I had an interesting, but friendly and therefore short conversation about the appeal of Sarah Palin last night. My interlocutor was appalled that someone so un-brilliant can be considered so seriously as a political figure. The President, he said, should be brilliant and intellectual. I said, you've already got that in Obama, but nobody got the irony.
The details of the conversation had to do with the unwillingness of Palin to answer intellectual questions. I thought it was appropriate that a politician should not base their appeal by demonstrating their articulation on theoretical questions. The purpose of being president is not to conceptualize scenarios, but to embody power and wisdom.
So I have just invented a mental experiment to deal with this question in the future so I can explain a basic conservative phenomenon, which is that you don't want your president to be a certain sort of brilliant.
Imagine that we had a global test to find the most brilliant person in the world and the point of this was that we would give this person the power to be the leader of the free world. After an exhaustive survey, we found a man who understood particle physics, spoke 12 languages, could do cube roots in his head, played classical piano, and ran the marathon in 2:15.
He decides to be Pope.
So my question is now that it can be proven without a doubt that the smartest man in the world is head of the Catholic Church, do you convert? How does it make you feel about your willingness to follow Catholic dogma?
Knowing that I will be asking this to a certain sort of person who cannot understand Palin's appeal, I know it is a trick question. They will not convert, of course not. They have their own reasons for not being Catholic and those reasons will not change simply because it's run by somebody objectively brilliant. There is just a certain part of one's life that you feel some authority has no business controlling - which is exactly how conservatives feel about government.
All that said, I think the Republican Party is out of its collective mind and that Sarah Palin should be a Senator, period. Why? Well it has to do with that aristocracy of merit thing. Everything about her and her appeal to Republicans is about winning the Culture War, that battle is beneath the Office.