Archive for the ‘Election 2012’ Category

Why I Despise Sarah Palin

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]One of my friends asked me this question. Actually, he accused me of despising her (which I admit to) and postulated that feminists and liberals hate her so much because she stands for “a sort of  ‘reincarnation’ of the traditional post-war female that scares the bejesus out of liberals for a variety of reasons.”

I can’t speak for every liberal, or every progressive, or every feminist – but I can speak for myself – and I tell you, it is not Palin’s  status as a reincarnation of the traditional post-war female (a description which I incidentally don’t find that fitting) that leads me to despise her. It is that she found herself to be a very capable demagogue. Frank Rich in The New York Times explained it well this Sunday:

The essence of Palinism is emotional, not ideological… The real wave she’s riding is a loud, resonant surge of resentment and victimization that’s larger than issues like abortion and gay civil rights.

Palin constantly positions herself as a victim of the conspiracies of the elite. As interviewers lob her softball after softball, she points out the few outliers and claims she is a victim of a giant conspiracy. As a local blogger files a frivolous ethics complaint, Palin claims she is being targeted for persecution by Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama. A similar logic of collective victomhood makes its way into every speech she gives; she constantly sets up a dynamic of “us” against “them” – the “Joe Sixpacks” versus “the Hollywood/NY elite” and the “real Americans” against those “who [see] America…as being so imperfect…that [they are] palling around with terrorists [who]…target their own country.” What this accomplishes is what Cass Sunstein in the Spectator describes as the dyanmic of self-reinforcing moral outrage:

Political extremism is often a product of group polarisation and social segregation is a useful tool for producing polarisation. In fact, a good way to create an extremist group, or a cult of any kind, is to separate members from the rest of society. The separation can occur physically or psychologically, by creating a sense of suspicion about non-members. With such separation, the information and views of those outside the group can be discredited, and hence nothing will disturb the process of polarisation as group members continue to talk.

Sunstein does not link this to Palin – but it is clear that she is playing with this exact dynamic. This stands in stark contrast to John McCain who, to his credit, realized how dangerous this dynamic was and tried to calm his crowds down; and it stands in contrast to Barack Obama who has deliberately taken an approach that minimizes this dynamic of escalating moral outrage – challenging his audiences when they seem to be dehumanizing the other side. Palin though escalated her rhetoric. Her crowds became more extreme – in the way that like-minded groups do, especially when united against a nefarious and dehumanized “them.”

Why do I despise Sarah Palin? Because she is a demagogue, and more important, because she is an effective one.

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Happy Birthday, America! Our Modern-Day George Wallace (in heels) is giving up the little power she has

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Sarah Palin represents the worst of America, in all its attractive yet self-destructive glory. She is ignorant – and does not care to educate herself. She is confident, without much reason to be. She is unreflective, and proud of it. Like a wahhabi among Muslims, she does not consider most of her fellow-countrymen “pro-American.” Like a reincarnation of Richard Nixon (or a classic Marxist) she seeks power through class warfare. Like a second coming of George Wallace, she waves the flag in defense of prejudice and hatred and incites crowds to near-violence.

And  yesterday, Sarah Palin announced she would resign her office. She sounded the same themes she had in her national debut – those themes that I hopefully deride as yesterday’s but fear may be themes again tomorrow. This is no surprise, as as in her first speech on the national stage she accused those examining her record – the media – of being part of the “Washington elite” and looking down on her – and ridiculed her opponent as a crusader for terrorist rights.  And when a comedian made a joke that she saw she could exploit, she talked used this as her excuse to rail against the “Hollywood/NY” elites who did not understand real American values.  Again and again she invoked the same, old tired class warfare images.

The question is, why does this woman – who has a solid shot at the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination – decide to give up her governorship?

As everyone acknowledges – and especially given her tawdry history of small-time lies, personal vendettas, and misuse of public power and funds – she may be trying to sidestep some brewing scandal the press hasn’t gotten wind of. Even Will Kristol, the foremost Palin defender in the country acknowledges this. But if this does not turn out to be the case, there are still significant reasons why she might be stepping aside – in a calculated move to better position herself for 2012.

As Kristol later suggested, she might be – in this instance, “crazy like a fox.”

As Marc Ambinder points out, as Governor of Alaska, she is a sitting duck and marginalized from the centers of power she so desperately wants to be part of. The heady presidential campaign clearly gave her a taste of something she now craves – the attention and adulation of adoring crowds. She seems to believe she is destined for greater things than merely governing a state with a population the size of a medium-sized city.

But as long as she is governor, she is generating a record that can be picked apart and attacked – and she is unable to effectively reach out to the Iowa and New Hampshire Republican primary voters she will need. At the same time, her national ambitions – and her role in the McCain campaign – have hurt her in Alaska – as her popularity has dipped and legislators have begun to feel as if she is looking beyond Juneau. As only 51% of voters in Alaska said they would reelect her as governor, she would likely face a tough campaign.

At the same time, Palin is facing the same problem as many other governors: the states are facing a crunch, and without help from the federal government are going to have to make drastic cuts in services or raise taxes. In Alaska, the downturn – and the drop in the price of oil – has lead to a deficit of nearly $3 billion over the next two years, with little chance of recovery until the price of oil goes back up. By resigning in the middle of this year, she gets to avoid the painful cuts in government services or raises in tax rates that will be needed to keep the state functioning. Governing during this deficit explosion would make it harder (though for Palin, far from impossible) to deride Barack Obama’s deficit spending (most of which Obama himself inherited from another former Governor who liked to cut taxes and increase spending).

Given these two motivations, one can see why Will Kristol suggests this move might be crazy like a fox.

But remember this: by giving up in the middle of her term, Sarah Palin has forever disqualified herself from the presidency. I’m sure she doesn’t think so – and I’m sure her most ardent supporters do not think so either. She may make a solid run for the Republican nomination – and, she may get it. But every reason she gave for resigning would be doubly true if she were to win the presidency. Her family would be under greater scrutiny, and the butt of more jokes. Lawsuits against her would eat into her time – as they did Bill  Clinton’s. If the relatively low-level of scrutiny and pestering lawsuits she is subject to now have intimidated her from staying in office, imagine what pressures she would face sitting in the Oval Office.

The American people will remember that when the going got tough in Alaska, she went. And she didn’t accept any blame – instead, she played the same game she has played as long as she has been in the national spotlight. She blamed the media elite and everyone else who isn’t “proud to be American” and who instead “deride[s] our ideals.”

America can forgive her the class warfare. They can forgive her inciting her supporters to near-violent outrage. They can forgive her betrayal of the man who brought her out of obscurity. They can forgive her for using her children as political props. They can forgive her for all of her small lies. They can forgive her her ignorance. And they can love her for her saucy winks, her baseless confidence, and her faux-religiousity. What the American people cannot forgive and will not look past is a quitter – and the message from yesterday’s events – the message that comes through loud and clear above her strident attempts to distract – is that Sarah Palin is a quitter.

Never again will the Barracuda of Wasilla attain the glory that was hers for one glorious September night – as she strode onto the stage, confident beyond reason and shining with the light of Destiny.

This I hope, and I pray. For our nation’s sake, most of all. But for the moment, what can we do but celebrate that our modern-day George Wallace has stepped down, and the spectre of a Palin presidency is just a bit further away.

[Image by sskennel licensed under Creative Commons.]

A New Phase in the Culture War: National Security

Monday, June 15th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]As Barack Obama and Dick Cheney prepared their dueling speeches last month, Reihan Salam observed:

National security has become part of the culture wars, only with Dick Cheney as the new Jerry Falwell. It doesn’t matter that Obama is escalating the war in Afghanistan or that he’s embraced rendition. To Cheney, Obama’s anti-torture stance represents the moral vanity of a naïve one-worlder.

We’ll be hearing much more about this new culture clash. During the hearings on Obama’s first Supreme Court appointment, Republicans will spend more time hammering the Democratic nominee on Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and Boumediene v. Bush than about Roe v. Wade. At the moment, Obama looks untouchable. But the politics of national security could prove his undoing.

This observation is seeming more and more apt as the months go by. And yesterday morning’s appearance by Mitt Romney on This Week With George Stephanopoulos suggested that if Romney has anything to do with it, the Culture War will extend to foreign policy as well.

Foreign policy and national security have always been matters of contention between the political parties – but Culture War issues functioned a certain distinct way.

In some sense, the Culture War can be traced back to the “psychodrama of the baby boom generation” as they fought over Vietnam and then social issues. By the 1990s, the Baby Boom generation dominated most institutions in the country and  a large number of Americans had divided into two warring camps along a familiar lineup of issues: abortion, homosexuality, guns, censorship, separation of church and state, etcetera. Each party became dominated by those with the most extreme positions on these issues. There were only two ways for savvy politicians to position themselves – to triangulate and try to find some reasonable accommodation; or alternately to find a reasonable position and  make sure that they were wrong – but on the right side of the issue. During this time, issues of national security and foreign policy didn’t break down in the same partisan way. Republicans opposed Clinton’s proposed anti-terrorism measures; Democrats were more hawkish than Republicans in Bosnia – and in both cases, neither side was completely aligned. These issues weren’t litmus tests – but matters upon which reasonable people could and did disagree.

Then came September 11 and George W. Bush’s and Karl Rove’s explicit decision to use the War on Terror as a political weapon. There were no mainstream Democrats opposed to most aspects of Bush’s emergency measures, so Rove tried to make any slight suggestion of disagreement tantamount to treason. Though this worked well enough as a political tactic, it still hadn’t moved national security issues into the Culture War entirely.

The turning point came when allegations of torture began to surfare – and the photos of the abuse at Abu Ghraib came to light. Everyone was shocked – Republican and Democrat. Everyone condemned it. Except the far-right partisans. I remember reading The Corner and other blogs around this time – and an extraordinary thing happened. For weeks, these men and women had been insisting that America did not torture – only, maybe  some bad apples  – and that to suggest we did torture was a form of America-hating. Then, almost overnight, all of these same men and women began to talk about ticking time bombs and demanding to know why we shouldn’t torture a terrorist who hated America!

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that it was an election year – and with everything viewed through this prism, it’s easier to justify something awful. But regardless of the reason, in that moment, national security became part of the culture war. Karl Rove accomplished what he had been trying to do. He polarized the electorate so that it became necessary for any savvy politician on the right to be wrong on the right side of these issues.

By 2008, this was evident – as the sensible position that there had been overreach in Bush’s War on Terror – and that for example, Guantanamo should be closed down – gave way to Mitt Romney declaring that he would “double Guantanamo” to cheers. It’s a nonsense phrase – but the Culture War isn’t about policy – but about position.

Now, Romney is continuing this – and pushing it into foreign policy.

Yesterday morning, Romney, adopting the freedom of expression and lack of accountability typical of  party out of power, launched a critique of Obama’s response to the Iranian elections – and to the Middle East in general:

Romney criticises Obama’s use of “sweet words” (sounding eerily similar to Zawahiri who denigrated Obama’s “elegant words“) – yet his only suggestion for how to react differently to the Iranian elections would be to use Romney’s own words – which admittedly aren’t as “sweet” or “elegant.” And of course while Romney denigrates Obama for relying on words without action – Romney’s only response to the Iranian election is to use his own words.

(This brings up an interesting difference: Obama uses the power of words to affect what is going on, as in his Cairo speech, his race speech, his speech on national security – while Romney insists we must use our words to express ourselves and to show what side we are on. This difference in the use of language is precisely what makes Obama an effective speaker – but this is a topic for a different day.)

What Romney forgets is that – in Andrew Sullivan’s words:

This is not about us. It’s about them.

The time may come for the president to stand with the majority of Iranians – to voice his support – but Romney’s demand for instant moral clarity demonstrates a Culture War view of foreign policy – of a need to be wrong on the right side of the issue. As a candidate, this Culture War take on national security and foreign policy can be effective – but as a governing tactic, it is disastrous.

Palin the Performer

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

I was cleaning out my draft posts and came across this wonderful take on Sarah Palin by Sam Harris in Newsweek at the height of her appeal:

Here, finally, was a performer who—being maternal, wounded, righteous and sexy—could stride past the frontal cortex of every American and plant a three-inch heel directly on that limbic circuit that ceaselessly intones “God and country.” If anyone could make Christian theocracy smell like apple pie, Sarah Palin could…

For all my concern about Bush’s religious beliefs, and about his merely average grasp of terrestrial reality, I have never once thought that he was an over-the-brink, Rapture-ready extremist. Palin seems as though she might be the real McCoy. With the McCain team leading her around like a pet pony between now and Election Day, she can be expected to conceal her religious extremism until it is too late to do anything about it. Her supporters know that while she cannot afford to “talk the talk” between now and Nov. 4, if elected, she can be trusted to “walk the walk” until the Day of Judgment.

What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. Watching her deny to Gibson that she had ever harbored the slightest doubt about her readiness to take command of the world’s only superpower, one got the feeling that Palin would gladly assume any responsibility on earth:

“Governor Palin, are you ready at this moment to perform surgery on this child’s brain?”

“Of course, Charlie. I have several boys of my own, and I’m an avid hunter.”

“But governor, this is neurosurgery, and you have no training as a surgeon of any kind.”

“That’s just the point, Charlie. The American people want change in how we make medical decisions in this country. And when faced with a challenge, you cannot blink…”

Jindal 2012 (cont.)

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Michael Gerson in the Washington Post reveals both Bobby Jindal’s greatest asset as a politician and his greatest weakness. The strength is Jindal’s religiousity – which is Catholic but in a way that is unusually endearing to evangelicals, the Republican base:

In Louisiana, Jindal is the darling of evangelical and charismatic churches, where he often tells his conversion story. One Louisiana Republican official has commented, “People think of Bobby Jindal as one of us.” Consider that a moment. In some of the most conservative Protestant communities, in one of the most conservative states in America, Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, a strong Catholic with parents from Punjab, is considered “one of us.”

In passing, Gerson mentions that sometimes it might seem that Jindal lacks, “a lack of human connection and organizing vision.”

The “lack of human connection” is main complaint against Jindal. He’s seen as cold, calculating, and unempathetic – indifferent to those hurt by the policies he advocates.

Ross Douthat’s Snap Judgment

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Up and coming conservative (and big Jindal fan) Ross Douthat’s snap judgment from Tuesday night of Bobby Jindal’s response to Obama’s not quite State of the Union:

If that’s the best the Right has to offer as a rebuttal to Obama, American liberalism is going to be running untouched down the field for years to come.

Bobby Jindal’s Soapbox (cont.)

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

The New York Times explains what was going on with the “strings” that Bobby Jindal was complaining about on Sunday’s Meet the Press:

States that accept the stimulus money aimed at the unemployed are required to abide by new federal rules that extend unemployment protections to low-income workers and others who were often shorted or shut out of compensation. This law did not just materialize out of nowhere. It codified positive changes that have already taken place in at least half the states.

To qualify for the first one-third of federal aid, the states need to fix arcane eligibility requirements that exclude far too many low-income workers. To qualify for the rest of the aid, states have to choose from a menu of options that include extending benefits to part-time workers or those who leave their jobs for urgent family reasons, like domestic violence or gravely ill children.

Jindal’s Soapbox

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Governor Bobby Jindal, 2012 contender and current governor of Louisiana, argued on Meet the Press this past Sunday that he opposed the stimulus bill and would refuse some to accept some of it’s monies for his state despite it’s looming budget deficit. He gave a few reasons – echoing the established conventional wisdom that Obama should have taken it upon himself to craft the stimulus bill instead of allowing Congress to play it’s part as a coequal branch of government and stating that there was too much spending that Democrats wanted in the bill. This, of course, is a standard politician’s trick, used by Democrats such as Obama as well as Republicans such as Jindal – be outraged at the “the very chaotic, decentralised and often irrational mess” that is American politics while at the same time demonstrating a healthy respect for the distinct advantages of this politics, with the knowledge that, “What keeps America behind is also what keeps pushing it relentlessly, fitfully forward.” In other words – Jindal is railing against the system itself as a political weapon while only taking positions that would keep the system intact. His opposition then clearly has a political component – rather than being a matter of pure principle. There’s nothing wrong with this – but it’s important to acknowledge. 

Jindal gave another reason for rejecting federal stimulus money –  because:

You’re talking about temporary federal money that would require a permanent change in state law.

He continued, using a rather sneaky phrasing to make his point:

[T]he federal law, if you actually read the bill–and I know it was 1,000 pages, and I know they got it, you know, at midnight, or hours before they voted on it – if you actually read the bill, there’s one problem with that.  The word permanent is in the bill. [my emphasis]

Hearing especially that last phrase, with it’s seeming definitiveness yet clear allowance for the opportunity to weasel out of what it seems to be saying, I was rather convinced that only a politician trying to exaggerate a point would use the phrase. Regardless of whether the policy was positive or not, it would have been nice to 

Yet, upon reading the bill, I found that Jindal was right – the law did require unemployment benefits be calculated in a particular way – and that the state law establishing this be permanent rather than temporary. At the same time, the bill offers what seems to be an escape clause – in which the Secretary of Labor is allowed to judge whether states have met the criteria set forth in the law. 

If Jindal’s objection were merely that he did not want to change the state law permanently in order to receive the monies, he could just apply for the funds and see what happened. There are enough ambiguities in the text that a clever lawyer could probably find a loophole allowing the monies to be given to Louisiana. More important, this would provide better political ground for Governor Jindal to make the case against this provision – he would have clearly focused the political debate on whether it was right for the stimulus bill to impose permanent changes. I personally think it unlikely that the Secretary of Labor would provoke such a conflict – which is probably why Jindal is making his case this way.

He chose to reject the funds because he wanted a soapbox issue to helped cement his national opposition to the plan. 

Jackie Calmes and Robert Pear wrote in the New York Times last week that Jindal was joined by a number of other Republican governors in vocal opposition to the plan:

The harshest critics include Mr. Sanford and Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, the national chairman of the party in the 1990s, Rick Perry of Texas, and Sarah Palin of Alaska, the party’s 2008 vice-presidential nominee.

Interestingly, all seem to have national ambitions – and designs for 2012. 

The point I’m trying to make is one I’ve made before – the Republican opposition to the stimulus is clearly a matter of politics rather than principle.

Jindal 2012 (cont.)

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Compare the reactions of Ramnesh Ponnuru and Mark Krikorian to the Washington Post‘s apparently positive profile of Bobby Jindal.

Neither can quite take the article at face value. Ponnuru wonders “if this sort of swooning is really going to be helpful to Gov. Jindal in the long run.”

Krikorian, on the other hand, takes offense at the suggestion that Jindal could be an Obama-like figure. Under the headline “Clueless” which he apparently means to refer to either the Washington Post or the American people, he explains that Obama was merely “a post-American political radical who’s never held a real job and was catapulted to political success because of his race.” So much resentment packed into a single sentence – and so much misinformation. Would a “post-American political radical” choose anything like the pragmatic foreign policy team that Obama has chosen? What exactly does Krikorian consider, “a real job”? Does Krikorian really consider race to be the primary factor in Obama’s rise – or was it one factor among many that had both negative and positive consequences? And how ridicilous is it for a guy whose career is based on whipping up xenophobia to declare race to be some kind of definate asset?

Krikorian makes clear that he doesn’t have a clue.

Ponnuru may find it hard to accept media praise for one of his guys – but Krikorian manages to turn praise into an insult. There’s something so counterproductive about it – these constantly stoked resentments.

Unfortunately, the National Review and the conservative movement at large has far too many Krikorian and far too few Ponnuru’s.

Jindal’s Health Care Reform

Friday, November 21st, 2008

The wonks at ThinkProgress are impressed with the Republican up-and-comer’s plan.

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