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    Standing on shakey ground

    I didn’t go into the debate thinking Sarah Palin was either (1) the august Saint Jane of Sixpack, whose Middle-American horse sense is worth ten times its weight in Yale degrees and who has the stuff to remake Washington completely while one hand dandles a baby and the other cleans a rifle or (2) the dumbest religious-rightest bitch ever nominated for anything ever who can’t even make sentences and OMG have you seen those glasses and what does she think this is a Pantene commercial and that Valley-Girl-from-the-North-Country accent gives me hives and AAARRRGGGGGGHHHH?!

    I like Palin. I think she’s shrewd and grounded. I like that she loves her country without qualification. I have the same problems with her that I do with all politicians: I wish she weren’t an economics moron, and I wish her political compromises indicated a more consistent way of prioritizing principles and goods. And there are some more specific problems with her individually: shrewdness and cockiness are not substitutes for being informed, and there is, in fact, nothing elitist about deploying good grammar/usage/mechanics off the cuff. I was never persuaded that Palin was lacking in intelligence, but I’m still not persuaded that she has the hunger for knowledge or conceptual framework for driving policy effectively.

    That said, she did well last night. She appeared to believe what she was saying, and there were few “How’s that again?” sentence constructions. Biden’s been around for ages, so I have a difficult time assessing what the debate itself really made me think of him. He seemed more lizardly than usual, though he never acted like a jerk.

    Like Virginia, I like Will Wilkinson’s liveblog. Some excerpts:

    8:16 – Biden: Barack Obama will never raise taxes on anyone ever. Almost. McCain is middle-class-hating shill for megawealthy.

    8:18 – Palin: Higher taxes not patriotic, Biden. Government off our snow machines! I did a good job remembering talking points about McCain’s health care tax credit plan! Budget-neutral: I can say it!

    8:19 – Biden: Scranton, reprezent. Redistribution isn’t if you don’t call it that. Fairness! Health care, blah blah Bridge to Nowhere.

    8:21 – Biden: How to save? Screw foreign assistance, tax cuts for rich, can’t “slow up on” stuff that’s the “engine”, like subsidies for the energy companies we’re not going to give tax cuts to. Tax havens unpatriotic!

    8:31 – Palin: Extemp grammar weird. Global warming. Yeah, we’ve got glaciers in Alaska, so we need to pay more for energy by subsidizing the same energy companies I had to wrestle like polar bears.

    8:32 – Biden: Global warming totally manmade. I know. I made it. By Talking. BO likes clean coal and safe nuclear. China: Dirty dirty coal. Give em our tech. McCain hates environment because he opposes causing hunger in third world children by subsidizing corn. Drilling won’t get us anywhere until 10 years, as if prices don’t reflect expectations of future production.

    My biggest worry last night was that if Palin crashed and burned, she would not only discredit the McCain campaign but also the idea that bringing outsiders (“non-professionals”) into DC politics is a good one. She held her own and seems to be learning her lessons. That’s not major praise, but considering whom she’s running with and against, and considering her own very, very iffy performance over the last several weeks, it’s enough.

    5 Responses to “Standing on shakey ground”

    1. Portia says:

      YAY — managed to remember my password! (yes, yes, I know. These days I take my victories where I can.)

      Wholly agree with you on the economic retardation.

      Look, economics these days are hard, mostly I think on purpose (a lot of hocus pocus going on) but all of these politicians could benefit from a primer in economics, or, failing that, from P.J. O’Rourke’s Eat The Rich which is how I gave my kids a “basic economics” grounding.

      On another note — honored to be quoted below, choppy prose and all. :)

    2. Maria says:

      My comment is totally trivial. Palin has a better Fargo accent than anyone I’ve ever met in Minnesota…or North Dakota, for that matter.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      Portia, if you listen to all the IT scolds running about lately, you’re supposed to have a different password for everything; there’s no shame in not being able to remember one of them.

      I don’t fault politicians for not having an intimate understanding of how derivatives are structured, or what have you. What drives me nuts is when they can’t stop saying dazzlingly dumb stuff about things that laypersons should be able to understand perfectly adequately. Why “dependence on foreign oil” is a meaningless bugbear is not something you need a Ph.D. from MIT to wrap your head around.

      Maria, it’s hilarious that you should say that, because I was thinking about it myself. A good friend of mine in Tokyo is from Alaska, and he doesn’t use the Candadian-sounding long o‘s as she does. Of course, he didn’t spend any formative time in Idaho, and maybe that’s the accent there.

    4. Zak says:

      What is this fetish for Washington “outsiders” as opposed to “insiders”? The fact is that, on both red and blue sides of the aisle, politician venality perfectly reflects the constituents who placed them there.

      And placing an “outsider” in those circumstances won’t help either, because they will assume the characteristics of the people they replace faster than you can say “fake Fargo accent.”

    5. Sean Kinsell says:

      I don’t think anyone who knows politics expects to shove an outsider into Washington and have the place turned on its ear within an election cycle; that would be especially true of a member of the House or Senate, who would have to work with colleagues for years before becoming prominent enough on a national scale to do anything.

      What we’re talking about here, though, is the executive branch, which has less power over law but more power over the image Washington projects and the scrutiny it invites. It seems to me reasonable to hope that a genuine outsider in the offices of the White House could help, for example, to keep the Porkbusters movement on the boil and (dreaming here!) could perhaps speak out against entitlements and subsidies in a way that gets people really examining them.

      Another thing to bear in mind is what outsider is taken to mean. George W. Bush was not a Washington insider in the sense of having been elected to congress, but his family connections and record as governor of a key state indicated pretty strongly to those who were paying attention that he was going to work with the machine. Also, he was one of those people who went after the job of president, and that nearly always involves fitting oneself into the mold of “electable” figure, which involves not pissing off those with blocking power. In that light, Palin has genuine outsider status. That has its liabilities–one advantage of having lusted after the presidency is that one expends time and effort preparing for what it requires, and Palin had not until last month–but it also means that she would be going into the VP job beholden to very few people.

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