish and sophistication and Ivy League degrees of the elites, social conservatives’ instincts are fundamentally sound.

From Nolan Chart.