Sarah Palin, Andrew Jackson and the ‘nostalgico’ political elements

Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of The Washington Post, has an instructive essay this week on the different camps that divide progressives: “You could call it nostalgia liberals versus accountability liberals,” he writes. “The priorities of nostalgia liberalism are community, social cohesion and preservation of New Deal and Great Society programs. Accountability liberals put more stock in market forces and individual empowerment. Their debate is sure to sharpen over the next four years.” Joe Biden vs. Elizabeth Warren, maybe.

It is an instructive essay in viewing the critical breach we have entered as all turnings of life-changing proportion are conflict and contention between the “nostalgicos” — the phrase from Spain in the 1930s when she experienced a life-ending crisis — and the new generations; in a word, it is a generational struggle between defenders of the old temple and the builders of the new. These changes reach to the mythic core of the human condition; they are issues of death and rebirth like those described by anthropologists such as Sir James George Fraser. We have entered such a breach. Both parties are now experiencing this division, and so is the country.

I did a radio interview out west last night on this as commentators had read an essay I wrote here about a division among conservatives between the “traditionalists” — the radio commentator called them conservatism’s “gentry establishment” (nostalgicos) — represented today by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and the new spirit of independent-mindedness rising in the heartland manifested especially by Sarah Palin and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

This I’ve been calling Jacksonian, as it brings precisely to America the spirit force that rose in the west with Andrew Jackson. This was apparent from the first with Gov. Palin and the attacks she received from the geist; mainstream conservatives and liberal punditry and especially those essential keepers of the cultures in the night: Tina Fey, David Letterman and so many others. Jackson, like Sarah Palin and Rick Perry, ran their contests against “the establishment,” meaning Washington, New York, the “nerd prom” (Palin) and with phrases like “I don’t care what they think in New York and Washington,” (Perry). Jackson’s race, like Perry’s and Palin’s, pitched frontier vs. Boston and Richmond.

“His passions are terrible,” said Jefferson. “I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President. He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place ... He is a dangerous man.”

In this long, strange primary season, conservatism is experiencing a creative breakup. Conservatives are torn between nostalgia and new awakening. It will serve them well in the future as they are getting there first and this metamorphosis will rise through the new century. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them lose the 2012 election as Obama is a smooth and likable character and fulfills a long-fought historic destiny for America. And mainstream America feels as comfortable and natural with him today (59.7 percent at Intrade) as it suddenly does with Adele.

But Palin, like Jackson, represents a new beginning and so does Rick Perry, who suggested this week that he expects to run again in 2016.

Maybe he will run against Jacksonian Democrat Elizabeth Warren. This Okie grandmother who knows how to bake a special Valentine Day cake and can probably do anything country people can do, suddenly brings us nostalgia-prone New Englanders out of our torpor in giant steps.