I know exactly which seconds Sarah Palin killed the last piece of my conservative soul. On 28.52-29.19 in the C-Span video “Vice Presidential Candidate Gov. Sarah Palin (AK) Full Speech at the RNC”. Right before, Sarah Palin said: “al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophical harm on America and he is worried that someone won't read them their rights”.
At first the crowd cheers at the political punch. Then you have a few seconds when people start to think about what they just heard. And then, it's like a posse that cheers even louder. The rule of law was suddenly replaced by the rule of man where we don't have to care about reading them their rights anymore.
At first, I didn't pay attention to what actually happened there. I watched the video several times until I had to stop right there and stare. Then I felt ashamed, dusted off an old Billie Holiday CD and played “Strange Fruit” repeatedly to remind myself about what actually happened in that video. What we saw was the end of conservatism as we knew it.
When I grew up in Sweden and Finland, it was easy to be a conservative, because Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were the voices of reason. It wasn't necessarily their politics that made them successful, but what their opponents didn't have.
Take Ronald Reagan and the Berlin Wall. When he said to Gorbachev to tear it down, lots of leftists in my home town claimed that Ronnie was the dangerous one. Why? Because the wall protected East German socialism from western corruption. Man, did they change their minds when the wall came down or what? Those leftists just didn't have any common sense.
Or take Margaret Thatcher. When she became prime minister, Great Britain was in a recession. Just like in Spain and Greece today, the unions had an unproportionate political power they couldn't handle in a responsible way, simply because they lacked a voice of reason. The British union bosses should have been challenged and corrected from within the Labour party, but no one had the spine to do it.
But the annoyingly self-righteous Margareth Thatcher had the spine, challenged the union bosses, left Labour in despair and that way plowed the way for a young, charismatic Labour politician who would change the party and plunder the Conservatives in the elections: Tony Blair. Blair played the role of the voice of reason in such an eloquent way that he made Margaret Thatcher look like a vicious old hag.
Needless to say, when Gordon Brown took over after Tony Blair and reintroduced the boring political culture of Blair's predecessors, Labour got hit in the polls. However, without Margaret Thatcher's voice of reason, we wouldn't have heard about Tony Blair and her political opponent Labour wouldn't have been vitalized.
But today conservatism is no longer the voice of reason and Sarah Palin is no Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan. We screwed up conservatism right efter 9/11 when we identified the threat as “Muslim” and “Islam”. The fact that Osama bin Laden wants a religious war doesn't mean we have to give him one. Instead, we should have taken the chance to do our part in protecting Islam against terrorism.
Then we screwed up our support for the liberation of Iraq. The issue should have been the unjust UN sanctions that killed millions of Iraqis and Iraq's real weapons threat, something the brilliant Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekeus wrote about in an article in the Washington Post.
Instead, many conservatives made the liberation of Iraq to an issue about punishing the Muslim world for 9/11. Most wouldn't agree today, but that's how bloodthirtsty many of us were then. I'm so glad I managed to retain my own voice of reason during those months, but I have to tell you, even I had my conservative rule of man moments.
Today, conservatism is held hostage by that growing fringe that cheered when Sarah Palin said “...and he's worried that someone won't read them their rights”. Problem is, there is no room for a voice of reason on the Palin fringe, since her fans claim that she is the voice of reason.
Sarah Palin, a wonderful motivational speaker and a horrifying political creature, made me realize it's time to cut my conservative losses and move on. She could have been a new Ronald Reagan. She could have been a new Margaret Thatcher. Instead, she chose the rule of man, set a terrible example that will last for decades, emergized the fringe and made many of the rest run for the lifeboats.
And no, the Swedish conservatives aren't much better.
Daniel Kronlid, Sweden