Patrick Ruffini at The Next Right:
I’m rooting for Sarah Palin, and in temperament she is nothing like Dean. But she is situated similarly politically, and this is worth exploring further.
Howard Dean emerged when the Demcoratic Party was in full capitulation mode. Dean was the only semi-sorta-mainsteam candidate who said “no” on Iraq. This in-your-face style galvanized the Democratic base, but party mandarins gasped. Dean couldn’t have been more different in style than the “seven dwarves” running against him.
The party elite seemed vindicated when Dean self-destructed. But a little over a year later, Dean was elected DNC Chairman with surprisingly little fuss.
How was this comeback even possible? Whatever Dean’s faults, there was a sense that the party elite had bankrupted itself by running a series of poll-tested me-too triangulators. Dean’s easy victory at the DNC was the precursor of the grassroots’ long-term victory over the elite, culminating in the evisceration of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Does any of this sound familiar?
And who seems to be the flashpoint in this elite-grassroots war currently raging in the GOP? Like Dean, it’s Sarah Palin.
Hmmm. Some of the leftist netroots were undoubtedly attracted to Howard Dean because of his campaign’s atmospherics. But Dean was best known among the anti-war left for his strident opposition to the Iraq debacle. In other words, his campaign embodied progressives’ disagreement with the Democratic establishment over a substantive issue. Aside from some rhetorical bomb-throwing, what really distinguishes guys like David Frum and David Brooks from the rest of the National Review crowd? What policy disputes do the pro-Palin and anti-Palin wings of the GOP argue over? What critique of the Republican establishment fueled Palin’s sudden emergence on the national scene?
Brooks and Frum hail from the party’s reformist faction insofar as they’ve made their peace with the welfare state, but Christopher Buckley, Kathleen Parker, and Peggy Noonan aren’t exactly known for their big-government proclivities. So after surveying the field, there seems to be little actual disagreement between Palin’s supporters and her detractors. Does Ruffini really think this sort of thing will define the future of conservatism? Perhaps we should turn our attention to more substantive matters . . .