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Palin's populist book tour won't help GOP

Instead of going rogue, Republicans should cultivate leadership in ideas and solutions.

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When Sarah Palin's book "Going Rogue" hits stores today, it will increase the tension between elitism and populism that's marked American conservatism from the beginning.

Today, the Republican Party, led by Ms. Palin and Mike Huckabee, is unabashedly folksy. Their brand of populism – reaching out to ordinary voters by rejecting the values and intellect of the so-called establishment – may help sell books and draw high television ratings, but it won't rebuild a party that is still reeling from last year's severe defeat.

If conservatives want to abbreviate their exile in the political wilderness, they should move quickly to reassert their claim to intellectual leadership. Long-run political success requires developing ideas that make America secure and prosperous. And that takes a party in tune with its head more than its heart.

Conservatism's elitist roots

Throughout much of American history, conservative-minded politicians like President John Adams and Sen. Daniel Webster were openly elitist.

In their view, government was the preserve of the virtuous, intelligent, and educated minority, who must refuse to pander to the whims of the electorate. Conservatism meant the preservation of a complex and fragile civilization, which had to be protected from the rabble. Demagogues like President Andrew Jackson, who invited everyone to his inauguration, turning it into a drunken rout, jeopardized the republic.

President Herbert Hoover shared this view.

He had come into office in 1929 as one of the most loved and admired of all Americans. He was the great humanitarian hero of World War I and had enjoyed almost a decade of success as secretary of Commerce.

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