Monday, September 22, 2008

Back to the Trenches

Time to talk politics again. I got sidetracked last week.

I’ve had calls from more conservative friends to address a few different questions: Why liberals and the press have reacted so strongly to the Palin nomination. Why it’s OK for Obama to be a “celebrity,” but not OK that Palin “isn’t famous enough.” Why I myself feel so strongly at this stage in the race.

There were other issues raised, but I think they’re mostly variations on those listed above.

For me, there’s plenty about which I disagree with Sarah Palin, and would disagree even if she were a five-term senator from a highly populated state. She’s against a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons. I’m not. (I’m pretty sure I’m in the majority on that one.) Another is abortion, where she stands by her opposition to it even in cases of rape and incest, which frankly, I find horrific. I’m not the most liberal person you’ve ever met on abortion -- but keep dreaming if you think we’re getting into that around here -- but I still think that’s horrific. Another is homosexuality, a word that fundamentalist Christians like Palin can barely bring themselves to utter, even as the majority of the country gets increasingly open-minded about it. (And when she does utter it, I’m not impressed. She’s apparently supported “conversion” techniques in the past, including praying your way out of homosexuality. Even if I thought homosexuality was wrong, I’d find such plans ridiculous as well as bullying.)

But it’s true that specific issues haven’t been the main emphasis when it comes to criticizing her. In the vast majority of cases, I’m happy to let the vice presidents be an afterthought in an election. There are three practical things and one philosophical thing that keep me from feeling that way about Palin. First, McCain would be the oldest president to take office in history. Several weeks ago, this seemed to be a genuine concern on both sides of the aisle, and if McCain had selected, say, someone 15 years younger than him but with a long track record, I’m sure we’d be hearing from Republicans about how he expertly addressed one of the biggest concerns about his candidacy. And they’d be right. (McCain likes to invoke the "party of Reagan." Reagan's age was also a concern, and he chose 56-year-old, highly experienced George Bush. It took prodding, but it happened.) Second, as Republicans frequently claim to, I take the current international climate very seriously. Combining McCain’s age and the various problems abroad, I think it’s particularly important to have someone in the on-deck circle who can swing the bat. Third, Palin is uniquely unqualified for major office. The only two relatively recent candidates who come to mind as competition are Dan Quayle and Spiro Agnew. Quayle's problem was mostly his having the ability to speak -- he had served a combined twelve years in the House and Senate by the time he was chosen as VP. Agnew had much less experience, and we all know how well that turned out. Nixon tried to drop him from the office, without success. Eventually, he resigned in disgrace.

The fourth is the philosophical issue, which is what I’ve written about before -- that Palin represents catnip for the religious right, a group that I think already holds far too much influence over the party. I call that philosophical because obviously there are those who would consider her brand of faith and her social beliefs as strengths. We simply disagree.

As for fame. I’ll start by saying that it’s already hilarious that McCain and the Republicans make an issue of a “celebrity” campaign, being the party of President Reagan and Governer Schwarzenegger. (This is not a knock on Arnie or Ronnie. It's just a logic check.) Obama is a popular politician; he was not a celebrity prior to that. But let’s leave that aside. I never meant to imply that Palin should be more “famous.” The commenter who felt that I had implied it pointed to this part of a sentence I had written: “not an average American in the lower 48 has heard of her.” What I was getting at -- and the history with Quayle and the cries of “Spiro Who?” at the ‘68 Republican convention show precedent for this -- is that politicians running for high office tend to become well known through the course of a campaign. Take Obama. He has decidedly less political experience than McCain. So you have to take that into account when judging him. But for the past 18 months -- and close to literally every day of those 18 months -- he has been making his case to the American public. He had to get past an extremely well known opponent, Hillary Clinton, in a process that included more than 20 debates. It’s not Palin’s fault that she was less visible (not famous, visible), but that lack of visibility makes it a hell of a lot less consoling when Charlie Gibson “gets” an interview with her, in the way that People magazine “gets” the first shots of J-Lo’s twins. As vapid as our political process can be, it isn’t quite “Survivor” yet, and I’d like to make sure it never gets there. How about an unscripted press conference, for starters?

I link to Andrew Sullivan a lot (I’m sure he’s very appreciative of the traffic). I read his blog obsessively, and I’m a longtime fan. That doesn’t mean I agree with him on everything, or that I can’t see how he latches on to certain subjects with a fervor that usually escapes me. Sullivan jumped on the Bristol Palin pregnancy story early and often, for instance, and I try to avoid that kind of thing. I hope I’ve made it clear that I don’t think that’s fair -- or relevant -- game. He’s also posted younger, unflattering pictures of Palin, and I don’t see the benefit (or classiness) of that either. But I think he’s right to be outraged at the way the Republicans are shielding Palin -- even changing the rules of the upcoming VP debate for the explicitly stated reason that Palin is an inexperienced debater.

In short, I don’t have .001% of Sullivan’s audience, but I’d like to be judged by what I write here, and not by association. In addition to Sullivan, I read mostly newspapers online and a few bloggers with some level of intellectual honesty and some lack of rabid party love.

With all due respect to certain friends -- and that respect is considerable in all cases -- I think the Palin choice backed them into a corner. What I think has liberals and the press (and many conservatives) worked up about Palin is not her lack of political experience, her stark lack of foreign-policy experience (and thought), her far-right beliefs on certain social issues about which the country is clearly closer to the center, the naked use of identity politics she represents, the fact that she won’t speak unguarded to the press, or the fact that McCain is a historically old candidate -- it’s all these things combined.

Megan McArdle recently wrote, “I find it irritating when people who are harping on flaws in the opposition candidate that they would easily overlook in their own side demand that I join them in their fantasy world.” I agree with that sentiment. It’s one reason why I don’t think exclusively supporting one party makes much sense -- it becomes easy for your loyalty to attach itself to the party name rather than good ideas or good people. All I can say to my more Republican-leaning friends is that I would not be overlooking Palin’s flaws if she were on “my side.” If Obama had the same appeal that I find him to have, but he were 65 and chose as his VP someone with Palin’s experience, I’d be seriously questioning his judgment.

I’ve compiled just a small portion of conservative reaction that I’ve seen in recent weeks to try to make it as clear as possible that I don’t see this as a purely partisan issue.

Republican Chuck Hagel:
She doesn’t have any foreign policy credentials. You get a passport for the first time in your life last year? I mean, I don’t know what you can say. You can’t say anything...
Libertarian Megan McArdle:
I don't see how you can vote for a candidate without being able to assess their foreign policy reasoning, which is a tad difficult if they have no facts to reason from. . . . I've watched part of the Sarah Palin interview, and I think it's very hard to argue that she isn't woefully unprepared; she clearly had no idea what the Bush Doctrine was. She is, to be sure, very good at tap-dancing around questions she doesn't know the answer to.
The Wall Street Journal on Palin's record:
Last week, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain said his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, hadn't sought earmarks or special-interest spending from Congress, presenting her as a fiscal conservative. But state records show Gov. Palin has asked U.S. taxpayers to fund $453 million in specific Alaska projects over the past two years.
Conservative blogger Ross Douthat, who supported Palin as a potential VP well before she was actually chosen, and who called her interview with Gibson “none-too-impressive”:
I had hoped that the Sarah Palin pick was a sign that they were open to rolling the dice a bit more on policy; at the moment, though, it looks like Palin herself was the roll of the dice, and it's just going to be down-and-dirty politics from here on out.
David Brooks:
Steven Hayward argues that the nation’s founders wanted uncertified citizens to hold the highest offices in the land. They did not believe in a separate class of professional executives. They wanted rough and rooted people like Palin. I would have more sympathy for this view if I hadn’t just lived through the last eight years. . . . (L)ike President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.
David Frum:
She's under-informed and over-confident. . . . Those who wish to believe in her will continue to believe in her. As for the rest -- well it's a 6 in 7 chance that McCain makes it to the end of his first term. That's pretty good!
Look, Frum is still a strong McCain supporter, and doesn’t want Obama elected. I get that. But the point is, it’s possible to address Palin’s candidacy with real skepticism, instead of just circling the wagons and attacking the liberal media.

Besides, part of the reason I can’t bring myself to support McCain and, by extension, the current Republican party, is because of my conservative side. Which exists. Here’s Wick Allison, Obama supporter and former publisher of National Review, not exactly a leftist magazine:
Today it is conservatives, not liberals, who talk with alarming bellicosity about making the world “safe for democracy.” It is John McCain who says America’s job is to “defeat evil,” a theological expansion of the nation’s mission that would make George Washington cough out his wooden teeth.

I disagree with (Obama) on many issues. But those don’t matter as much as what Obama offers, which is a deeply conservative view of the world. Nobody can read Obama’s books (which, it is worth noting, he wrote himself) or listen to him speak without realizing that this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man. It gives me comfort just to think that after eight years of George W. Bush we will have a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers.
On the choice of Obama-McCain, I’m supporting Obama for several reasons, many of which I’ve written about here. McCain's pick of Palin just makes it easier for me. On the issue of Palin, I think we’ve lost our collective mind, and that’s not because I think Palin herself is evil. It’s because there are so many acting like the way this candidacy is being handled is normal. It’s not. Or maybe it is, but it shouldn’t be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post, although you lost me at your last 2-3 sentences. What do you mean by "normal"??

Most of the conservative columnists and writers who my husband and I most respect/enjoy - Frum, Douthat, Crook, Krauthammer, and Brooks - have all expressed some healthy concern and skepticism regarding the Palin nomination, which he and I both tend to agree with. However, what I think has generated the rallying the wagons response that you refer to has been the response of much of the mainstream media, and certainly of the liberal blogosphere, in attacking Palin. I thought that Andrew Sullivan lost his mind years ago, and the reaction to the Palin nomination only confirmed it - demanding that she release her obstetrics records to prove that Trig is really her baby? Come on. And then there are other outlets like Slate's XX Factor blog which has been so venomous, nasty, and mean-spirited that I've started boycotting the whole site - it's hard for me to take many of those so-called journalists seriously now, when they've shown how personally biased they are.

It's one thing to attack her legislative record, question her supposed stance on earmarks in comparison to the federal money she's actually received, etc., but so many attacks on Palin have been very personal, and that's what is so disturbing. Frankly, I don't care about the problems of her teenagers, but this has been reported on in nearly breathless tones by both political blogs and "respected" media outlets like CNN. Two of Al Gore's children were arrested for drug possession, one of them twice, and that's never brought up in a way so as to discredit Al Gore as a politician. In fact, it's not even brought up as a way to question his ability as a parent. I don't think it should be. But everything about Palin has been attacked, and in very hostile ways. Typically, she is not a candidate that I would find myself going to great lengths to defend, but the more she is attacked, the more I want to defend her, because so much of it seems so unmerited (again, the personal attacks, and the venomous delivery of such attacks). If Democratic and left-leaning columnists, writers and bloggers hadn't appeared to tear into her so immediately and ravenously, or if they had at least stuck with just policy issues, I think you would see many more Conservatives questioning the wisdom of McCain's nomination. Even if I find myself unable to vote for McCain, at this point I would consider not voting at all rather than voting for Obama because the response of the "left" to Palin's nomination has just made me queasy.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Kraig said...

John seems to have addressed this (the media "attacking" Palin) in a subsequent post, but I'll pile on just a bit and simply what? Even if one grants that the media has gone overboard; even if one grants that the media has an extreme liberal bias; even if one grants that the coverage of Palin's nomination is it pertains to casting one's vote, so what? I don't grant those statements in the least and, unlike John, I have a more expansive view of what are "acceptable" areas for journalists to cover, but casting a vote in a democratic process should never be punitive. It's simply a bad idea to vote for McCain to teach the media a lesson, just as it would be a bad idea to vote for Obama to punish all those people who gave us Bush for 8 years. In the end, votes should be cast, in my opinion, on the basic premise of who can best steer the ship. If one thinks that Obama can steer the ship clear of the rocks better than McCain, it makes NO sense to vote for McCain or, as you suggest, abstain, just because the media has offended your sensibilities. I suppose it makes "some" sense if you value the good behavior of the free press above matters of domestic or foreign policy, but I surely doubt that is the case. Feel free to vote for McCain if you think he's the better captain, but I don't think I can respect someone's decision to NOT vote or to vote for the OTHER guy just because the media pissed them off.

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kraig - I didn't ask for your respect, nor do I seek it, at least not based on political voting records. My views are generally more in line with McCain's than Obama's, which inclines me in many instances to support McCain over Obama. Obama's one attraction in my mind, and by Obama, I refer to the man AND his campaign, was that it initially seemed to present itself as a more unifying entity that wanted to exist above the fray of partisan politics, "swift-boating" tactics, etc. The way Obama supporters, including members of Congress, members of his campaign, and the media, have reacted to the Palin nomination, makes me seriously question a commitment to a less partisan political climate. Thus, it clouds the one attraction his candidacy held for me. If I cannot ultimately support McCain, and I find little to stir me regarding Obama, I am no longer of a mind to simply choose between the lesser of two poor choices (in my mind).

11:19 PM  
Blogger Kraig said...

Anonymous writes:

"The way Obama supporters, including members of Congress, members of his campaign, and the media, have reacted to the Palin nomination, makes me seriously question a commitment to a less partisan political climate. Thus, it clouds the one attraction his candidacy held for me."

A few points here:

First, there was likely no VP candidate McCain could have chosen who represented MORE of a partisan pick than Palin. She's not just a conservative, she's an evangelical conservative with views often to the right of mainstream conservatism. She's exactly the kind of pick who would drive Democrats crazy and make them beyond skeptical about McCain's willingess to bridge the political divide. After spending an entire campaign calling Obama too inexperienced to lead, is it any wonder that there would be bitter feelings when McCain ends up picking someone LESS qualified (or for argument's sake--comparably qualified)? Honestly now--could you blame those amongst us who throw out a great big "are you fucking kidding me" to the sky? It's not that I naively think Republicans somehow adore Joe Biden, but he's certainly not as likely to inspire similar feelings amongst Republicans as Palin does with Democrats. Certainly not to the degreee as, say, Hillary Clinton would. It's downright amusing to see the GOP showering disingenuous praise on Clinton these days when she has been, without fail, the Democrat most reviled by conservatives for the last 10 years. If Obama had picked her as his running mate, would that not have been counter-productive to reducing partisan politics? The choice of VP says a lot about which of these candidates is more serious about finding the common ground that unites us.

Second, I think everyone needs to stop glomming together every critique, rumor and innuendo about Palin into one big ball of "media hatred." Not every Palin story is the same, and not every media outlet is the same. There are literally thousands of stories and thousands of journalists and the general reaction that you speak of is, quite frankly, a little vague. What reaction exactly? At this point it's not just the liberal media who's on her case---it's pretty much everyone not employed by Fox. You mentioned the way Sullivan covered Palin's rumored fake pregnancy and, truthfully, this seems to be the one thing that resonates most with outraged conservatives--the rumor. I think Sullivan has comported himself well with respect to the issue and the criticism he's gotten. But, for the sake of this discussion, I'll go ahead and simply grant that Sullivan and others who pursued this rumor stepped outside the bounds of decency. Obama stated as much and certainly did not encourage it. So, put that one on the scoreboard for "bad media" but not against Obama. But what else do you speak of? The outrage over Palin's unprecedented media unavailability? The negative editorials over her poor performances when she does speak candidly? The intense scrutiny over her claims of foreign policy experience? I guess I want to know what other "personal" attacks you speak of, because most of the attacks I see ARE based on her as a candidate. Don't blame the media for writing negative stories about Palin. Blame McCain for picking a candidate with so many negatives.

4:54 PM  

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