Thursday, September 4, 2008


"Well, people like that reform. Maybe we should get us some.

PAPPY whips off his hat and slaps JUNIOR with it

"I'll reform you, you soft-headed sonofabitch! How we gonna run reform when we're the damn incumbent?"

- Joel and Ethan Coen,
O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Here's some smart analysis of McCain's VP pick, delivered by Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan when she thought the MSNBC mike was turned off, and here's what she says she meant, followed by her original column, published in the Wall Street Journal before that first link to her, er, uncensored opinion.

A friend of mine, a guy named Jason who is both a staunch conservative and an extraordinarily perceptive predictor of political events, said that he considered the Palin pick "one of the most brilliant political moves in history. If he had picked Romney, the election would have been close. Now, you watch. An army of white women is going to march to the polls in November and vote for her."

When another friend suggested that Obama was much more popular in Europe than he is here, Jason responded, "Of course he is! They want a weak America!"

As a whole, Europeans don't, of course, want a "weak America" if they know what's good for them. Europe is filled with borderline or full-blown socialist republics that can't afford to spend a penny on defense because of bloated public works and benefits programs; in England, you have to make a significant amount of money for it to even be worth working - going "on the dole" is a decent living. With words and with soldiers supplied to the UN, we keep their countries safe for them.

In this country, a similar scenario has been a conservative nightmare for decades. Ronald Reagan sold himself to the American public as the scourge of the "welfare queen," a woman he had read about in the New York Times and described with some measure of hyperbole (four welfare-collecting aliases became "eighty," $8,000 in fraud became "$100,000"). If enough of these people become a drag on our public funds, the theory goes, we'll have to cut defense spending, which would put us at the mercy of those people who want a weak America, whoever they may be.

This is not the only Reaganaut theory that is back in vogue: John McCain has been taking preliminary swings at the Evil Empire as Russian tanks roll over the Georgian border. Fareed Zakaria's column admirably and simply puts things in perspective: this may be the stupidest foreign policy decision on the Russian side since Leonid Brezhnev invaded Afghanistan in 1978. Even Gorbachev thought that was stupid.

And the new version is probably not worth restarting the Cold War over.

Another friend, the same guy who questioned whether or not the European opinion is worth considering, noted that, in a conversation with his grandmother, she mentioned that her sister, a lifelong Democrat, couldn't vote for Obama: he's black.

"That's a little cowardly," said my friend.

"Think what you want," said his grandmother. "The whole nursing home feels the same way."

I ranted to David, my editor, who is a native Australian, that this was the exact opposite of what old people actually need: Obama wants to start wide-ranging healthcare reforms, using taxes on the wealthy to benefit the poor and indigent. If you're elderly and in a nursing home, you stand a good chance of reaping the benefits of an Obama presidency.

"And racism keeps them from voting in their own self-interest!" I practicallly screamed.

David was unperturbed.

"Then they deserve exactly what they get."

The most striking feature of the Republican National Convention so far has been its anger at the establishment.

Wait, what?

Yes, as Mitt Romney so often said during his campaign, "Washington is broken!" and as he said last night, "We need a conservative Washington!" These aren't out-of-context quotes, mind you - they were the mantras of his campaign for the nomination and now they're part of John McCain's presidential bid, which supposedly exists to use Republicans to shake up a Washington, DC that overwhelmingly supported President Bush whenever it could, to the extent of prosecuting a war on false pretenses and creating an illegal prison in Cuba.

Sarah Palin has joined the McCain campaign to represent voters who feel disenfranchised: normal people who have problems with their kids, need to juggle engagements, grew up worrying about money, and don't trust the federal government.

The choice, as Mike Murphy accidentally pointed out in that MSNBC clip, is entirely cynical. On the one hand, Palin is the governor of Alaska. As long as McCain is alive and in office, she will never be able to affect policy or change any significant aspect of the government; McCain will do as he pleases, which, given his impulsive remarks about Georgia, will be unpredictable at best.

On the other hand, if (God forbid) the 72-year-old cancer survivor dies in office, America will be left with a mother of five (including a Down syndrome infant), who was last seen threatening to fire the town librarian for refusing to censor books that Palin didn't like, who got her passport in 2006, who drove a rift between townspeople by dragging, of all things, abortion into a mayoral election in a town of 6,000, and who considers the Iraq war and a $30 billion oil pipeline missions from God like some mirror-universe Blues Brother.

Palin has been lauded, by McCain and by herself, as someone who opposed the "bridge to nowhere" (which she not only supported until it was all but scuttled, but used as campaign point in her gubernatorial campaign), who fought evil dumbass Ted Stevens (for whom she created an admiration society), and as an enemy of earmarks (which, in the pork capital of the universe, she of course is not).

Obama, bizarrely, has revealed himself to be not merely the wiser and more gracious candidate, suggesting that the media "back off" stories about her family life without even a mention of her incredible claim that she has just as much experience as he does (20 months as leader of the country's 47th-largest state - by population - apparently equals three years in the senate, eight years in the state legislature, and 22 years as an organizer on the South Side of Chicago), but also the more conservative.

Sam Thielman is a New York-based writer. He can be reached by email at sam.thielman at gmail dot com.


Greg said...

The point of the Palin experience thing is that Obama has never run anything. She made her context pretty clear last night that she has executive experience and he does not. Of course McCain doesn't have executive experience, which is a weakness of the argument and the reason a senator hasn't been elected president since Kennedy. But the larger point is the Republican ticket has both executive and legislative experience, while the Democratic ticket only has legislative.

William Boot said...

20 months of running Alaska is hardly executive experience.

Greg said...

Then 2 years in the Senate, having won against the eminently unelectable Alan Keyes, hardly counts as national experience. Going after Palin's short tenure only backfires against Obama and reminds everyone why he so desperately needed Joe Biden. John McCain similarly needs a rock star. They're balanced tickets in that way.

William Boot said...

And yet McCain can simultaneously tell everyone that Obama doesn't have enough experience, that Palin has just as much as Obama, and that his most important criterion for the vice presidency is the readiness to be president?

It's a great big mess, and Illinois is not Alaska.

Greg said...

Palin took on her own party in Alaska, which could have ruined her political career. That takes guts. To my knowledge, Obama has never irked anyone in the party, at least until he started tacking to the center, which hardly counts as courage so much as political inevitability. Obama is at the top of the ticket, and that's what matters. Palin's short tenure would be a non-issue if everyone weren't so morbid about McCain.

William Boot said...

True about the morbidity, but I think Obama's efforts are not to irk anyone, regardless of party, hence my enthusiasm. It'll be an interesting presidency no matter who wins...

Matt said...

Yes, Palin challenged her Alaska. Wow, what a go-getter. Did she drive a flag into an ice flow and ward off some right extremist Eskimos? "Guy's lets step out of our fishing huts and meet in the middle...for the good of the bingo hall." We're getting caught up in "executive experience" like it's some magical ability to pick up the red phone and make tough decisions. George W. Bush had plenty of executive experience going into his 8 year run and has proven himself, quite possibly, the worst president in U.S. history, out-bungling Warren G. Harding...which is just impressive. All Palin has proven up to this point is that she's stubborn and self-righteous. Now who does that sound like?

Anonymous said...

William - now let's not be unfair to Mrs. Palin. As Steve Doocy and then Cindy McCain pointed out, Alaska is the closest state in the union to Russia. And what is Illinois close to? I think I've made my point.

William Boot said...

You know Ed, I think you're right on. But since Obama was raised in Hawaii, I think I know who I want on my side if, God forbid, it should come to submarines.