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    Do you like or love / either or both of me?

    Posted by Sean at 18:23, October 2nd, 2008

    It looks as if our debate-watching party will take place at home rather than at a friend’s place as planned. For the five of you who may care, be it known that

    1. I will not be live-blogging. At least, not the whole thing. I may be moved to reach for the laptop to comment in real time if anything seems particularly noteworthy, but I’ll have guests, and my first responsibility will be to see to their comfort while punching the sofa cushions hard every time someone on television says something dumb. (NB: I actually do that, even when there are other people around.)

    2. Don’t bother looking to me for a drinking game. The only drinking game I ever play has the following rules:
      • Whenever you want a gulp, take one. Then take one more.

      • The host or hostess loses if the alcohol runs out before everyone’s sated. (No household of mine has ever lost, I’ll have you know.)
      • Otherwise, everyone wins…you know, as in those new non-competitive versions of tag they play on playgrounds so every participant gets to feel equally special. But more fun.

    3. My friend Portia, whom you may know as a commenter at Eric‘s, pretty much sums up what I’m thinking going in.

      Right now I’m waiting for the debate to see how she performs. NOT to make up my mind. As I said, it’s pretty much get drunk and vote for McCain and I’d have done it even if he picked Romney. (If he picked Huckabee I had plans to find a lone island and hide out to wait for the end of the world.) I don’t like McCain, but I’m back in the familiar situation of the seventies, where I have to pick between those who will get me and my family killed and those who MIGHT allow us to live another four years.

      There are other reasons to vote for McCain, including that the press wants us to vote for Obama and I don’t like being told what to do.

      But I hope and pray I’m right and that there is a “there” there when it comes to Palin. Because if McCain wins, and croaks, I don’t want her playing sweet little girl to Putin, heaven help us all. Perhaps not as bad as Obama would be, but six of one, half a dozen of the other.

      On experience — not too fussed, provided McCain doesn’t die first day in office — PROVIDED SHE KICKS OFF “good little girl” mode. I’m hoping it happens sometime. Can’t promise, because it depends on McCain’s attitude, too.

      Look, everyone knew going into this that Palin was going to be under a microscope. She said she accepted the slot without hesitation. Great. Now give us reason to be glad for that. And bear in mind, a lot of us remember Margaret Thatcher.

    Should be entertaining, at least.

    He knows how to give me two-fisted love

    Posted by Sean at 21:45, September 30th, 2008

    I don’t happen to think the whole Palin thing is all that hard to understand–whether you do or do not want to support her. The original argument from the McCain campaign was that it didn’t matter that she didn’t have impressive academic credentials or a history of grooming herself for national politics; she had the knowledge and skill sets to get the job done well. The initial protests from the more hysterical corners of the left that she was a rube with outdated hair and a degree from Nowheresville State and too many kids and guns and a history of sportscasting were therefore petty and irrelevant. Unfortunately, many on the right are still responding as if those were the issues at hand. They are not. The issue still is, can she get the job done well?

    Rachel Lucas is another person who’s getting it from right-leaning commenters about criticizing Palin, and she responds perfectly sensibly:

    So I watched the Couric interview of Palin clips late on a Friday afternoon and blogged that I thought she sounded like a fool. Didn’t say she is a fool, or stupid, just that she didn’t sound like she knew what she was talking about and that if she were on “the other side,” I would mock her with verbatim transcripts and most of my readers would laugh and mock along with me.


    This isn’t the Washington Post you know. I’m not Charles Freakin’ Krauthammer. But most of all, I refuse to be a hypocrite and it kinda pisses me off, not a lot but kinda, that so few others on “my side” don’t see how hypocritical it is to say that you wouldn’t tear her up all over the place if she were a Democrat, wouldn’t say that she sounded like a complete and total moron in those interviews if she were a liberal. She did sound like that, editing or not. You do realize that half the time I or any other blogger or right-leaning writer mocks the intelligence of Democrats, we’re doing that selectively, too?

    Along the same lines, my friend Zak zeroes in on a major issue, though I think he mischaracterizes it:

    The thing is, it’s almost impossible to talk about these things when someone who has risen up from truly humble roots through his own abilities is branded “elite,” while the guy who got into Annapolis because his dad was an Admiral and then married an heiress is somehow salt of the earth.

    In the end, it’s now a nonsense word, and just means “a liberal I dislike.”

    I DO think there is a serious current of anti-intellectualism in America these days, though. There always has been, but I think it’s been cresting.

    To start with…look, this is probably about the thousandth time I’ve linked this post by Megan McCardle, but it really does help illuminate things, so here it is:

    What is true is that Democrats, right now, have more ability to insulate themselves from being confronted with the views of the other side. Geographically, they can isolate themselves into coastal cities, which is why I never met any Republicans except my grandparents until I went to business school. And informationally, provided that they don’t watch Fox news, don’t subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, and keep the radio tuned to NPR, they can keep from ever hearing if the other side has a good argument.

    This is why the Democrats at that luncheon were so shocked and hurt. Not because they are stupid, or venal, or arrogant. But because they live in a bubble, and thus are genuinely not aware that the other side may occasionally have the better of the argument. The New Republic is about as far right as your average New Yorker generally goes, publication-wise — and I am acquainted with a number of people who have dropped it because it’s too right-wing these days. If the only explanation of conservatives beliefs you ever hear comes from the editorial pages of the New York Times, it is indeed incomprehensible that people out there could actually embrace such twaddle. I’d be looking under the couch for the Vast Right Wing conspiracy too.

    The main distinction that needs to be made here is between eliteness (being privileged) and elitism (the state of mind, the worldview, the 主義 that one is superior to others and, in this context, can govern them effectively without learning from them). I’ve never heard the argument advanced that McCain is not an elite, in the sense of coming from a powerful insider family and therefore being in a better position to snag an heiress. I have seen people occasionally use Obama’s grandmother’s job as a bank vice-president as grounds for arguing that his background was more elite than we’re given to understand, but most of his detractors that I know of accept that his family was pretty non-descript middle-class.

    The argument that McCain, despite his background, is not an elitist is based on his perceived willingness to get his hands dirty, which is predicated on the belief that he’s no better than anyone he’s serving. He went to Vietnam and withstood imprisonment and torture. He’s spent his career in the senate pursuing bipartisan cooperation. His wife doesn’t inform voters that her husband is going to shake them up, because his position is not that they’ve chosen to live their lives in ways that need to be reformed by do-gooder technocrats. He tells them that they have every right to love America as it is and that their existing values are worthwhile.

    The argument that Obama, despite his background, is an elitist is based on his perceived belief that he’s destined to fulfill the role of an enlightened political leader, a high-status charity worker who ladles goodness onto his constituents from on high because they don’t know what’s good for them. He explained the values of small-town and rural voters as resulting from the failure of presidential administrations to engineer the economy to make them happy. He sucks up to European social democrats and acts as if we needed to be more like them. He’s still against the surge even though he acknowledges that it’s worked. He started running for president practically from the moment he was elected to the senate.

    My point is not that either extreme is entirely true, only that it’s about more than just deciding based on upbringing who’s elitist and who is not.

    Regarding Sarah Palin, the questions seem to revolve more around eliteness of achievement than around elitism of beliefs. There seems to be little evidence that she’s tried to use the coercive power of her government position to push others to live her way. There is, however, evidence that she’s out of her depth as a contender for the vice-presidency. It’s not conclusive evidence, so I’m happy to humor conservatives who maintain that she’s saving up all her killer lines and dazzling political insights for the debate Thursday. We’ll know soon enough, after all. But the contention that anyone who questions her possible relationship to the Peter principle is a tool of the Obama left is ridiculous. I’m as unmoved by that as I am by the contention that anyone who votes against Obama is a racist.


    Posted by Sean at 16:37, September 28th, 2008

    I think the left is more frequently guilty than the right of shrill, emotionally charged reactions when their sacred cows are criticized, but that doesn’t mean they have a monopoly on the practice. Bridget Johnson posted this on PJM about whether Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal might not have made a better choice for McCain’s VP than Sarah Palin:

    Considering the excessive media tear against Palin, as opposed to the kid-gloves treatment afforded Barack Obama, it was no surprise that anyone in the media who questioned the selection of Palin — regardless of whether he or she fell on the right of left side of the aisle, or somewhere in between — was regarded as having nefarious ulterior motives by fans of the newly created ticket.

    [A]s soon as I blogged on the possibility that storm season could show Jindal may have been the smarter choice, commenters in conservative forums were calling me a Marxist mainstream media louse who was surely making the suggestion to sabotage a right-wing dream ticket (though, it should be said, McCain was in the not-too-distant past considered a poseur Republican, and any pundit who pitched him in the primary over Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee was roundly castigated). Never mind that I was suggesting another Reagan Republican as McCain’s ideal running mate.

    If you want to see what she’s talking about, just look at the comments. Enough of them gainsay her argument without giving a good reason that I had to stop reading halfway through. Johnson must have expected that, and good on her for writing what she believes anyway.

    From the opposite side of the political spectrum, friends of mine, such as Zak in a comment the other day, have been asking why I’m not flipping out over Palin as much as they are:

    I think Palin appeals to the ignorant because they can sense that she is exactly as ignorant as they. I can’t figure out why you aren’t appalled about her candidacy, though, because you clearly don’t fit into this group.

    I seriously doubt there are many people who support Palin because she seems dumb enough to be unthreatening and easy to relate to. I do think there are a lot of smart, experienced people who’ve followed politics for years, were excited at the potential ascent of a genuine outsider such as Palin, and have been bending over backwards to put the best face on her performance since her convention speech because they really, really want her to do well. And McCain to win.

    Palin hasn’t said anything egregiously, quotably stupid, which is good; but she has settled into a pattern of giving obtuse responses to questions that leave a strong impression that she just doesn’t really know what she’s talking about. The line about this among fans is that the McCain campaign is micro-managing her self-presentation, and that she is therefore displaying the discomfort of someone trying to play a role she’s pledged to but doesn’t really want.

    That all sounds very sympathetic, but weren’t we told, expressly, that Palin’s a good choice because she has a solid core of conviction and principle and doesn’t let people push her around? I have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes, but in public Palin is looking less steady and spunky as things wear on. She’s nearly lost a lot of us, and if she’s saving herself up for her debate performance (which I find possible but not really likely), she’s running a terrible risk.

    And can we please stop it with the crap about how any criticism of Palin is based on snobbery and is practically prima facie evidence of a desire for Obama to win? Anti-elitism is not supposed to mean lowering standards. Just because a lot of blowhards went to Harvard, that doesn’t mean that going to a state school is a sign of shrewdness. Palin’s convention speech was a great start and suggested that she might be one of those smart, talented people whose path happened not to pass through an elite university. I can’t see anything inherently snobbish about pointing out that she hasn’t done much to develop since then.

    Great Spangled Fritillary

    Posted by Sean at 19:39, September 24th, 2008

    McCain (you’ll have heard this?) wants to postpone the debate to do an ostentatiously public-spirited confab in Washington about the bailout plan:

    Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain announced Wednesday that he is suspending his campaign to return to Washington and focus on the “historic” crisis facing the U.S. economy.
    McCain said it was time for both parties to come together to solve economic crisis.

    Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama said at a news conference later Wednesday that he and McCain had spoken by phone and had agreed to issue a joint statement about shared principles in the approach to resolving the economic crisis.

    But he disagreed with McCain’s call for postponing Friday’s first presidential debate in Oxford, Mississippi.

    “It’s my belief that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person will be the next president,” Obama said in Clearwater, Florida. “It is going to be part of the president’s job to deal with more than one thing at once. It’s more important than ever to present ourselves to the American people.”

    That’s a pretty fair observation; I’m not sure I buy the subsequent line about not wanting to “infuse Capitol Hill with presidential politics,” though, given the way members of both parties opportunistically point fingers at executive and legislative officials alike when trying to convince voters that the other side sucks.

    I’ve heard lefty friends suggest that McCain is doing this as a gimmick to worm his way out of the debate. My own instinct says that McCain is (1) indeed doing this as a gimmick but (2) not to buy time to prep more for the debate (or whatever it is his detractors think he needs time to do). McCain has long made a show of his ability to work with people across party lines. Note that I do not see the results as an alloyed good.


    The belief that the McCain campaign is going to try to leverage American racism to win against Obama is being further developed, and Eric looks at some of its components:

    The way things are going with these endless charges of “racism,” I think it’s more likely to be a referendum on the intractability of the imputation of racism. Which of course the imputers would claim proves their point. That’s because when an issue — dishonest or not — is injected into a campaign as relentlessly as “racism” is being injected into this campaign, it’s there, and it won’t go away easily. The old “try not to think about elephants” routine. American voters are being inundated — on a daily basis now — with the following, deeply ugly, message: if you’re white and you don’t vote for Obama it’s because you’re a racist.

    The only people who have any hope of a defense are Republican stalwarts. They can say “I just voted the Party line as I always do.” Not so for Democrats and independents. If they vote for McCain, they will have to live with the unsettling knowledge that post-election inquisitors will always be able to ask them who they voted for in 2008, and if they answer McCain, it will be seen as suspect. And even if they say, “It’s my business who I voted for!” leftie McCarthyites will take that as a tacit admission that they voted for McCain. And either way, they’re obviously racists, right?


    I got a message from a reader the other day that reminded me of something Ross Douthat had written, which I’d been meaning to cite (emphasis mine):

    And even if you agree [with the prior point that Mike Huckabee was able to take on a suitably presidential mien despite being an outsider who hadn’t lusted after the job since kindergarten, while Palin has not], you may say that the comparison is unfair – first, because Huckabee was unusually glib and charming, as politicians go, and second because he had a long primary season, much of it spent in relative obscurity, to achieve this effect, whereas Palin has only two months, all of them spent in the full-on glare of an obsessed and hostile press corps. Which is true enough! But Palin is where she is, and eight weeks is all she gets: The fact that she has a tougher challenge than Huckabee doesn’t absolve her from the obligation to rise to meet it, and thus far she has not. I’m more inclined to reserve judgment on her present (and future) prospects than the disillusioned Noah Millman, whose reasons for being initially enthusiastic about her almost precisely match my own, and more likely to place the responsibility for the way she has been used to date with the uninspired, trench-warfare-plus-nothing McCain campaign. But the fact remains that she has given one fine speech, and two lackluster interviews, and has otherwise dodged the sort of rough-and-tumble venues and conversations that Huckabee welcomed, and which he used to make his candidacy for president seem more plausible than it initially appeared. Palin needs to at least approach the standard Huckabee set; she hasn’t yet; and that failure is showing up in her approval ratings. There’s still time for her to turn it around, and as you might expect, I’m pulling for her to do it. But at this point, there’s an awful lot riding on that one vice-presidential debate.

    Palin has said that she didn’t hesitate when McCain tapped her as his running mate, because she knew she could be ready. Right, then–show us some ready. I don’t entirely blame her and the campaign brain trust for limiting her interaction with the media, which any moron can see are out to find dirt on her in a way that they are not with Obama and Biden. But like it or not, it’s 2008, and the ability to work the media without getting worked over is an indispensable political skill, certainly at the level of the vice-presidency.

    One of those links above goes to this piece by Noah Millman, in which he says:

    Based on her performance on the campaign trail so far, she’s a shallow and demagogic politician. And if, on the off chance, that’s not who she is, then it’s instructive that the McCain campaign seems to be eager to have her play this particular character.

    Palin still strikes me as the least demagogic of the four candidates this year, and depending on how we’re definining shallowness, I don’t think she looks so bad comparatively, either. On the other hand, “not as shallow and demagogic as most of Washington” is not exactly what one would call high praise.

    Wolf in the Breast

    Posted by Sean at 17:43, September 22nd, 2008

    I’ve been following the reactions to the Sarah Palin candidacy without reading too much into every word and gesture. She’s a new figure as a national politician, and while the frenzy to find out about and create a convenient persona for her is tiresome, it was also predictable.

    But things got out of hand very quickly. Eric says,

    Considering the way the vicious attacks on Sarah Palin generated sympathy for her (with a resultant backlash reflected in earlier polls), I would have thought that her attackers would by now have learned to control themselves, at least for the few weeks that remain in this increasingly ugly campaign.

    It is amazing that Sarah Palin is continuing to cause so many people on the left to miscalculate on such a grand scale, but for a lot of reasons, she is. The disinvition to an Ahmadinejad protest is proof that she triggers an emotional reaction which her enemies cannot control — even when (as here) she agrees with them! Incredible.

    Once again, they really can’t help it.

    For those of us who are trying to evaluate Palin as seriously as possible as a candidate, this state of affairs is really annoying. She’s being (ahem) given the opportunity to demonstrate grace under fire, but it’s a general sort of grace in response to general nastiness. I think most people figured she was capable of that already, and those who didn’t now have all the reason they need to see her as practically a martyr to lefty outrage. The hysterical detractors are succeeding admirably–if that’s the word–at getting the public to associate opposition to Palin with derangement.

    Meanwhile, the tough, useful questions that are being asked are being drowned out. Victor Davis Hanson has put the best possible face on what we know about Palin to date:

    I am not calling for yokelism, or a proponent of false-populism. Rather, I wish to remind everyone that there are two fonts of wisdom: formal education, and the tragic world of physical challenge and ordeal. Both are necessary to be broadly educated. Familiarity with Proust or Kant is impressive, but not more impressive than the ability to wire your house or unclog the labyrinth of pipes beneath it.

    In this regard, I think Palin can speak, and reason, and navigate with bureaucrats and lawyers as well as can Obama; but he surely cannot understand hunters, and mechanics and carpenters like she can. And a Putin or a Chavez or a Wall-Street speculator that runs a leverage brokerage house is more a hunter than a professor or community organizer. Harvard Law School is not as valuable a touchstone to human nature as raising five children in Alaska while going toe-to-toe with pretty tough, hard-nose Alaskan males.

    I understand what Hanson’s saying here, but I still think it would be nice to see some real scrutiny given to what she’s reading (Proust or otherwise) and whom she’s relying on to get her up to speed. Palin’s alert and inquisitive and has a forceful personality–great. It’s reasonable to say that her practical knowledge will give her good perspective. Or to note that her unimpressive college record doesn’t stack up too badly against, say, dropping out of Vanderbilt Law School (and, IIRC, basically flunking out of the divinity school). A love of ideas without regard for their consequences is bad; I still don’t know whether Palin has the love of ideas with regard for their consequences that’s good, and it’s getting harder, not easier, to assess that.

    Sunburst and Snowblind

    Posted by Sean at 15:24, September 18th, 2008

    Not unpredictably, Palin’s performance in discussing her governing philosophy isn’t as strong as it should be. I thought Ann Althouse summed up the Hannity interview well:

    Personally, I found the interview tiresome. I think we are well beyond the yes-I-can-speak phase. And the fact is that she doesn’t really speak very well when you start looking for structure and content. There’s a superficial gloss to it that may be enough if you want to like her or think you need to give her a chance to settle into this new role. But now it’s time to calm down and really communicate.

    Palin isn’t stumbling in the sense of looking visibly baffled or forgetting the capital of Sweden, and I don’t think her grammar/usage/mechanics are much worse than those of most other politicians speaking on the fly. But we’ve been told that she can bring meaningful reform rather than Obama’s meaningless change, and she isn’t persuading me, at least, that her concrete approach in going to be a good one. Of course she thinks the government should play an appropriate role in the economy, that cronyism is very bad, that general taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for screw-ups by specific corporations, and that we all need to put aside our differences and work together to do things the way her side wants solve problems. I’m not questioning whether she means what she says–she does seem to–only whether she knows what she’s getting into in trying to make it reality when she gets to Washington. It’s possible to mean well and still suck at what you do.


    A few people have asked me, “Sean, you grew up in one of them Jesus-freak cult things, right? So what do you think of Sarah Palin and her Pentecostalism?”

    In a way, I’m completely the wrong person to ask. I’m an atheist. I respect religion, but to me the percent difference in cockamaminess between the Pope and J.Z. Knight is probably rather lower than it would be to most other people. Yes, all other things being equal, it’s most comforting to have in office the sober, grounded, sort of boring types that, say, Episcopalianism excels at turning out. That being said, what I think matters most is a candidate’s view of human agency: as long as she believes it’s her responsibility as an elected official to think of both short- and long-term goods on behalf of the people, to deepen and broaden her knowledge base and choose good staff so she can make the best judgments, and to be as honest and transparent as she’s been talking about, fine. She may believe that we’re living in the End Times. I don’t know, though the question might liven up an interview or debate. As long as she doesn’t see herself as the one chosen to hasten us through them, I’m not sure I care.

    I’ve heard things about the link between her and the Kenyan witch-hunter (or maybe Kenyan-witch hunter–that first paragraph leaves things ambiguous. The guy may have flipped out over a Kenyan fortune-teller years ago, but what he did with Palin seems benign:

    In video footage of the speech, she is seen saying: “As I was mayor and Pastor Muthee was here and he was praying over me, and you know how he speaks and he’s so bold. And he was praying “Lord make a way, Lord make a way.”

    “And I’m thinking, this guy’s really bold, he doesn’t even know what I’m going to do, he doesn’t know what my plans are. And he’s praying not “oh Lord if it be your will may she become governor,” no, he just prayed for it. He said “Lord make a way and let her do this next step. And that’s exactly what happened.”

    Gee, imagine that. A minister made a generalized prayer for a blessing on a member of a congregation, and said member attributed her subsequent good fortune to it. That sounds pretty much like what Christians believe happens.

    How to Bring a Blush to the Snow

    Posted by Sean at 11:57, September 17th, 2008

    I almost always like Bruce Bawer’s writing, but I have to say I’m baffled by his most recent piece on PJM. It’s a reflection on how ten years of living overseas have changed his perspective on America. Some of it will be familiar to anyone who’s live abroad for a long time–the way the local language changes your English, the way coming home and seeing little quotidian changes (such as those garish new dollar bills) can jolt you into feeling very keenly how far away you live.

    And yet some of it was disturbing. Bawer’s tone is thoughtful, not surly, but the sentiments expressed toward the end veer toward whininess:

    Yes, yes, I’m still an American, and proud of it. But the longer I’m away, the less firmly that label clings to me — for I’m increasingly aware that the America I lived in is an America that’s no longer there. It’s an America where the Twin Towers are still standing, an America where my father is still alive. For millions of Americans, including my eight-year-old niece in New York, that America, my America, is not even memory, but history.

    When my partner and I flew back to New York for my father’s funeral, I couldn’t bring myself to write “0” on the customs declaration form next to “Number of family members traveling with you.” Instead I wrote “1.” At Newark Airport, the immigration official to whom I handed my card asked me where that other family member was. I indicated that he was in the non-citizens’ line. She asked what our relationship was. I explained. Her face colored with contempt, and with an angry slash of her pen she turned my “1” into a “0” as she spit into my face the words: “That’s not family!” It was a succinct summary of the U.S. government’s official position on my life.

    Well, maybe it was all meant to be. If I hadn’t come here, and stayed here, I wouldn’t have written While Europe Slept — my own modest contribution to the effort by many people on both sides of the Atlantic to save the West from itself. When I left America, I never imagined myself writing such a book: in fact my immediate plans were to write a book about how wonderful Amsterdam was. Alas, the Amsterdam I was so eager to celebrate ten years ago is also gone with the wind. But that’s another story.

    Oh, I don’t know, Bruce–I rather think it’s exactly the same story in practical terms.

    When you feel out of step with you’re own people, it means a great deal, and you have to wonder what it says about you. When you live in a foreign country–no matter how much you know about, care about it, and live a daily life that’s integrated into it–you still have a comforting distance from it. You can appreciate its good points without being on the hook for its bad points, because it’s not the society that formed you. When friends start telling you that you’re getting to be more like a native than the natives are, you can draw warmth and satisfaction from the compliment; and yet if you’re still awkward and out of place sometimes, that’s okay, too, because you are, after all, a foreigner.

    I really loved that feeling*, but in a sense, it’s a dangerous crack high. As my best friend in Tokyo, an Englishman, once explained to another Westerner about why he still listened to the BBC daily: “The U.K. is my country, and even if I’m over here, I’m responsible for it.”

    Bawer wrote a lot in While Europe Slept (a book I greatly admire, BTW) about the ways social democratic European societies have adjusted to post-colonial and post-war realities. The general cultural relativism has benefited gays in that some countries recognize gay unions. But the flip side is the dysfunctional approach toward immigration; policies that allow Muslim immigrants to “preserve their culture” sanction behavior that would get locals punished by custom or law. And skittishness about being judgmental has had the perverse effect of allowing anti-Semitic and anti-gay violence to start rising again.

    Does the ability to move to Norway to be with his partner, however understandably meaningful it is to Bawer, really trump the other disturbing long-term trends? The note that he ends on seems to say so, despite the disclaimer that he remains aware that Norway has its social problems. One can only hope that we’re not seeing the beginnings of Andrew Sullivan-ization here.

    A final note on Bawer’s anecdote about the line at immigration: yet again, the implicit argument is that failure to give legal recognition to gay partnerships is bad because of how it makes us feel. When I started this site, I wrote so much about what a bad, bad idea that is that I don’t feel like going into it now. But it’s a bad, bad idea. And I hope I never see the phrase “the U.S. government’s official position on my life” again.


    The focus on feelings also makes me uneasy about this piece by B. Daniel Blatt (a.k.a. Gay Patriot West) about what gays think of Sarah Palin. Policy isn’t excluded–there are allusions to her reform-mindedness on the one hand and to her support for policies that aren’t good for gays on the other. But the focus is on how exciting Palin is, delivered with the sort of pep-rally tone that we should all be over now that her nomination is weeks old.

    Oh, and she’s nice to gay people.

    However, those gay people who know her best, men and women who live in the Land of the Midnight Sun, are delighted about Palin’s nomination. Eric DeLand, an openly gay man who lives in the Kenai area, said even Democrats and independents like her: “They may not agree with her on everything, but they agree with enough; they’re happy with McCain’s decision to pick Sarah.”

    Erich says the governor knows him — and knows he’s gay. That hasn’t changed her treatment of him. She’s always been respectful. Indeed, he offers, “I’ve never seen her mistreat anyone for being gay or for whatever.”

    She’s also said that “she’s not out to judge anyone and has good friends who are gay,” confirming Eric’s impressions. We do wish she would chastise her church, the Wasilla Bible Church, for promoting the notion that homosexuality is “curable.” I fear, alas, that is not going to happen.

    This stuff isn’t inconsequential–Palin’s ability to deal with all kinds of constituents matters, and dispelling the myth that social conservatives are all rock-throwing gay-haters is important. On the other hand, why is it the governor’s duty to “chastise” her church (“Naughty church!”?) on theological points? And why does everyone in this article seem to be so gushy? I don’t want to overthink these things–in terms of political positions, I agree with the guys at Gay Patriot more often than not. But the vague impression from this article is that she’s mostly good, sometimes kinda not, on the issues…but she’s cool and we love her! (And what is that “plucky nature” thing about? I’m sorry, but if war erupts in some region that threatens a shipping lane or resource, I want my executives to have more than just pluck. At least no one in Blatt’s article used the word diva.)

    * Of course, it gets more complicated over time, because once you’ve demonstrated an ease with local customs and woven yourself into the lives of the people you know, they’ll start to expect you to know how to think and behave. But “Oh, that’s right–you’re a foreigner,” whether tacit or expressed, still covers a multitude of sins indefinitely.


    Posted by Sean at 17:33, September 16th, 2008

    Hi, Republicans.

    I know that it’s deeply satisfying to see the leftist Democrats and the media react to the Palin nomination. Many of them seem so deranged by fury that they’re about to tear themselves clean in half like Rumpelstiltskin. While the attendant resurgence of the culture wars has been troubling, there’s been nothing brought to the surface in the last few weeks that wasn’t there all along. Open, forthright debate is the best approach to these things, even though it inevitably gets contentious.

    On the same token, can we please bear in mind that what you’ve asked us to do is to vote Palin in as vice-president, based on certain particular premises? No, the media should not be purusing her more ruthlessly than it did Obama (who’s at the top of the Democratic ticket). No, they should not be trying to parlay her daughter’s pregnancy, her tanning bed, and her past as a sportscaster into evidence of unfitness.

    But you knew exactly what was coming, and you’ve been overselling her. Maybe not overselling how good she’ll be for the White House, but overselling what she’s done so far. Cato, of course, has been looking into her actual record on taxing and spending (via Q and O). The conclusion as I interpret it? More heartening than the average politician, getting better over time, but not exactly the bill of goods being marketed at the RNC:

    As Wasilla mayor, Palin has a decidedly mixed record on taxes and spending. She slashed her salary and cut property taxes by 40 percent because of booming sales tax revenue from new stores.

    But Palin also increased the budget by spending on roads and sewers, left the town nearly $20 million in debt and raised the city sales tax by half a percent (she said the money was needed to support construction of an indoor ice rink and sports complex and a police dispatch center).

    As governor, Palin slashed more than 10 percent of the state’s budget in 2007 (Question: Besides his checkbook, has Barack Obama ever balanced — much less cut — a budget?). She vetoed $268 million in state projects and imposed objective criteria on the projects.

    Libertarians should be cautiously optimistic about Palin. She has shown a dogged willingness to go to war with the worst elements of the Republican Party, but her missteps on some tax and spending issues means that libertarians should aggressively pressure a McCain-Palin administration to toe the small government line.


    Palin supported and signed into law a $1.5 billion tax increase on oil companies in the form of higher severance taxes. One rule of thumb is that higher taxes cause less investment. Sure enough, State Tax Notes reported (January 7): “After ACES was passed, ConocoPhillips, Alaska’s most active oil exploration company and one of the top three producers, announced it was canceling plans to build a diesel fuel refinery at the Kuparuk oil field. ConocoPhillips blamed the cancellation on passage of ACES [the new tax]. The refinery would have allowed the company to produce low-sulfur diesel fuel onsite for its vehicles and other uses on the North Slope, rather than haul the fuel there from existing refineries.”

    There are good reasons for an oil-rich state to tax oil production, but a fiscal conservative would usually use any tax increase to reduce taxes elsewhere. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I see no evidence that Palin offered any major tax cuts. She did propose sending $1.2 billion of state oil revenues to individuals and utility companies in the form of monthly payments to reduce energy bills, but that sounds like welfare to me, not tax cuts.

    All right. Not a social democrat, but not fearlessly principled. There are possible answers to the doubts raised–you can’t change everything at once and must choose your battles, some projects are legitimate for the federal government to fund–but if she or the McCain campaign has addressed them, I haven’t heard. I’m not as worried as some people about her hiring people she trusted when she took over as mayor and then governor. (Seriously, does the party that moons nostalgically over the Clinton administration really want to be arguing that there’s something suspect about bringing along a merry band of loyalists in the course of your rise from Palookaville? Today’s program is sponsored by the letter T…as in Travelgate.) But given her short track record, it would be nice to know about her decision-making process. How does she evaluate options? Whom does she turn to for information? Do her key staff members and confidants have histories of achievement that justify her trust?

    The foreign-policy-experience question has returned with renewed force since Palin was selected, but I remain unsure whether it in and of itself is as big a deal as we all wish it were. I still like Anne Applebaum’s column from over a year ago:

    As for foreign policy decisions made in office, it’s far from obvious that any specific kind of experience has ever helped a president make good calls. Vice President Harry Truman first heard that there might be some difficulties in relations with our Soviet wartime allies in April 1945, when Franklin Roosevelt’s death made him president — yet within months he had launched the Cold War. On the other hand, Lyndon B. Johnson had held national office for years before becoming president, but he still couldn’t cope with Vietnam.

    In fact, there may be some sorts of experience that are actually detrimental to a potential president. I worry, for example, about Hillary Clinton’s much-vaunted travels as first lady: She came, she made carefully prepared speeches, she received polite applause. [At this date, I think you could say something similar about Obama’s international tour.–SRK] It won’t be like that if she’s president, and I hope she doesn’t think it will be. Other presidential candidates have been governors of large states or mayors of large cities and have bragged that they conducted mini-foreign policies of their own. Still, the world looks quite different (and Mexico seems a lot more important) from Austin, Sacramento or Santa Fe, N.M., than it does from the Oval Office, while the verbal bombast needed to win votes in New York might not go down so well at a Group of Eight summit.

    Speaking of international experience, Applebaum herself has had plenty, and I doubt she meant to imply that there’s no point in trying to predict as best we can who will do a good job on foreign relations. If Palin’s resume on foreign affairs is going to be challenged in ways that, say, John Edwards’s (in 2004!) was not, then what would be useful for us to know is which allegiances she thinks are most important and who her role models are. What is she studying, whom is she talking to, what information is she absorbing against the day that she has to make (or contribute to) decisions in a crisis?

    The GOP’s been benefiting plenty from the Palin nomination; I just hope it remembers that we’re not voting for Best Embodiment of a Female Archetype.

    Those Eyes, That Mouth

    Posted by Sean at 15:16, September 13th, 2008

    Crummy week. If the post that follows is more dyspeptic than usual, don’t worry; after some retail therapy, I’ll be back to normal. Which is dyspeptic anyway, so forget I brought it up.

    So, how about that Sarah Palin? Has she touched a nerve, or what? The last week or so has been nothing if not entertaining. Legions of lefty types had regarded the zeal and fervor of Obama supporters as deeply moving, evidence that government could still inspire and ennoble and bring us all together (for collective action enforced by state power).

    And then the very second the public started going cuckoo for Sarah Palin’s Cocoa Puffs, the same lefties were all like, “Zeal and fervor? We HATE zeal and fervor! Politics requires a cool head. Why aren’t people retaining their cool? Besides, who could get zealous and fervent over THAT bitch?!”

    Much of the right, for its part, appears to have forgotten just as quickly how scornful it was of the Obama personality cult. Near-religious ecstasies of devotion toward an untested politician have suddenly become perfectly acceptable now that they’re directed at a pro-life Republican.

    Palin is the nominee for vice-president, and she’s being pitched as the Washington outsider who hasn’t spent her entire life lusting after and preparing for a position on high from which she can boss us all around; so she has more room to learn on the job. What those of us who haven’t written her off or converted to her priesthood out of hand have to size up is whether she has at least baseline policy knowledge, can project authority and confidence when challenged, and has a learning curve.

    I thought Kirsten Powers’s assessment of the Charlie Gibson interview was pretty on-target:

    Her responses to Gibson’s cross-examining seemed canned and rehearsed, a little like the answers you might give in a tough college interview. But that may be a result of the ham-fisted editing – which seemed to cut her off mid-thought on many answers. ABC should release the entire, unedited interview, so that Americans can judge her more fairly.

    The biggest concern is that she appeared to not know what the Bush Doctrine is. There are, in fact, different definitions of it – but all have had an impact on this nation. One hopes Palin is more up to speed than she seemed.

    Of course, she needs to be questioned on many issues – but this interview left us with little new information about her.

    Americans already know she lacks foreign-policy experience (as, by the way, did Democrats’ 2004 VP candidate, John Edwards). All we could learn from Gibson’s grilling on that topic was how well she’s memorized McCain’s positions. Why ask her whether Georgia and Ukraine should be admitted to NATO? Her position will match McCain’s, just as Joe Biden’s stands will mirror Barack Obama’s.

    Interviewers are supposed to ask tough questions, but Gibson’s contempt was barely disguised, and I think it probably backfired with a lot of viewers by making Palin look more sympathetic. Palin didn’t do all that great, but she didn’t fall flat on her face, and Obama partisans, worrisomely, don’t seem to understand the ways in which they may be helping her. She stayed polite and even-keeled; she appeared under attack without appearing to need protection. And yes, in this country it’s tactically really stupid to mix up praying that we’re acting with God’s blessing with declaring that we’re on a mission from God.

    Added later: And sure enough, there was a reason for those jerky cuts; the full transcript of the Gibson interview doesn’t reveal her to be a heretofore-unrecognized geopolitical expert, but her full responses clearly don’t make the loopy points the aired interview wanted them to make (via NewsBusters).

    The Spangle Maker

    Posted by Sean at 16:13, September 5th, 2008

    Virginia thinks Sarah Palin is working a cowgirl-glamour persona. (My use of working doesn’t mean it’s necessarily insincere, only that she’s consciously capitalizing on it for effect.) Years ago, she (Virginia, that is) also wrote an article in Reason about our obsession with politicians’ looks:

    Righteously upholding the idea that looks don’t matter, these watchdogs all studiously ignored the embarrassing truth: Not only do human beings make judgments about how other people look, we enjoy doing so. We’re not going to stop just because ombudsmen of various sorts tell us it’s bad manners. And in an age where we see more and more good-looking people, either directly or through the media, we’re getting more and more judgmental. When it comes to looks, double standards – of whatever variety – are disappearing.

    Pretending we don’t care how people look doesn’t make us stop caring. It simply encourages us to equate good looks with other qualifications. Instead of treating beauty as one value among many, we come to treat it as the greatest value of all. It may not seem fair to treat looks as important. But it’s far more fair than treating appearance as something more.

    Of course, Sarah Palin’s look is being trashed by her detractors on the left and swooned over by her new fans on the right, but those reactions hardly say anything about either end of the political spectrum. Remember the years of torturous obsession with Hillary Clinton’s hair and clothing styles? The sort of Americanized Anna Lindh look she eventually settled on actually suits her very well, I thought; and (who knows?) maybe that actually had something to do with her having found her voice and identity as a public figure.

    Margaret Thatcher was a conservative woman who went for the old-guard look: hats and pearls and silk and heels. The high-maquillage thing worked for her, both because it flattered her physical entity (ramrod-straight carriage and stern expression) and because it enhanced the image she wanted to project (upholding standards in the face of destabilization). Palin very wisely didn’t try to go for the updated American version of that look, because she doesn’t represent Thatcher’s imperious, unbending stability.

    I think Palin’s sexy librarian look works for her very well, in that she inhabits it convincingly; it seems to be an extension of her real self. The American sporty style of dressing up allows her to project authority and respect for the occasion but also look ready for physical action. She seems feminine without seeming girlie.
    How much truth there is to her image is hard to judge at this point, but it’s working very well for the people the McCain campaign was trying to court, and it will be interesting to see whether the Obama campaign draws useful lessons from it.

    Added later: As my final thought before the weekend, here’s a weirdly apposite Olivia Newton-John video. For one thing, this has to be the best song about obsessive lust ever built around an election metaphor. For another, in 1982 or so, she was the public figure who embodied athletic, can-do, feminine glamour.