Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Last Post on Sarah Until McCain Does a William Henry Harrison and She Becomes President

The attempt to demolish Sarah Palin has backfired. As everyone knows, every quantum of fury directed against her seemed to push her ticket higher in the polls. Here's another indicator you may not have noticed: her eyeglass frames (Kawasaki 704) flew off the shelves long ago. Retailers, and the manufacturer itself, are all sold out, with a long waiting list. (I know this because Deborah tried to buy a pair recently. She'd look great in them, too.) The leftosphere's loathing of her only seems to make other people like her more.

What have we learned from this? For rhetorical purposes, I'll put this as Advice to Democrats, though I'm not silly enough to think that they will take it, either from me or from anybody else, including non-suicidal Democrats.

Fundamentally, by trying to show that Palin is the wrong sort of person, you, the Dems, turned the debate into a culture war about values. This is a battle you are doomed to lose.

1. Most obviously, Avoid starting any new culture wars. If you think people who shoot moose are icky because that's just so-o-o-o-o mean, please keep this information under your hat. For better or worse, most Americans think a woman who shoots moose is pretty cool. Given a chance, they would be out there shooting moose themselves. So avoid that whole nest of issues and non-issues, please.

2. Stop playing Gotcha! No one cares which one of Bush's awful ideas is so terrible that it is actually called The Bush Doctrine. [If you are indeed halfway interested, here is an article by Charles Krauthammer, the guy who coined the term, and he says that Gibson got it wrong too. Personally, I would have guessed that it was the idea that we have a right to coercively spread democracy around the world on the grounds that freedom can't survive unless it is nearly universal. Krauthammer, if I'm reading him right, says this is closer to being correct than Gibson's version is.] More important, playing Gotcha! makes you look mean. It looks mean because it is mean: only mean people enjoy that sort of petty foolishness. The voters are not going to give you power over nearly every aspect of their lives (which is what elections are really about nowadays, unfortunately) if they think that you and your people are petty and mean. If you really are a mean person, you should hide your nasty little soul from public view until after the election, then spring it on us.

3. Stop basing your case on how stupid your opponent is. For one thing, before you even think of using this strategy, you'd better make damn sure that you are smart yourself. Many Dems who play the He's So Stupid game fall pathetically short of meeting this simple and obvious requirement. The sort of stupidity that doesn't know its own limitations is the only really dangerous kind. Further, I've spent my whole life surrounded by incredibly smart people and I can tell you this by experience: Believe it or not, being smart is not that important. G. W. Bush is not an awful president because he is stupid. True, he is not exactly brilliant, but I believe that is just a coincidence.* He has been awful, not from stupidity, but because he is a "moderate": ie., he lacks an ideological or philosophical compass. As such, he fell under the influence of people with the wrong sort of ideology, a pack of free-spending ex-leftist world-savers who have brought us to the brink of ruin. Nature abhors any vacuum, including the brain of a "moderate." Being smart would not have saved him.

4. Focus sharply on the issues. All the talk about the Bush Doctrine distracted attention from what was really disturbing in that interview: soon after it began, she revealed that she would be willing to go to war with Russia over Georgia. That is, her views on foreign policy are at least as insane as those of Mad McCain. The eyes of the voters should be glued to this terrifying fact, not the BS issue of knowing what the Bush Doctrine is.

It is one of the tragedies of our times that, during the run-up to this war, the only thing standing between us and this war was -- the Democrats. With defenders like that, you are pretty much defenseless. Here, years into the war, their party and their candidate haven't got the guts to declare they will end it at the earliest opportunity -- and bring the troops home, instead of shipping them off to some other Godforsaken Hell-hole.
* On the other hand, I just noticed a blurb on the internet that says that Bush's IQ is 125, which puts him in the top 7 % or so of the population. This actually reinforces my main point of the folly of the He's So Stupid strategy, especially when used by people who are not exactly geniuses themselves.
Added Later: I was going to add that displays of PDS (Palin Derangement Syndrome) had probably bottomed out with Palin's email being hacked into and published on the web, and then I heard of Sandra Bernhard's truly revolting gang-rape comment. I think it is a very interesting question: Why don't leftists seem to realize how really, seriously ugly this looks to people who don't suffer from PDS? This is not a rhetorical question: I really don't know the answer.


Michael Drake said...

Lester, your point (1) is about whether the politics will work. Sure enough, deriding things that are popular is bad politics. If Sarah Palin is popular, then, pointing out, for example, that she's preposterously unqualified will not be good politics. No arguments there.

But your points (2) and (3) miss the essence of the critique. That Palin didn't "know" the Bush Doctrine is not the problem, and no mainstream source is claiming she's "stupid" because of that ignorance (Krauthammer's playing-the-fool notwithstanding). Rather, the problem is that it was obvious she'd never even heard of the term. This striking bit of ignorance naturally gives rise to a concern that Palin suffers from a fatal kind of incuriousness about national and foreign policy -- one, incidentally, that we've seen before.

Pace you, that concern is not restricted to liberals:

Ross Douthat: "[Gibson's questions] were all questions that a vice-presidential nominee needs to be able to answer. And there's no way to look at her performance as anything save supporting evidence...that it's just too much, too soon...."

Rod Dreher: "I am disappointed by how little she seems to know about some pretty basic stuff.... I completely dig her, and wish she were my governor. But my vice president? Hmm."

Noah Millman: "[S]he’s totally unqualified to be President at this point in time. If McCain were to die in February 2009, I hope Palin would have the good sense to appoint someone who is more ready to be President to be her Vice President, on the understanding that she would then resign and be appointed Vice President by her successor."

Rich Lowry: "[S]he very likely didn't know any of the possible definitions of the Bush doctrine. I can't imagine if Obama had picked Gov. Tim Kaine and he had had a similar moment, conservatives would have rushed to say that the Bush doctrine is just too amorphous and complicated for him to know anything about it."

Moreover, David Frum meditates on the problematic way she managed her ignorance: "She's under-informed and over-confident," and "tried to bluff her way through, pretending to know what she obviously did not know. It's an understandable impulse, and in the context of a single interview, not so very terrible. But is it an impulse that she'd lay aside once in office? Or is it a deeper habit? A lot may turn on the answer to that question." In sum: "Ms. Palin's experience in government makes Barack Obama look like George C. Marshall. She has zero foreign policy experience, and no record on national security issues."

Regarding your point (4), then, assuming that Palin really is incompetent and that a "sharp focus" is called for (but when did that ever work?), at least some of the focus has to be directed at what McCain's selection about her says about his judgment.

Your claim that those dumbass Democrats are emphasizing all the wrong syl-LA-bles as usual seems pretty misbegotten to me. The DNC does f*** up a lot, but it is ludicrous to blame Democrats for the inordinate focus on Palin here. Palin is extraordinarily popular, and the press has been playing up the story 24-7. So Democrats can either engage on the subject and criticize her appropriately (which presumably would include the kinds of critcism outlined above), or they can cede all the air time on the talk shows to Palin's advocates. Which tack do you think is the better politics?

Lester Hunt said...

"Lester, your point (1) is about whether the politics will work. Sure enough, deriding things that are popular is bad politics."

I assume you are joking here, but just in case you aren't: the error wasn't in attacking a popular person (for one thing, I'm saying they inadvertently helped to make her popular). It was to inadvertently switch the discussion to the ground on which they are weak.

Also, of course I wasn't saying that you can't challenge whether a candidate is prepared or qualified for the job. (That, combined with a proscription against criticizing popular candidates, would pretty much render and political party helpless.) I see a big difference between that and playing Gotcha! or the habitual harping on how stupid your opponents are supposed to be.

The get-Palin campaign has been a huge miscalculation.

Michael Drake said...

(BTW, the "as usual" clause in my final paragraph belongs to the description of the Democrats' supposed malemphasis and not to my subsequent suspicion that your claim was misbegotten!)

Anonymous said...

Watching Palin in front of an audience, one can see how she connects as a "regular" person who shares insight and values with the classical midwesterner.

What's scary is that she doesn't need to be an expert but that reflects something even more deeply scary which is; "Who is really in charge of our gov't and economy." It's more like she's trying out as "Spokes-Model" or better put, when the economy is really in the tank next year, she'll be on TV with McCain giving us pep talks.

With the failure of big investment banks and the large auto companies, American capitalism as we know it may be in for a big change, like foreign ownership and control. There is something HUGE going on here and I think she's there for a reason. You may think I'm 'noid but give it a few months and I may be right.

First the American worker lost control of his job and now the Amnerican management of these corporations is becoming expendible. Corporate governance is not rocket science anymore and I think alot of savy foreign people in Asia have trumped us at the game we invented.

Lester Hunt said...

Michael, I should probably add that when I said "no one cares" which all-too-familiar idea is the Bush doctrine, I meant it in the Yogi Berra sense ("no one goes there anymore"). Obviously, I disagree with (some of) the conservatives you quote (often do!). The main point though is that these same people would like nothing more than for people to obsess about (relative) non-issues like this, rather than looking at their disastrous foreign policy and the coming economic hard times, in which we will all be paying and paying and paying for it. That's almost, from their point of view, as good as wasting precious time on why McCain doesn't have an email address. Honestly, it's hard to avoid cliches about fiddling while Rome burns and rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Michael Drake said...

Lester, totally agree that the email gambit is trivial and ridiculous. I'd only add that Palin's disinterest in foreign policy connects up with the broader concerns you outline in a way that McCain's disinterest in email doesn't. And now I'm done beatin' this dead moose!...

Sabina's hat said...

While I largely agree with your advice (except I'm not sure of (2)), I think your initial claim is false. I do think that the attacks on Palin have successful. Maybe her eyeglasses are popular, but she is already beginning to drop in the polls, and the uptick in popularity McCain experienced after the Convention is disappearing. While this isn't necessarily due to her being attacked by Democrats, it seems likely that was one of the causes.

Lester Hunt said...

As to why the Republicans have slipped slightly in the polls in the last few days, I would have to go with the conventional wisdom on this: it's because of the stock market mess, which will inevitably be bad for incumbents and people associated with incumbents. The Demos should be alarmed that they haven't gained more from it.

Lester Hunt said...


Yes, maybe we should just let sleeping moose lie.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post as always, Lester. Palin's answer on Russia was disappointing, because I thought the main argument for NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine would be precisely that it would avoid war with Russia. Once they were members, Russia would have to think twice before trying to reassemble the old USSR. Instead, Palin allowed Gibson to talk her into "sure, war with Russia!"

Though in all fairness, it should also be pointed out that Obama has officially endorsed the same position, namely that Georgia and Ukraine should be ushered into NATO. Palin, at least, admitted that this means that if attacked by Russia, the US would be obligated to get involved, and I suspect that Obama would have a hard time being straight about that.

Michael Drake said...

"Obama has officially endorsed the same position, namely that Georgia and Ukraine should be ushered into NATO"

That's very misleading. What Obama (and McCain as well) has done is call for a NATO Membership Action Plan for Georgia. That process takes several years, and the outcome is indeterminate. For example, "Albania and Macedonia have been working on their membership plans for nine years," and have still not earned admittance.

If Palin had a grasp of any of this, she didn't show it in the interview. (In fairness to her, though, neither did Gibson.)