Thomas Sowell on Sarah Palin and Whittaker Chambers; UPDATE: The Reaction

The great Thomas Sowell has penned a beautiful and thought-provoking article on Gov. Palin titled “Not One of Us.” I will post it in full because it should not be excerpted. It must be read in its entirety:

If Barack Obama has been the most remarkable phenomenon of the recent political scene, Sarah Palin must be second. The emotional responses to each– especially by the media and the intelligentsia — go beyond anything that can be explained by the usual political differences of opinion on issues of the day.

That liberals would be thrilled by another liberal is not surprising. But there are conservative Republicans who voted for Barack Obama, and other conservatives who may not have voted for him, but who are quick to see in various pragmatic moves of his since taking office an indication that he is not an extremist.

Anyone familiar with history knows that Hitler and Stalin were pragmatic. After years of denouncing each other, they signed the Nazi-Soviet pact under which they became allies for a couple of years before going to war against one another.

Pragmatism tells you nothing about extremism. But the conservative intellectuals who seize upon President Obama’s pragmatism to give him the benefit of the doubt are obviously bending over backward for some reason.

With Governor Palin, it is just the opposite. The conservative intelligentsia who react against her have remarkably little to say that will stand up to scrutiny. People who actually dealt with her, before she became a national figure, have expressed how much they were impressed by her intelligence.

Governor Palin’s “inexperience” is a talking point that might have some plausibility if it were not for the fact that Barack Obama has far less experience in actually making policies than Sarah Palin has. Joe Biden has had decades of experience in being both consistently wrong and consistently a source of asinine statements.

Governor Palin’s candidacy for the vice presidency was what galvanized grass roots Republicans in a way that John McCain never did. But there was something about her that turned even some conservative intellectuals against her and provoked visceral anger and hatred from liberal intellectuals.

Perhaps the best way to try to understand these reactions is to recall what Eleanor Roosevelt said when she first saw Whittaker Chambers, who had accused Alger Hiss of being a spy for the Soviet Union. Upon seeing the slouching, overweight and disheveled Chambers, she said, “He’s not one of us.”

The trim, erect and impeccably dressed Alger Hiss, with his Ivy League and New Deal pedigree, clearly was “one of us.” As it turned out, he was also a liar and a spy for the Soviet Union. Not only did a jury decide that at the time, the opening of the secret files of the Soviet Union in its last days added more evidence of his guilt.

The Hiss-Chambers confrontation of more than half a century ago produced the same kind of visceral polarization that Governor Sarah Palin provokes today.

Before the first trial of Alger Hiss began, reporters who gathered at the courthouse informally sounded each other out as to which of them they believed, before any evidence had been presented. Most believed that Hiss was telling the truth and that it was Chambers who was lying.

More important, those reporters who believed that Chambers was telling the truth were immediately ostracized. None of this could have been based on the evidence for either side, for that evidence had not yet been presented in court.

For decades after Hiss was convicted and sent to federal prison, much of the media and the intelligentsia defended him. To this day, there is an Alger Hiss chair at Bard College.

Why did it matter so much to so many people which of two previously little-known men was telling the truth? Because what was on trial was not one man but a whole vision of the world and a way of life.

Governor Sarah Palin is both a challenge and an affront to that vision and that way of life– an overdue challenge, much as Chambers’ challenge was overdue.

Whether Governor Palin runs for national office again is something that only time will tell. But the Republicans need some candidate who is neither one of the country club Republicans nor– worse yet– the sort of person who appeals to the intelligentsia.

This article gives me the opportunity to discuss two of my heroes: Thomas Sowell and Whittaker Chambers.

I first discovered Thomas Sowell as a teenager reading my older brother’s copy of the Conservative Chronicle. In the days before the internet, the Chronicle was how we read conservative columnists from around the country.

Robert Stacy McCain often touts Sowell’s book “The Vision of the Anointed” — and rightly so. It’s well worth reading.

Sowell compares Palin to Whittaker Chambers, and in my mind, there can be few greater honors than to be compared to that brave and brilliant man. I don’t know how many of you ordinary barbarians have read Chambers’ famous book “Witness,” but if you haven’t, you absolutely must. It’s one of finest memoirs of the twentieth century, and it’s certainly a masterpiece of conservative literature and of American literature in general. There is a lyrical quality to his writing that is evocative of the great literary figures of the 1920s and 30s. As an undergrad at Columbia, his professors and fellow students all thought that he would go on to become a major poet or novelist. You’ll see why when you read his book.

Ronald Reagan always had a copy of “Witness” on his shelf. It was a life-changing book for him. He often quoted it.

In 1984, President Reagan posthumously awarded Chambers the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to “the century’s epic struggle between freedom and totalitarianism.”

Sowell is right — Chambers wasn’t “one of them.” Sarah Palin isn’t one of them either. She’s one of us. So was Chambers. Chambers was the best of us. So is Sarah Palin.


The reaction to this column is going to be fun to watch if the comments over at RealClearPolitics are any indication. Here’s my personal favorite from a Palin-hater:

Two years as a governor in a state that has no income tax? What did she know about making tough decisions? How hard is it to keep people happy in a state where people get an oil check from the federal government and just want to be left alone? As it’s been said, she’d be more fit to run Saudi Arabia than America, where you have to make choices that affect your constituents where it matters, in their pocketbook.

Yeah, creating energy plans and infrastructure for a state that is largely untouched and just 50 years shy of its territorial days as a frontier outpost… walk in the park! Negotiating the largest private infrastructure project in North American history… any idiot could do that! Designing and implementing a massive multifaceted renewable energy plan for a state larger than the combined area of the next three largest states (Texas, California, and Montana)… peanuts! Of course, Sarah Palin is a complete idiot. She’s dumb because she has a Fargo accent and winks and says things like “doggone it” and shops at Wal-Mart. She’s stupid. When are all of you stupid people going to understand this?

People like that commenter are immune to facts or logic. They think Palin is stupid, and nothing you tell them will change their minds. They’re the people Sowell had in mind when he wrote, “The conservative intelligentsia who react against her have remarkably little to say that will stand up to scrutiny.”

In our own comments section, some of you have suggested that NRO’s love of Jindal and dislike of Palin is a Catholic vs. Evangelical thing. No, I completely disagree. I’m a Catholic in the same vein as the NRO Catholics, and I admire Evangelicals. I think the NRO Catholics do too.

I think the Palin-dislike has to do with certain intellectuals. And I write “certain” because one of the finest intellects at NRO is Victor Davis Hanson, and he loves Sarah Palin. His numerous defenses of Palin during the election were brilliant. And let’s not forget the great Mark Steyn and John O’Sullivan. (Outside of NRO, one of my favorite Palin-defending intellectuals is Roger Kimball.) The hate-Palin NRO crowd included Frum, Parker, Chris Buckley and a few other mostly neo-con contributors. The core NRO editorial staff members like K-Lo, Lowry, Ramesh, and Jonah Goldberg were supportive of Palin during the election, but are generally neutral to her now. They tend to just ignore her. I highly doubt that they would support her during a primary election. I don’t think they really like her because I don’t think they really respect her. I think that’s where their instinctive snob-reflex comes into play. They wouldn’t admit it unless you gave them sodium pentothal, but I think deep down they’re embarrassed by us ordinary barbarians. They’d like the conservative movement to look more like Bobby Jindal and less like Sarah Palin because Palin looks like us and Jindal looks like a faculty member. I think that’s what Thomas Sowell was subtly getting at in this column.

I should add that I really like Jindal too. I like both Jindal and Palin and don’t see why the conservative movement should be fragmented the way it is by people who show such contempt for Sarah Palin.

On a separate note, one of our readers, Emerson C, suggests that we compile a list of our favorite conservative books. Excellent idea. He offers some suggestions:

Apart from the one’s mentioned, my picks would be Eric Voegelin’s ‘The New Science of Politics’, Eric von Kuehnelt Leddhin’s ‘Leftism Revisited’ and Bertrand De Jouvanel’s “Power–its Growth and History’.

Benjamin Disraeli instructed us to “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” I tend to read history books and biographies in order to get at the truth without theory — at least at first. I go for theory later, and Emerson suggests some fine tomes in that department. I encourage our readers to suggest others. Who said the ordinary barbarians can’t think like the swells? We just read our Chambers and Kirk in carhartts, that’s all.


Our readers howiroll and Anonymous (why can’t you people just choose a name?!) inform us that Palin was spotted carrying a Thomas Sowell’s book at the airport on her way back to Alaska. Excellent choice, Guv.

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