While John McCain and his aides have railed against the "liberal mainstream media" in recent weeks, some of the most searing criticism against the Republican presidential nominee has come from conservative intellectuals.
McCain's surprise vice-presidential pick, Sarah Palin, and sharp reactions to the continuing economic storm have led several prominent columnists on the right to slam the senator from Arizona as more reckless than bold, more strident than forceful.
The spirited debate may have reached its apogee last week, with George Will issuing McCain a harsh dressing-down. "Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high," Will began his syndicated column, which is carried in more than 450 newspapers. "It is not Barack Obama."
The Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist ended his broadside by all but declaring McCain unfit for the Oval Office. "It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency," Will wrote. "It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?"
The dismay expressed by Will and other columnists, including sometime McCain cheerleader David Brooks, a columnist for The New York Times, arises primarily from his selection of Palin, the Alaska governor.
After the 2000 presidential race, Brooks acknowledged that he was even "more worshipful" of McCain than a generally enamored press corps. But he added his voice earlier this month to those concerned about Palin's inexperience.
Palin, he argued, "has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness."
Writing in the National Review, Kathleen Parker expressed a similar view but with less restraint. She said Palin's recent television interviews amounted to content-light "filibusters." The syndicated columnist suggested the governor -- "who is clearly out of her league" -- should quit the Republican ticket to "save McCain, her party and the country she loves."
But others in the conservative movement have dismissed the anti-Palin sentiment as elitism. Steven F. Hayward argued in The Weekly Standard that the Founding Fathers had envisioned "regular citizens" rising to leadership, in part because they possessed a "self knowledge" and core beliefs that made them natural leaders.
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