Putting principle ahead of popularity

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Last week, I had the pleasure of introducing many of my readers to author Dorothy Thompson for the first time.

Thompson, who died in 1961, started her career before World War I as a suffragette working to win American women the right to vote, then briefly worked as a social worker. After the war, she sailed to Europe and began a stint as a foreign correspondent in Europe, where she had the reputation for always being in the right place at the right time during a chaotic period of history. Later, she became an on-air commentator on world events and wrote a charming column about domestic life in the Ladies Home Journal for many years.

But it was her career from 1936 to 1958 as a newspaper columnist that ensured Thompson not just a place in the history of journalism, but also in the history of ideas. She is frankly one of the most penetrating thinkers I have ever encountered, writing with ease on every topic of world politics — often puncturing those in power and elevating those without a voice.

Last week, I wrote about some similarities between Thompson and Sarah Palin, and I would like to expand upon that to some extent this week. Of course, it should be plain that Thompson and Palin are women of different eras, who made different choices, and are by no means exact parallels, but they are both fearless conservatives who put their principles ahead of their popularity. It should also be noted that Palin, in addition to her political career, is herself an on-air commentator and a hugely popular author (selling more than 2 million copies of her book “Going Rogue”). And although Palin chose not to continue a career in journalism, her college degree is in fact in communications, with an emphasis in journalism.

But those are relatively trivial similarities. What really cements the case for me is reading Thompson’s conservative analysis of national and world politics. Time after time, she boldly defends the Constitution, common decency and common sense against the platitudes of politicians and the perennial assault of assumed progress. She was  certainly akin to Sarah Palin as a defender of Western civilization, and if she had lived today she would have been mocked just as mercilessly.

A few examples should suffice.

You remember how, during the last presidential campaign, it was Sarah Palin who unflinchingly drove home the point that Barack Obama was a socialist.

“Senator Obama said he wants to quote ‘spread the wealth.’ What that means is he wants government to take your money and dole it out however a politician sees fit,” Palin said in October 2008. “But Joe the Plumber and Ed the Dairy Man, I believe that they think that it sounds more like socialism. Friends, now is no time to experiment with socialism. To me, our opponent’s plans sounds more like big government, which is the problem. Bigger government is not the solution.”

Of course, the left-wing media (oops, I mean the mainstream media) said Palin was an extremist for such views — despite the fact that Barack Obama had the most liberal voting record in the Senate, and thus was essentially a self-avowed... (drum roll, please!) ... socialist. Naturally, liberals in Congress and in the media were offended by Palin’s blunt assessment.

What, then, would they have made of Dorothy Thompson’s bold assertion in a 1938 column that “Strict followers of the Moscow Party Line may call themselves  ‘Liberals,’ or ‘Progressives,’ or ‘Democrats,’ or ‘New Dealers,’ or even ‘Republicans.” Thompson pointed out that the hopes of communism for victory in a country such as the United States was not through organizing its own political party, but by having their adherents spread throughout society and by “boring from within” as they penetrated every kind of social organization.

It goes without saying that Thompson was proven correct years later when communists were found to have infiltrated throughout not just all levels of American society, whether in academia or the arts, but also into our very government.

Thompson’s many, varied and broad attacks on the Franklin Roosevelt administration make Palin’s occasional forays against the Obama adminstration seem like child’s play, it is true, but Palin takes much more heat for her modest criticisms compared to the very direct attacks on FDR that Thompson waged almost weekly for years.

In 1937, when FDR threatened to reorganize the Supreme Court in order to bend it to his will, Thompson wrote a brilliant column that challenged both the public and the president. She likened the president’s plan for the nine justices to “decapitation” and compared it to the situation in Moscow where “political inconveniences are bumped off,” which in the slang of the day meant to be murdered.

Of course, Palin would be soundly criticized if she referred to any presidential action as “decapitation.” You remember what happened when she had the audacity to put some congressional seats in the “crosshairs”! Scary stuff!

But Thompson, like Palin, did not take her marching orders from folks who thought the best response to a socialist takeover of the country was to shut up and enjoy the handouts.

Thompson noted in her sly way:

“I am positively startled by the vigor of my objections [to FDR’s plan for the Supreme Court]... For along about now the American people, who are seldom interested in anything for more than two weeks, will begin to say, “Oh, let the President do what he likes. He’s a good guy.”

It is just such lackadaisical acceptance of the “fundamental transformation” of America that the left-wing media has proposed for the American public in today’s political battle. And it is because of Palin’s loud and lingering insistence that America should be “restored” to its former constitutional ideals  — not transformed — that she has been caricatured as a “cocky wacko,” (Sen. Lincoln Chaffee) a “Nazi” (comedian Joan Rivers) and “profoundly stupid” (MSNBC host Chris Matthews).

The vehemence of the attacks on Palin from the left would not have surprised Thompson, who also spoke her mind as a conservative woman and thus outraged both her friends and enemies.

I think of one column she wrote about communist-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1952, who had won a landslide primary victory in Wisconsin despite being “repudiated” and “denounced” by his own party and by “the nation’s intellectuals.” Thompson warned that despite the wishes of the establishment GOP and the national media for him to just go away, the McCarthy victory revealed “considerable about the present American temper.”

Her description of the GOP repudiation of McCarthy is certainly reminiscent of the national Republican Party’s hand-wringing over the “wacko” Tea Party movement that is largely populated by people who vote for Republicans.

Thompson wrote that, “All sorts of explanations have been offered [for McCarthy’s victory] to avoid the simple and obvious one: That Americans regard the fight against Communists and their sympathizers as the preeminent issue in this campaign, and they are not squeamish about the tactics used, as long as something is done.”

Ditto the Tea Party’s insistence on fiscal sanity, whatever the political cost. You can call them names all you like, but the Americans behind the Tea Party movement are doing what they believe is best for their country and their children.

Again, Thompson, like Palin, spoke out in defense of the common folk and common sense. She was willing to make politically incorrect assessments because she viewed them to be true, and because she was not beholden to the powers that be. And she, like Palin paid a price. In this same column about McCarthy, when she called him “an asset to the Republicans,” she noted, “We have said it against the enraged cries of many readers, the denunciation of our personal friends, and our own regret. But objective analysis tells us that this country (and its independent voters) is moving away from the ‘liberalism’ that has held sway for twenty years.”

Of course, history proved Thompson wrong. To her regret, I am sure, liberalism continued to hold sway throughout her lifetime, and became even more dominant in the years after her death. One of the clearest signs of that victory of liberalism is that it is considered bad manners to even bring up Sen. McCarthy without prefacing his name with an adjective such as “reviled,” “repudiated” or “disgraced.”

In fact, just by quoting Dorothy Thompson’s quasi-defense of McCarthy, I expect to be branded as a crypto-Nazi, a fascist or a right-wing troglodyte. That’s just the way liberals express their tolerance of ideas they don’t agree with.

Oh well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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