Sarah Palin’s love song to small town values at the Republican convention may have nauseated some urban liberals, but the delegates in St. Paul ate it up. Little noticed, however, was the inspiration for this line, quoted from an anonymous “writer”: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.”
As Thomas Frank reported Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal, the source for that line was the sharp-mouthed, anti-Semitic, John Birch Society member Westbrook Pegler, who died in 1969. Frank’s point was that Republicans might preach the virtues of rural America, but their policies are directly responsible for the heartland’s decline (as evidence, he notes that the Farmer’s Union gave the urbane Obama a 100 percent rating for his congressional votes; McCain scored a 0).
But we’re a little more interested in another angle on Pegler, reported by Politico’s Ben Smith:
He was also known for what Philip Roth described as his “casual distaste for Jews,” which had become so evident by the end that he was bounced from the journal of the John Birch Society in 1964 for alleged anti-Semitism. According to his obituary, he’d advanced the theory that American Jews of Eastern European descent were “instinctively sympathetic to Communism, however outwardly respectable they appeared.”
Palin’s speech was written by Matt Scully, a former speechwriter for George W. and other top Republicans and – ironically for a guy who pens the speeches of an advocate of shooting wolves from airplanes – the author of “Dominion,” a book which defends animals from “the depredations of profit driven corporations, swaggering, gun-loving hunters, proponents of renewed ‘harvesting’ of whales and elephants and others who insist that all of nature is humanity’s romper room, to play with, rearrange, and plunder at will.”
We’ve asked to talk to Scully about why he chose to include the Pegler quote, if only anonymously attributed. In the meantime, the McCain camp says it’s “unbelievably ridiculous” to think the quote suggests Palin has any sympathy for Pegler’s views, racist or otherwise. (We don’t disagree, but we still think it would be interesting to understand the thinking behind quoting a person with that kind of baggage).
“Frankly, I would not be surprised to learn that a lot of people involved in American politics 50 years ago were anti-Semitic,” a spokesman told JTA. “Her quoting him is no more an endorsement of his anti-Semitism than Joe Biden quoting Thomas Jefferson would be an endorsement of slavery. She quoted one line. It’s unbelievably ridiculous.”