Kathleen Parker’s Lament

Last week, Kathleen Parker — who is an excellent conservative columnist — wrote one of the most controversial columns of the year. The column, which was rather cutting in places, suggested that Sarah Palin should quit as McCain’s VP,

If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.

If Palin were a man, we’d all be guffawing, just as we do every time Joe Biden tickles the back of his throat with his toes. But because she’s a woman — and the first ever on a Republican presidential ticket — we are reluctant to say what is painfully true.

What to do?

McCain can’t repudiate his choice for running mate. He not only risks the wrath of the GOP’s unforgiving base, but he invites others to second-guess his executive decision-making ability. Barack Obama faces the same problem with Biden.

Only Palin can save McCain, her party and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.

Do it for your country.

Although I believe that neither Sarah Palin nor Barack Obama has enough experience to be in the White House, I don’t agree with Parker. In fact, I think the idea of asking Palin to step down is perfectly ridiculous.

That being said, this post isn’t about Parker’s first column. That’s just the back story, so that you can understand what’s going on when you read the excerpts from Parker’s column that came out today,

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a traitor and an idiot. Also, my mother should have aborted me and left me in a dumpster, but since she didn’t, I should “off” myself.

Those are a few nuggets randomly selected from thousands of e-mails written in response to my column suggesting that Sarah Palin is out of her league and should step down.

Who says public discourse hasn’t deteriorated?

The fierce reaction to my column has been both bracing and enlightening. After 20 years of column writing, I’m familiar with angry mail. But the past few days have produced responses of a different order. Not just angry, but vicious and threatening.

Some of my usual readers feel betrayed because I previously have written favorably of Palin. By changing my mind and saying so, I am viewed as a traitor to the Republican Party — not a “true” conservative.

…In the meantime, though, I would note that this assault and my decision to write about it aren’t really about me — or even Sarah Palin. The mailbag is about us, our country, and what we really believe.

…The picture is this: Anyone who dares express an opinion that runs counter to the party line will be silenced. That doesn’t sound American to me, but Stalin would approve.

Readers have every right to reject my opinion. But when we decide that a person is a traitor and should die for having an opinion different from one’s own, we cross into territory that puts all freedoms at risk. (I hear you, Dixie Chicks.)

I’m sure it is coincidence that, upon the Palin column’s publication, a conservative organization canceled a speech I was scheduled to deliver in a few days. If I were as paranoid as the conspiracy theorists are, I might wonder whether I was being punished for speaking incorrectly.

Unfortunately, that’s the way one begins to think when party loyalty is given a higher value than loyalty to bedrock principles.

Wow, there is a lot in there to talk about. In fact, I could probably write a whole column based on Parker’s column today. But, let me just limit this to a few thoughts.

#1) First off, the people calling Parker a “traitor,” suggesting she should “off herself,” etc., are reprehensible. I condemn those sort of emails whether they’re going to or coming from people on the Left, the Right, or anybody else. Show some class, losers.

#2) That being said, I am a bit surprised that Parker seems surprised by the tenor of her email. She’s a professional columnist, so doesn’t she get this stuff all the time? I mean, I sort of expect a certain number of “you’re a traitor” or “I hope you die” emails. It just goes with the territory.

Maybe Parker didn’t expect to get them from conservatives? As a general rule, conservatives aren’t as nasty and vicious as liberals, but that doesn’t mean we’re all polite and genteel. Unfortunately, we have our share of drooling morons as well although, happily, percentage wise they don’t seem to be as high as on the Left. Perhaps that’s because we tend to be more critical of people like that, while the Left just turns a blind eye to them.

#3) I don’t think Parker is being paranoid when she suggests that her column is why her speech was cancelled. I’m sure that’s exactly why her speech was cancelled — and I hate to say it, but I don’t see anything wrong with that. Free speech comes with consequences. If you want to write a nasty column a lot of conservatives think unfairly maligns and targets one of their own, when they’re already cranky about relentless, out of bounds attacks on Palin from the Left, you can’t expect everybody to respond with a big “Hooray for Kathleen Parker!” Free speech isn’t free unless people are allowed to react negatively to what you say.

#4) While I would be the first to admit that the political environment is hyper-partisan, it is worth noting that Palin is viewed by most conservatives as a fellow conservative, not “just a Republican.” Also, Parker wrote the column 5 weeks before an election — after Sarah Palin and her family had been subjected to an unending stream of vulgar, sexist, and unjust attacks — so, in this case, I think the whole “party loyalty” vs. “bedrock principles” argument doesn’t fit particularly well. Parker wrote a column she must have known would be highly inflammatory if it got out there. It got out there. The reaction was just what you’d expect.

#5) Our political discourse has, without question, certainly coarsened. I think that has to do with the rise of the alternative media, the never ending campaign on the political side, and the fact that the Left has become so radicalized. If anything, mainstream conservatives are probably more moderate than we were in the sixties, while the Left has an agenda that’s right out of the old Soviet Union playbook. In other words, there is very little middle ground anymore between the Left and the Right on anything.

#6) Kathleen Parker is a talented, conservative columnist and I’m glad to have her out there writing. I look forward to reading and linking her work many times in the future.

PS: You can read my interview with Kathleen Parker here.

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