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    Over and over

    Posted by Sean at 14:30, July 11th, 2009

    Is it my imagination, or is a lot of the support Sarah Palin is getting kind of patronizing?

    What I mean by that is this: time was when conservatives loved you for your strengths and achievements. Conservatives said that every citizen should know our founding documents, not just love America in a general way. Conservatives said that whatever language you spoke at home, knowing clear, formal, standard American English was the key to advancement in the larger society. Conservatives said that there should be objective criteria for job performance that applied to every applicant. It was liberals who told you you were special just the way you were, that aspiration was a WASP-male construct designed to beat the self-esteem out of women and minorities, and that encouraging people to communicate in standard English was less important than honoring the multiplicity of “voices” in society. Liberals said that the “position” from which you “articulated” your identity within society was a factor in whether you deserved the job.

    And now? Well, I suspect that still holds true—for everyone except Sarah Palin.

    Palin doesn’t need eloquence or ideas—she’s got authenticity. Eloquence and ideas are for conservative women like Michelle Malkin and Kate O’Beirne. If Gertrude Himmelfarb had ever disgorged one of Palin’s unparseables on a history panel, listeners would quite properly have wondered what her BAL was. But coming from Sarah, while she’s trying to convince us she deserves the job of Vice-President of the United States, all this meandering sounds so very winningly earnest that it just adds to her charm. After Palin’s resignation, Roger Kimball—this would be the Roger Kimball who’s won many of us over as a scourge of mangled English and lack of familiarity with great thinkers—made a flippant comment about the “syntactical breakdown” of some liberal guy responding at The Daily Beast.* Interestingly, I don’t recall his taking one of the many opportunities to call on Palin herself to do better on that score last fall. Maybe he did and I missed it, but all I recollect is a curt “I acknowledge that she has performed poorly in some recent interviews.” And yes, I understand that it was important not to undermine the McCain-Palin ticket before the election, but on the other hand, perhaps Palin would have felt more of an impetus to start performing better if she’d gotten more reasoned criticism from avowed supporters. “I place myself firmly in the utterly besotted camp” does not signal a need for improvement. And while I’m picking specifically on Kimball here because of his track record, he was hardly alone.

    With the election over, things don’t seem to have improved a great deal. Cathy Young made the following observation at Real Clear Politics this week:

    Those who believe Palin held her own debating Joe Biden forget that the McCain camp had requested a less-challenging format for that debate, with follow-up questions limited.

    Some of Palin’s followers see her as the second coming of Reagan. But Reagan, despised as a “dunce” by his liberal detractors, had extensively read, written, and talked about the key issues of his day. While not an intellectual, he was a man of ideas. Palin is not known to harbor those. Her appeal is described in terms of “speaking from heart” and exemplifying the virtues of faith and family – which is ironic, given the usual conservative derision of emotion-based liberal politics.

    There are a lot of comments, but this one by Rick Garner (timestamped Jul 08, 05:29 PM) represents what a lot of others have said there and elsewhere:

    I have to disagree that Sarah Palin is not the leader that conservatives are seeking for this reason…stumbling, rambling and incoherent as many elitist, snobbish and boorish critics labeled her announcement to resign… the everyday common, hardworking, God and family centered, middle America conservative citizen understood clearly what she was saying and the reasons behind her decision. She is in everyway…conservative middle America. We know her, understand her, believe what she believes, we too many times speak in a rambling and sometimes stumbling voice, trying to express our hearts honestly and truthfully. To criticize her unpolished manner is to criticize most Americans.

    No, I’m sorry, it is not. Palin, unlike “most Americans,” is the governor of a state and accepted the VP nomination. She didn’t just find herself caught unawares in front of the camera. I’m not denying that the media are out to get her or that they’re doing what they have to to make her look stupid. I’m saying that she’s still to blame when she gives them good material to work with. Honestly, if the Democrats had nominated an unknown black woman politician who insisted on speaking in Ebonics and gave tortuous answers to straightforward questions about foreign policy, would there be a single conservative commentator or commenter who would be applauding her for speaking from the heart? Yeah, right. We’d be hearing all about how her evasive sentence structures demonstrated the bankruptcy of her ideas and how she wasn’t showing respect for the office for which she was campaigning.

    Young linked to her article at her blog, and one of her commenters there illustrated another aspect of Palin love that’s disturbing: the reflexive dismissal of all criticism of his idol as rooted in class resentment or leftist/feminist dogma.

    I think you need to come to terms with your own feelings about Sarah Palin. You don’t like her because she is a powerful woman who is a conservative. You can’t stand it. You feel it is a betrayal to women. You think she needs to be a pro-choice feminist.

    That particular commenter, it must be noted, has been willing to read more about Young—the idea that she’s a feminist party-liner is risible—and is now having an interesting discussion with her. I’m hoping that when things calm down a bit, that will happen more. But right now, his initial reaction is more the norm. Conservatives may reject the leftist attacks on Palin, but they’ve been all too happy to accept the false dilemma on which they’re predicated: that you must either think she’s a genius or think she’s a moron. Victor Davis Hanson, whose blog is at PJM in central Palin-groupie territory, posted the other day about her critics:

    But if, a big if, she decides to become a national political figure, Palin should use these next few years (in addition to making some money to support her family) to travel and read widely in the manner that a Reagan did in his wilderness period. She has natural intelligence and is curious. I think most would like to see her do another Couric interview five years from now after she had time to size up DC insiders, meet more politicians, lecture in front of hostile audiences-and just read and reflect.

    Okay, that’s very reasonable, and it’s a relief to see that Hanson doesn’t think one of Palin’s chief charms is that she’s unsullied by too much book-learnin’. But I’m still not sure that I buy the “curious” part. I mean, look, if the complaints about her intelligence consisted of nothing but grousing that she said “disinterested” when she meant “uninterested,” or that she stressed the second syllable in patina and despicable, her defenders would be perfectly justified in countering that they were elitist. But Palin’s grasp of foreign policy never struck me as matching that which I’d expect from an everyday informed citizen of her age, let alone a politician who could make over Washington. It’s possible to love America and still not have a strong, systematic understanding of how to put its ideals into practice in a complex world, just as it’s possible to be a knee-jerk leftist.

    If Palin were the only issue here, this might not matter much. She’s resigned, after all, and if she does decide to run for office again, we’ll see whether she can take the heat. If she can’t she’ll drop out, and stronger candidates will prevail, as Ann Althouse says. My big worry is that she may not bring it, because there will be too many people telling her that all those naysayers who think she needs to improve are just jealous of how pretty and happy she is.** And even if Palin only stays in politics from behind the scenes as a rainmaker or inspirational speaker, the signal has now been sent that conservatism not only knows how to play identity politics as well as liberalism when an election’s at stake but also knows how to follow through on it afterward. Like Hollywood, politics has a way of latching onto what works and trying to replicate it. I hope the Palin phenomenon doesn’t mean we can look forward to more politicians who score points simply by being on the just-folks side of the culture wars. Persons of ability excel when challenged, not coddled; and America deserves public servants who meet the most demanding standards. Conservatives used to know those things, and I hope they still do.

    * Seriously, how is it possible for someone of Kimball’s redoubtable intelligence not to see the folly of playing the “syntactical breakdown” card in the process of defending Sarah Palin?

    ** That’s not to minimize the drubbing Palin took. Erin O’Connor at Critical Mass was right to call it a witch hunt—like all the abuse the Clintons took over two terms in the White House compressed into ten months. And Eric is right that the snobbery about Palin’s schooling was shockingly low and bald-faced.

    Added after grabbing a long-sleeved shirt (it is July, isn’t it?): Wow. I wish I’d gone to Unreligious Right before posting this, because he links to this column by Peggy Noonan about Palin. I think Noonan goes too far in the cruelty toward Palin, but she gets at something important that I tried to convey above:

    She was hungry, loved politics, had charm and energy, loved walking onto the stage, waving and doing the stump speech. All good. But she was not thoughtful. She was a gifted retail politician who displayed the disadvantages of being born into a point of view (in her case a form of conservatism; elsewhere and in other circumstances, it could have been a form of liberalism) and swallowing it whole: She never learned how the other sides think, or why.

    In television interviews she was out of her depth in a shallow pool. She was limited in her ability to explain and defend her positions, and sometimes in knowing them. She couldn’t say what she read because she didn’t read anything. She was utterly unconcerned by all this and seemed in fact rather proud of it: It was evidence of her authenticity. She experienced criticism as both partisan and cruel because she could see no truth in any of it. She wasn’t thoughtful enough to know she wasn’t thoughtful enough.

    As I say, I think this goes too far. Palin can sound lucid on issues—energy policy is the big one—that she’s had to confront on a day-to-day basis while governing Alaska, so I think the contention that she can learn on the job still has potential merit. But she needs supporters who will hold her to the highest standards, not deflect all criticism as some kind of anti-American plot. Unreligious Right says, “[B]y attacking Palin and those who support her, Noonan is doing exactly what she attributes to Palin: sowing discord within the GOP ranks.” Yes, probably. She’s also wrong that the defenses she lists are mostly coming from right-wing intellectuals; Middle-American supporters of Palin seem to be embracing them, too. But I suspect that what’s really getting Noonan going (and maybe I’m just projecting here) is the 180 so many of her fellow travelers seem to have done since Palin arrived on the scene.

    Added still later: Heather Mac Donald has (again) posted about Palin at Secular Right and is (again) getting a good beating-up for floating the gingerly suggestion that a contender for national office should be able to connect ideas dependably.

    Baby, I can’t please you

    Posted by Sean at 13:19, July 8th, 2009

    I’m not sure the exchange Eric remarks on in this recent post (following up on this, a few comments appended to it by “Moneyrunner” and me, and this at Moneyrunner’s blog) is interesting, but it’s certainly symptomatic of something. Moneyrunner says in part:

    What I find most off-putting when I read a lot of Libertarians is their disdain of Christianity or traditional morality. They seem to find a need to put lots of distance between themselves and the 70+% of the American people that go to church and believe in God. Libertarians want cafeteria style morality: small government, low spending, low taxing, free to flout convention but no social constraints even of an informal nature like social ostracism.

    I think there are two points here, one of which I addressed briefly (for me) in Eric’s comments. That one is that the libertarians I know of, pretty much to a person, believe that there are a lot of values that should be enforced by social convention—who, indeed, believe that enforcement by social convention is preferable to enforcement by state power. I think it’s possible to argue that they’re actually too trusting in social convention when it comes to things like drug use. There is a species of anarchist libertarian, and it would be a lie to say that there isn’t, but in my experience most libertarians have no problems with community standards, as long as there’s room for lots of communities people can jump between in search of others who are like-minded.

    The major libertarian vice is not libertinism but a head-up-one’s-own-ass obsession with ideological purity. Too many libertarians want to pretend that you don’t have to compromise in order to participate in practical politics. Eavesdrop on a group of libertarians, and you may find yourself privy to a conversation that goes something like this:

    “But if we have agreed that it ought to be permissible to sell hand grenades through street-corner vending machines—”

    “Produced by private manufacturers.”

    “OBVIOUSLY! Anyway, yes, so, now suppose economies of scale made it possible to mass-produce suitcase nukes. Should they be available to private citizens for self-defense purposes?”

    “From the same vending machines as the grenades? I don’t know that you could really make them fit. I mean, even though we call them ‘suitcase’ nukes, they’re really kind of—”


    “Hmm. And what about registration? We’d have to think about the possibility that someone would propose a nuke registration system.”


    This is the sort of discussion that usually starts, with the best of intentions, about real-life threats to (in this hypothetical case) real people’s Second Amendment rights. It gets derailed because someone in the room is able to guilt-trip everyone else into thinking that taking a position on the problem at hand is illegitimate unless a principle that would cover every last conceivable, Dad-blamed related issue for all time is developed this very minute. So when Moneyrunner equates libertarianism with “cafeteria morality,” my gut reaction is something along the lines of, Hahahahahahahaha…oh, sweetie, if you only knew!

    The second point is related to the “lots of distance between themselves and the 70+% of the American people that go to church and believe in God” part. This makes it sound as if Eric had been freaking out that being lumped in with those nasty Christians would ruin his libertarian street cred or something, which I don’t think was what he was driving at. His point, as I understood it, was that as the popular understanding of what “conservative” means changes, it’s hard to keep up with what beliefs are being attributed to you when you’re tagged with it. Then people get on your case about “inconsistencies” with beliefs you never subscribed to in the first place. Perhaps he could have been less “snarky” about it, but neither the sardonic tone nor the thrust of the argument seems anti-Christian to me. Looking for reasons to tar all libertarians as crazed anything-goes crèche-smashers is no more helpful to the public debate than looking for reasons to tar all Christians as theocrats.

    Added later: One last thing: Moneyrunner implies that Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit is somehow more respectful of conservatives than Eric is. Really? I just don’t see it. Eric takes up the subject of political labeling much more frequently than Reynolds does, so you can probably find a greater number of criticisms of conservatives at Classical Values than at Instapundit. I’m not sure there’s more snark per unit of posting, though.

    Ev’rything’s coming up Dusty (解説)

    Posted by Sean at 13:32, July 6th, 2009

    Andrew Sullivan: Obama is also, at his core, a community organiser. Community organisers do not jump into a situation and start bossing people around. They begin by listening, debating, cajoling, inspiring and delegating. Less deciders than ralliers, community organisers explain the options, inspire self-confidence and try to empower others, not themselves. If you think of Obama even on a global stage, this is his mojo. And those community organisers do not tell you to expect instant results. It takes time when you try to build real change from below. But the change is stronger, deeper and more real when it comes.

    I trust that the last post demonstrated that I could respond to the above paragraph with cool, arch detachment, yes? Good. Now permit me to give a somewhat more off-the-cuff reaction:




    Why is it that I have the distinct feeling that, had President Obama moved more quickly and decisively on gay issues, Andrew Sullivan would not be complaining that he hadn’t expended enough time and energy on “cajoling” or had betrayed his “instinctive conservatism”?

    Also, Sullivan may be right about what community organizers start by doing, but he kind of conveniently leaves out what they usually end by doing: sucking up loads of funding, launching splashy initiatives of dubitable subsequent efficacy, and then sailing on to the next project and leaving others holding the baby. (There are a lot of focused not-for-profit organizations out there that do real good at achieving clearly stated missions; the Annenberg Challenge does not appear to be one of them.)

    Added later: About that whole who’s-a-real-conservative thing, Eric has this to say today:

    Just to be clear, yes, I supported the war, and yes, I ridiculed the idea that Bush was a Nazi and that 9/11 was an inside job. That being the case, I became tagged with the “conservative” label no matter how many times I said I was a libertarian. This debate (in which my libertarianism was attacked as suspect) is typical, and I lost track of the number of times I was called a conservative (and worse) by lefties. But hey, I’m one of those annoying snots who rejects all labels and refuses to be bound by them, so I contemptuously ignored most of these references.

    Times have changed. It now seems that supporting the war, not believing 9/11 was an inside job, and opposing the belief that Bush is a Nazi are no longer conservative positions. Even foot dragging on Gitmo has become suspiciously liberal.

    Where does that leave the previously labeled conservatives?

    Why, they’re supposed to be dragged into a contest. Something involving “conservative principles.” What are they? Beats me, as it seems to depend on whom you ask. To some, it’s enough simply to be against big government, or statism. But to others, you also have to be against all things which are said to threaten “family values.”

    I don’t intrinsically mind labels as much as Eric does, but I do agree that they’re often used as…what’s a good word? Weapons? No, I think more like talismans. Slotting someone into a pre-defined category often seems to mean warding off the possibility that they’ll make you examine your own assumptions too hard. I can’t count the number of times I’ve explained to someone that I’m a libertarian (and for obvious reasons, I’m rarely the one to bring up politics in social situations), only to be answered with a pause, a few blinks, and “Oh. You’re a conservative.”

    “Believe me, honey—the conservatives don’t want me on their team. I’m a libertarian. ‘Classical liberal’ works, too.”

    “You’re a conservative.”

    “If you want to think of me as a conservative, fine. I admire a lot of conservative thinkers, even though I myself am a libertarian. I value existing institutions, but I think the freedom to experiment is way civilization has gotten to—”

    “No, but really—you’re a conservative.”

    There almost always seems to be some sort of cognitive dissonance going on: I’m gay but I support gun rights, I’ve spent most of my adult life abroad but I supported the Iraq invasion, I majored in comparative literature but I support Israel, or whatever. There has to be an explanation, and the easiest one to to reach for is “conservative.” And it wouldn’t bother me were it not for the fact that I then become accountable for some nasty thing Glenn Beck (whom I don’t listen to) said the other day, or what have you.

    Added on 7 July: Thanks to Eric for the links back.

    Final edit

    Posted by Sean at 13:23, July 5th, 2009

    Yesterday Clayton Cramer posted about the size of the average congressional constituency and about its implications:

    The Constitution provides that in the lower house of Congress “ the Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative. ” The last change was from “one for every forty Thousand” to “one for every thirty Thousand.”

    The more people that a legislator represents, the easier it is for him to disregard the interests and concerns of his district — simply because he knows that no single person’s irritation or upset is likely to lead to his removal at the next election. In addition, the more voters there are in a district, the less likely it is that they will know the character of a candidate — because you are not likely to know him.

    For more than a century, we stuck with that ratio. The first House of Representatives had 65 members. Every ten years, a growing population meant a growing House — until in 1911, there were 438 members, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for such a large legislative body to operate. Congress went ahead and set the maximum size at 435 members.

    Today, a member of the House represents almost 700,000 people. If 40,000 people per member of the House in 1787 was “insufficient security for the rights & interests of the people,” why are we surprised that Congress is doing such a horrible job at seventeen times that ratio? Did Americans get seventeen times better at watching our Congresscritters between now and then?

    Well, we probably have at least seventeen times the exposure to them. Kind of sad that it’s gotten both more difficult for the average citizen to pressure legislators and more difficult for the same citizen to avoid their attention-whoring and yammering.

    My need

    Posted by Sean at 10:46, July 4th, 2009

    Happy Fourth, everyone.

    Ever since Michael Jackson died—don’t make a face, I have a very specific purpose in bringing him up one last time, and explicating it won’t take long—I’ve been listening to Janet. It was unconscious on my part, and when I did realize that I was playing Control for the tenth time, it brought me up short. (I may have posted about it on Facebook, actually.) Why would Michael’s death put me on a Janet jag? He made plenty of good music himself after all.

    But here’s the thing: Michael weenied out on his own life, and Janet didn’t. Here‘s the way she describes what happened after her second album:

    Following the release of Dream Street, Jackson decided to separate her business affairs from her family. She later commented, “I remember trying to tell my father I no longer wanted him to manage me. It would have been easier to have Mother tell him for me, but that was something I had to do for myself.” Jackson also stated, “I just wanted to get out of the house, get out from under my father, which was one of the most difficult things that I had to do, telling him that I didn’t want to work with him again.” A&M Records executive John McClain hired producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to work with Jackson. Within six weeks, Jackson, Jam and Lewis crafted Jackson’s third studio album, Control. Jackson recalled that during the recording of the album, she was threatened by a group of men outside of her hotel in Minneapolis. She stated that “[t]he danger hit home when a couple of guys started stalking me on the street … Instead of running to Jimmy or Terry for protection, I took a stand. I backed them down. That’s how songs like ‘Nasty’ and ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately’ were born, out of a sense of self-defense.”

    Michael never did anything like that. He rebelled in compulsive bursts that flared up and died like meteor showers. He retreated into childish fantasies. He wanted to stay protected by other people. He didn’t test himself, in any purposeful and sustained way, to see whether he was better off without his minders.

    Now, yes, Janet is one of the most ridiculously rich and powerful celebrities on the planet. Her version of “autonomy” involves bodyguards, an army of personal assistants, and a house that probably has a better security system than most presidential palaces. And she entrusts herself to ace collaborators. (This is not post-Rick Teena Marie, alone at the controls making her singular visions into reality.)

    But collaborators, even collaborators of superior talents, are peers. When it mattered, Janet decided that she was a grown-up and didn’t need to be daddied anymore. And she didn’t take the easy out of getting Mom to tell him. I love her for that.

    Anyone who’s getting worried that I’ve decided Janet Jackson is just like Thomas Paine can relax. That’s not my point. The Founding Fathers thought and acted on a much, much higher plane, obviously. They made our current way of life possible; Janet did not. But for most of us, it’s within family and work that we have the opportunities to stand up or submit. (The way Washington’s developing, we may soon be getting a chance to do so at the federal-government level again, too, but that’s a topic for other posts.) What matters is whether you capitalize on them. For all the understandable talk about Michael this week, when I’ve wanted to listen to something that buoyed me, I’ve preferred “Control” or “Escapade” or “Enjoy.” Getting out into the world, testing your strengths, learning how to take care of yourself and use what gifts you have to enhance life for others—that’s America. Janet’s made quite a few missteps over the last decade or so, but you never hear speculation that she’s screwing up because she can’t get out from under her “handlers.” Her failings are as much her own as her long suits. And bully for her. If I’m going to be asked to countenance pop-star self-pity, I’ll take “There’s nothing more depressing than having everything and still feeling sad” over “Have you seen my childhood?” any day. Especially today.


    Posted by Sean at 17:51, July 3rd, 2009

    Sarah Palin’s stepping down as governor of Alaska. Vodkapundit’s take is this:

    I can describe this move in three words: Stupid, stupid, stupid. And the reason doesn’t matter.

    She needs more time to run for President? What does she think holding the job is like, time-wise? President Obama could manage to serve as a totally undistinguished Senator while running for the White House; surely Palin could manage to govern half a million people a bit.

    She wants to protect her family? Heat, low tolerance, kitchen, stay out of. And again, if she wants to be President, how does she think her family would fare in the White House?

    No matter the reason, however, Palin made a commitment to the people of Alaska, and she’s turning her back on them. Maybe I’m rash in saying this, but I think that makes her unfit for higher office.

    My sense is that Steve Green would normally be correct, but it’s become obvious since her nomination last year that her supporters (like her detractors) don’t apply the same standards to her that they purport to apply to others. It’s possible that if she seems to have been driven out of office by elitist nastiness, the experience could come to be regarded as, for lack of a better word, sanctifying. If she reemerges when her children are older, who knows? We’ll see what develops. Whatever the case, I wish her the best. I’ve doubted whether she was cut out for national office since not long after her famous first speech at the RNC, but no politician deserves the kind of shredding she got.

    Added before giving myself wholly over to my inalienable right, with which I’m endowed by my Creator, to more Scotch (because Scotland was a center of the Enlightenment, of course): Heather Mac Donald, unsurprisingly, has commented on the Palin resignation at her current berth at Secular Right:

    Now it’s Sarah Palin’s turn.   That icon of right-wing identity politics, revered for her populist authenticity  and lack of any taint of elite intellectualism, shows herself either to be involved in an as-yet-to-be-revealed scandal, or so nakedly ambitious that she lightly breaks her commitment to the people of Alaska.   Can’t wait to see how her apologists will spin this bit of hypocrisy.

    She cites her City Journal articles from last year at those links. (Am I prescient, or what?)

    The Unreligious Right has a similar take:

    I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Palin would be a better candidate in 2012, or that she in any way deserves a presidential or even vice-presidential nomination. Her followers among the base of the party are fanatical worshippers who can’t tolerate any criticism of Palin, no matter how well deserved. They remind me of some Obama-supporters.

    A few weeks ago, Freeman Hunt wrote a post about why we may not be able to expect another Reagan or Thatcher, let alone Jefferson:

    Who will be the next Reagan? Who will be our Thatcher? Who will show encroaching statism for the tyranny it is and turn the tide against it? Nevermind that Reagan and Thatcher, while they did make great gains, did not turn that tide permanently. We expect some even greater personage. The minute a promising face appears we ask, “Could it be? Is this the one?”

    He is not coming. And he is not coming because we have not produced him. From whence would he come? We are an ignorant people. Our best and brightest, outside of the hard sciences, are a sorry lot by historical standards. Intelligence, we have. Wit, we have in surplus. But knowledge? Real, discriminating knowledge, where is it? Our standards for knowledge are now so low. Now we are only required to sound as if we know. We are masters of rhetorical style, but of wisdom there is a dearth.

    I don’t know that I buy the implication for politics there. That there are far too few comprehensively learned people running about, considering the money and hot air we expend on the educational system, I do agree with wholeheartedly. I suspect, though, that there are enough to go around (especially if you believe in smaller government). The problem is convincing them to leave the private sector, where they’re usefully serving markets and probably deriving immense satisfaction from concrete accomplishments.

    And here’s a great way conservatives can ensure that tough-minded persons of deep learning about history and deep commitment to applying them to the American enterprise stay as far away from politics as possible: keep pulling the crap you did with Palin. Like Eric, I’m a libertarian rather than a conservative myself, but one issue on which I was always willing to get behind the right was the value of encouraging people to strive for such greatness as they could achieve in whatever they did. The highest possible standards.

    Then Sarah Palin came along, and all that lofty stuff went straight out the window because she was the right kind of person. I found Palin’s family charming and her story inspiring, but it was most assuredly not charming to see commentators on the right attributing any aspersions cast on Palin’s qualifications to envy or secret leftist sympathies. That’s the kind of flim-flamming that convinces Independents that conservatives are as manipulative and unprincipled as liberals.

    Well, we clearly didn’t privatize it enough

    Posted by Sean at 17:58, July 2nd, 2009

    One more thing about Sarah Palin: Eric says, “I think this will hurt Sarah Palin more than it hurts Sullivan, or Ken Layne, or the allegedly mother-hating homos,” and there’s a way he’s right that doesn’t fall within the scope of his post but is important to note.

    I like Palin. She seems energetic and practical-minded, and she doesn’t give you the creepy impression (common among pols, in my crabby libertarian view) that she’s lusted after the power of high public office since she was a toddler. She’s learned on the job as Alaska governor. She’s a genuine DC outsider. All these are good things.

    But substantive concerns remain about her as a potential president or VP, and they’re in danger of being impossible to address if her most vocal supporters insist on taking up only the nastiest, snobbiest counter-arguments…or on taking all counter-arguments as prima facie evidence of nastiness and snobbery that obviate the need to respond to their content. I don’t care that Palin didn’t go to Wellesley, that she doesn’t have a grad degree, or that her accent and diction are folksy. I care that she doesn’t express herself like someone whose political convictions are based on long immersion in great works of history and political science. I don’t doubt Palin’s shrewdness or common sense, but I think the point Heather Mac Donald made last October is still an important one:

    I know, it’s elitist to expect a candidate for president or vice president to speak like an adult. Sure, there are parents out there battling the “like” epidemic who might not appreciate having someone in the White House validating their 15-year-olds’ speech habits. But, hey: “Total role reversal here.” (Palin, of course, can sound adolescent even when she uses the right verbs, as when she disingenuously denied her snarky put-down of Joe Biden’s age while lauding herself as “you know, . . . the new energy, the new face, the new ideas.”) It’s even more elitist to expect a vice president to put together sentences that cohere into a minimally logical progression of thought. There was a time, however, when conservatives upheld adult standards—such as clarity of speech and thought—without apology, even in the face of the relentless downward pull of adolescent culture. But now, when a vice-presidential candidate talks like a teenager, mugs like an American Idol contestant, and traffics in syntactical dead-ends and non sequiturs, we are supposed to find her charming and authentic.

    Palin’s verbal hodgepodge may say nothing about her qualifications for the vice presidency. Judgment and political acumen could well rest on different mental capacities than the ability to order thoughts into smooth sentences. But the inability to answer a straightforward question about economic policy without becoming tangled in words suggests either ignorance about the subject matter or a difficulty connecting between ideas. Neither explanation is reassuring.

    These are things Palin needs to be thinking about. And maybe she is. Maybe she’s chosen good handlers who’ve locked her in a room with Margaret Thatcher’s Statecraft and refused to let her out until she’s perused it twice. Maybe she has a speech coach.

    But maybe, if the only feedback she’s getting comes from her media supporters, the only message she’s getting is that Real Americans love her to pieces just the way she is and that the only detractors she has are motivated by pro-abortion, anti-gun, anti-family, misogynist animus. I think that’s cause for worry.

    The title is from this Spitting Image clip, BTW:

    A night to remember

    Posted by Sean at 13:27, June 13th, 2009

    Andrew Sullivan links to a post by Lars Thorwald at Kos, which defends the DOJ’s brief defending DOMA. Sullivan says:

    Lars Thorwald has a strong post on why Obama’s DOJ brief in defense of DOMA is in fact a keeping of a promise: to restore the rule of law after eight years of abuse. I take every point he makes. Read the whole thing.

    And Thorwald (I hope that’s his real name, because it would be a rather creepy Hitchcock reference to take as a pop-culture pseudonym—not that that vitiates his arguments…I’m just saying) states:

    Because what happened the last 8 years was this: We were a nation of men, or, more precisely, a handful of men. If Cheney, Yoo, Addington, Feith, Bush, and the rest didn’t like a law on policy grounds…well, we can just ignore it.

    I don’t care if it is DOMA, or FISA, or whatever. The law is the law, and the executive must apply it and defend challenges to it, if it is legally defensible. (The Americablog assertion that Presidents routinely and frequently simply decline to defend enacted laws in Court is wrong for reasons far too numerous to entertain here, and on the occasions it has happened without good justification, I submit those Presidents were wrong, too).

    The point is: The man I voted for told me he would return us to a nation of laws, not of men. That means we follow (and apply, and defend–or else it means nothing) the law. Regardless of the whims or policy desires of the man in the chair. Because he is bound by the law, too.

    Have you all forgotten this so soon?

    My understanding from posts by other attorneys is that, in fact, the brief filed yesterday is not really different from those of the Bush administration DOJ in substantive legal terms. So…this represents Obama’s commitment to the rule of law, but those represented Bush’s cavalier attitude toward laws he didn’t like? It’s possible that I really am missing something, but Thorwald is explicitly and mindedly pitching his post at the educated non-lawyer reader, and I don’t think there’s anything in it I just didn’t understand.

    If we’re talking about the rule of law outside the realm of DOJ briefs—well, Obama’s done plenty of talking about changing how we prosecute the WOT, but the actual shifts he’s made, even by the standards of the things leftists have been complaining about for years, are very meager. And looking at the administration from 35,000 feet, we have the tax-evading Secretary of the Treasury [!], the plans to interfere with the contracted-for bonus structure at AIG, and the strongarming of Chrysler creditors to facilitate a sop to the union$. I have a great deal of difficulty seeing these things, either collectively or separately, as representing anything but a system in which some rules apply to super-cool people and others apply to everyone else. People are welcome to cheerlead for Obama’s policy prescriptions, but they’re going to have to do better than this if they want to argue persuasively that his administration is setting about enacting them through the renewed application of the rule of law.

    I used to admire Sullivan very much, but for the last several years, reading him has made me feel a lot like Robert Christgau when he reviewed Cyndi Lauper’s third solo album, which cemented her metamorphosis from genuine free-thinker to bland market-segment opportunist: “How embarrassing to have placed hope in this woman.” I agree with Eric that it’s odd for Sullivan to keep labeling himself a conservative, fiscal or otherwise, and of course in terms of policy I wish he still were. But what’s really depressing is that he can’t even seem to do new-convert liberalism with consistency or conviction.

    We’re all following a strange melody / We’re all summoned by a tune

    Posted by Sean at 11:58, June 12th, 2009

    Now do you see why some of us were cautious about Obama, guys (via Instapundit)?* John Aravosis at AMERICAblog is livid:

    And before Obama claims he didn’t have a choice, he had a choice. Bush, Reagan and Clinton all filed briefs in court opposing current federal law as being unconstitutional (we’ll be posting more about that later). Obama could have done the same. But instead he chose to defend DOMA, denigrate our civil rights, go back on his promises, and contradict his own statements that DOMA was “abhorrent.” Folks, Obama’s lawyers are even trying to diminish the impact of Roemer and Lawrence, our only two big Supreme Court victories. Obama is quite literally destroying our civil rights gains with this brief. He’s taking us down for his own benefit.

    Anyone who knows me well or reads me often is aware that I think the way activists have pursued SSM is self-defeating and naive, but it requires a particularly egregious level of naivete to be blindsided by this development at this point. Thus far, the Obama administration has manifested a preference for big donors with lots of people and power to leverage. Gay activism doesn’t fit those criteria. It’s loyally Democratic and has plenty of donors who (for individuals) give a lot, but its aggregate power isn’t major. And that’s leaving aside the possibility that Obama may be perfectly fine with gay people’s living our lives but just seriously believe that DOMA isn’t unconstitutional. I will say I find it droll to read that the Obama administration has suddenly taken it into its head to worry about how “scarce” government resources are and thus to be all parsimonious and judicious and stuff in allocating them to people who really, really deserve them. Where was that attitude during Bailout Fest a few months ago?

    Actually, this episode leads me back to a question that’s nagged at me ever since the Obama candidacy started taking over the airwaves: Liberal friends, doesn’t all this uncritical adulation for a politician worry you? I mean, I know you like the guy. I know you were sick of Bush and the GOP and were excited for a change. My libertarian heart and brain suspected that I wasn’t going to like Obama’s policy directions, but I understood why other people were willing to take a risk on him.

    But a lot of other people were True Believers, a type I recognize from my extreme-right/fundie upbringing. It’s that part that I think is insalubrious. Their faith in Obama is nonfalsifiable—he’s going to do the right thing, and if he doesn’t do the right thing, that just proves that he’s a pragmatist who’s willing to make the hard compromises that are sometimes necessary, so he really is basically doing the right thing—until they get a kick in the teeth that’s too powerful to spin away. Then they freak. And you can expect it to happen more and more often, because Obama’s been idolized by so many people with so many (ahem) diverse ideologies that, even if he were a paragon of principle, he’d inevitably end up screwing over large numbers of them.

    This is why I’m unmoved when friends complain that I’m too cynical about politics. Being suspicious of the motives of those who hold state power may make you gretzier after watching the news, but it at least ensures that you don’t make the mistake of equating politicians with rock stars. Celebrities can be Guardians of our Collective Dreams, but politicians set policy backed by the coercive power of the state. That means we should be searching out all available information about them and evaluating it unsparingly, so that we can make the most educated possible prediction of what they’re going to do once we give them the keys to the office. Swooning unreservedly over an untested politician may give you a nice glow now, but it’s a recipe for heartache later. You have no one to blame but yourselves when your misapplied religious impulse comes back and bites you.

    * I mean, of course, cautious in general, not cautious in the sense that I share Aravosis’s beliefs about SSM.

    Added later: Dale Carpenter has a post up at The Volokh Conspiracy:

    Historically federal marriage benefits have been available to anyone married under state law. The federal definition was parasitic on the state definition. If a state chose to allow 14-year-olds to marry, but most states did not allow that, nobody thought federal recognition of such marriages functioned as a subsidy forced on the taxpayers of other states. DOMA changed that, but only for gay marriages. “Neutrality,” as the Obama administration understands it, does not mean federal recognition of state choices in this matter. It means denying federal recognition of state choices.

    My point here is not to claim that the DOJ’s arguments are anti-gay, homophobic, or even wrong. Much of the brief seems right to me, or at least entirely defensible, as a matter of constitutional law. My point is only to note how much continuity there is in this instance, as in others, between the Bush and Obama administrations. In short, there’s little in this brief that could not have been endorsed by the Bush DOJ. A couple of rhetorical flourishes here and there might have been different. Perhaps a turn of phrase. But, minus some references to procreation and slippery slopes, the substance is there.

    Obama says he opposes DOMA as a policy matter and wants to repeal it. Nothing in the DOJ brief prevents him from acting on that belief. He is, he says, a “fierce advocate” for gay and lesbian Americans. When does that part start?

    You had something to hide / Should’ve hidden it, shouldn’t you?

    Posted by Sean at 23:35, June 10th, 2009

    Camille’s latest Salon column discusses President Obama’s Cairo speech. (She likes the attempt at outreach to moderate Muslims but thinks his grasp of religious faith seemed deficient and undercut it.) Worth reading as always.

    What really got my attention, though, is that she sings the praises of Depeche Mode. Really? I mean, I know they were a big Catholic-schoolgirl thing, but really? And her favorite song—go figure!—is “Never Let Me Down Again.” An image flashed into my mind of her standing at the kitchen sink in the ’80s, scrubbing the dishes with a plastic scrubby while tunelessly chanting, in that bark of hers, “He promises me I’m as safe as houses / as long as I remember who’s wearing the trou-sahs.”


    Because web design is not my metier (no comments from the peanut gallery), I spent most of my blog-related time over the last week getting the site up and running here at WordPress rather than actually looking at the news. I did, however, catch at least some of the imbroglio over Ed Whelan’s snippy-vengeful disclosure at The Corner of the real name of the guy who blogs as Publius. Janis Gore, who I can’t imagine would ever be snippy, has posted about it several times recently. She links to a bunch of good posts and herself says:

    I’d hope my niece never shows up with this guy for dinner. Mr. Whelan didn’t do anything illegal, immoral or even unethical — just what in the South we’d call “tacky,” or my mother would call “ugly.”

    There was nothing illegal, immoral or unethical about Al barfing on that bridesmaid’s dress at Zee’s wedding, but he still won’t be invited to any more of Zee’s parties. Poor guy didn’t have the charm to carry that off. Few do.

    And I’m surprised. The National Review is an institution, and the bloggers there have never before confronted adversaries that way. I’d say Kathryn Jean Lopez has endured some of the most brutal, hateful and hurtful commentary I’ve ever read. I’m sure it’s on her radar, but she goes her merry way, as the other bloggers have.

    In the interest of fostering mutual understanding between cultures, let me point out that we’d call it “tacky” here north of the Mason-Dixon Line, too. (What my mother would say, for the record, is “You just don’t do that sort of thing!”) Janis approvingly links Bruce McQuain’s post at Q and O, and she’s right. That he’s right. McQ says:

    The fact that Whelan’s outing of Publius added nothing of weight to his arguments nor took away from those of Publius smacks of petty vindictiveness. He knew he could hurt Publius by doing something to him that Publius had carefully avoided over the years. In a word it was petty.

    Some commenters at Q and O maintain that Whelan doesn’t owe Publius any courtesy, but in these cases, it’s always useful to do a little thought experiment. If the roles were reversed, and a blogger on the left had revealed the name of an anonymous right-leaning blogger who was throwing rough-and-tumble criticism at him, would these same people be saying that no ethical lines were crossed? Sorry, I know it’s impossible to prove a such a hypothetical, but I don’t believe that for a second. Especially if the right-leaning blogger in question had invoked livelihood and family as reasons for staying anonymous, or even just the problems of being a conservative surrounded by liberals. I think Janis and McQ have found exactly the right pitch: the guy acted like a jerk and should be shunned. That people who blog under pseudonyms should not be naive about the possibilities that their real identities will be ferreted out doesn’t change the fact that publicizing who they are is violating their wishes. If their arguments suck, then post counter-arguments. If you think they’re writing at a level of nastiness that they would never sink to if they were using their real names, then point that out. Challenge them to put their own names to what they write if they want to be disagreeable—there’s nothing unreasonable about doing that. One of the reasons I’ve always commented and blogged under my own name is…well, so that I’d have a sense of ultimate responsibility every time I clicked on the “Submit” button. It was important to me to do that. But other people make different calculations, and I wouldn’t dream of interfering with them.