The Perils of ‘Populist Chic’

What the rise of Sarah Palin and populism means for the conservative intellectual tradition.

By MARK LILLA

The Wall Street Journal – NOVEMBER 8, 2008

Finita la commedia. Many things ended on Tuesday evening when Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, and depending on how you voted you are either celebrating or mourning this weekend. But no matter what our political affiliations, we should all — Republicans and Democrats alike — be toasting the return of Governor Sarah Palin to Juneau, Alaska.

The Palin farce is already the stuff of legend. For a generation at least it is sure to keep presidential historians and late-night comedians in gainful employment, which is no small thing. But it would be a pity if laughter drowned out serious reflection about this bizarre episode. As Jane Mayer reported recently in the New Yorker (“The Insiders,” Oct. 27, 2008), John McCain’s choice was not a fluke, or a senior moment, or an act of desperation. It was the result of a long campaign by influential conservative intellectuals to find a young, populist leader to whom they might hitch their wagons in the future.

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