The Future of the Republican Party is as Important to Democrats as the Future of the Democratic Party

Some partisan Dems (of which I’m a charter member) are hoping that Palin’s influence waxes rather than wanes, on the theory that the more she mesmerizes her party, the better it is for long-term Democratic interests, since she can only take the Republicans into enhanced irrelevance.

I’m all for that.

But I worry about the implications for the long-term health of political life in this country.

Republicans have sullied political life for the last 15 years (or more) with their Machiavellian power grabs and this has been *very* bad for the country. With Dems in control, wouldn’t it be much better to have reasonable Republicans advocating policies that actually made logical sense (even if we disagreed with them)? Wouldn’t that ultimately be better for the country as a whole?

I fear for a Democratic party that thinks it has all the best answers and doesn’t need an opposition party to help it hone its message and policies into something even better than it starts out as. The whole Clinton/Obama primary battle should be Exhibit A in why credible competition is much more healthy for long-term political interests.

Incompetent Reporting

Jamison Foser at Media Matters has an editorial about the lack of clarity in the way the media report on “disputes” between the campaigns. An example he doesn’t mention is last night’s ABC News (i.e., Friday, Oct. 3rd), where anchor Charlie Gibson discussed with George Stephanopolous various exchanges in the vice presidential debate. On the topic of “General McClellan” they played Palin’s remark, and they pointed out that it was a mistake in regard to the name of the general. But they said absolutely nothing about the fact that she was completely wrong in characterizing what McKiernan had actually said — Biden was right and Palin was wrong. But all they wanted to talk about was the fact that Biden’s facial expression indicated that *he* knew that she’d gotten the name wrong.

In other words, spend all your time on the simple slip of the tongue (which nobody really cares about at all), and completely ignore a case where the candidate, Palin, utters a bald-faced lie about what was very clearly stated by the general.


Non-Verbal Reactions in Interviews vs. Debates

I wonder if the reason Palin is decent in a debate and so horrible in an interview is that in a debate, she’s not receiving obvious non-verbal feedback from the questioner. In a one-on-one interview, the interviewer will be reacting to what she says, and as she spews her gibberish, if the interviewer’s eyebrows go up, Palin knows she’s been caught out. This in turn makes her conscious that she’s going to get a follow-up, so she has to start thinking on that, or trying to fix her answer as she continues to speak.

Perhaps this is a male/female thing — women are socially trained to be more empathetic (though, of course, any particular woman can be just as boorishly insensitive as any particular man), and women tend to be more sensitive to non-verbal communication. In a debate format, she’s on her own, with virtually no non-verbal reaction to her words. While her debate opponent may provide some non-verbal reactions, that’s her *opponent*, and can be safely ignored (or has already been anticipated in debate prep). The moderator has a job to minimize any non-verbal reactions, by virtue of needing to be fair to all the participants in the debate. Thus, there is no really significant reaction to her remarks in real time to drive her train of thought off the tracks.

I think that more than anything else is why she did so poorly in the interviews while doing pretty decently in the debate — her message was not being non-verbally critiqued in real time, and that allowed her to plow through her prepared talking points unhindered by any need to actually think.

Note: Blink tag on Palin’s name explained here.

Eating Their Young

My debate reactions follow.

  • John McCain has sacrificed one of his own party’s best hopes by pulling Palin into the VP nomination about 3-5 years before she’s actually prepared. She did a reasonably decent job in the debates. In fact, put her in the Republican primary debates and she would have won, as she was far, far better than most of the tripe that was regurgitated by the candidates in the Republican field. But she’s going to lose this election and she’s going to get the blame (though it’s actually McCain who is to blame — see Post Turtle). Now, I could never vote for someone who supports the policies she is for, but I can recognize a genuine political talent, and a truly winning personality (though some of her tics do grate a bit) — she would have been a huge star on the national scene and a formidable opponent had she been allowed to grow into national policy experience and knowledge.
  • Just as I noticed the night of Palin’s speech at the RNC, Republicans sure do like to tell lies.
  • Biden was much better than I expected. He looked relaxed, he clearly had the facts at his disposal and wasn’t delivering prepared speeches. That was clear from the relative pacing of the two’s comments — Biden was measured and varied the pace of his remarks, while Palin raced through everything, as though she wanted to make sure she’d get through all the prepared points before time ran out. While she didn’t crack, she was clearly not a seasoned debater on these issues.

It’s pretty clear to me that Biden won simply by relaxing and being himself. Palin certainly may have repaired her growing reputation for incompetence in speaking, but she still wasn’t in the same league as her opponent. In short, Palin exceeds the extremely low expectations, but Biden still wins.

If Only I Were a Lesbian!

I’m right now listening to Rachel Maddow’s show on Air America, where she’s rebroadcasting her MSNBC show from the night before, and she’s chatting with Ana Marie Cox, who mentions the cringe-worthy Palin/Couric interview when she didn’t answer the question and just responds with silence. Cox refers to it as a “John Cage moment” and suggests it might be fun street theater to let the whole debate be like that.

What other political commentator anywhere on radio or TV would have people on who know who John Cage is?

I HEART RACHEL MADDOW! (and I’m also thinking from her appearances on Maddow’s MSNBC show that I kinda like Ana Marie Cox quite a bit, too — she’s certainly very entertaining and seems to have really good chemistry with Maddow).

I Can See Russia From My House!

It amuses me greatly that somehow Tina Fey’s line on Saturday Night Live impersonating Sarah Palin has become gospel. It seems to me that an awful lot of people think she actually said that.

What interests me is how often Republicans will try to counter this by saying it’s a lie. If they try that, they will have to point out that what she actually said was that there are places in Alaska where you can stand and see across the Bering Straits to Russia. In fact, the only such place is an island off the coast of mainland Alaska, and all of Russia that it can see is another island.

This doesn’t help their case. Palin may not have literally said she can see Russia from her house, but what she actually said is only marginally less absurd than Tina Fey’s version. By trying to correct the misrepresentation, her supporters can do nothing but make matters worse by driving home the point that she’s batshit crazy in regard to her claims of any experience with foreign relations.

Wasilla High School

One of the most interesting tidbits I picked up from ABC’s Charlie Gibson interview with Sarah Palin was the chance to see the interior of Wasilla’s high school.

My first thought was “Wow! What a cushy high school! Looks like something you’d expect in a rich Chicago suburb, what with that fancy indoor track and all!”

Then a few mitigating factors did occur to me:

  1. The weather is pretty bad up there in the winter, so if you want to have your kids running, an indoor track is the thing you need.
  2. It was obviously implemented as a multi-purpose facility, since it served as plain old hallway as well as being the indoor track.
  3. Wasilla has experienced lots of growth over the last decade or so, so it’s not really surprising that they’d have needed a new high school building.

Nonetheless, the optics were that this was not your typical small town (as I recall it, having grown up on a farm 3 miles from a village of 300, and bussed to high school 15 miles away in a town of 6,500 — almost precisely the size of Wasilla), but a small town in a state that has literally millions of dollars in money that can be spent on building lavish public facilities. Alaska is simply not a normal state, and this means that the citizens of Alaska are accustomed to a much higher level of public services and investment in fancy infrastructure (like high schools with indoor tracks) than most of the people in small towns around the country.

However justifiable and understandable that indoor track may be, it still serves as a visible symbol of just how enormously different from the rest of the country of Palin’s hometown actually is.

Addendum: Matthew Yglesias makes an observation on another aspect of Palin’s past that shows how odd Alaska really is.

It’s Blinky!

Sarah Palin sure does seem to like the turn of phrase “I didn’t span in the face of…” or “We can’t span when confronted with…”

From the interview transcript:

On the subject of experience (emphasis added):

GIBSON: Governor, let me start by asking you a question that I asked John McCain about you, and it is really the central question. Can you look the country in the eye and say “I have the experience and I have the ability to be not just vice president, but perhaps president of the United States of America?”

PALIN: I do, Charlie, and on January 20, when John McCain and I are sworn in, if we are so privileged to be elected to serve this country, will be ready. I’m ready.

GIBSON: And you didn’t say to yourself, “Am I experienced enough? Am I ready? Do I know enough about international affairs? Do I — will I feel comfortable enough on the national stage to do this?”

PALIN: I didn’t hesitate, no.

GIBSON: Didn’t that take some hubris?

PALIN: I — I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink.

So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.

From later in the interview, discussing intervention in Pakistan (the Obama question, emphasis added):

GIBSON: But, Governor, I’m asking you: We have the right, in your mind, to go across the border with or without the approval of the Pakistani government.

PALIN: In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America and our allies, we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target.

I propose that every time we mention Sarah Palin in blog posts, we deploy the lamented and underused span tag to highlight her strength in the face of adversity, her determination not to waver in the face of opposition, her fantastic pink internal energy that gives her the guts to say NO. Thus:

Sarah Palin is a liar.

UPDATE: George Saunders in the New Yorker is much funnier than I am.

Travel to Europe

Roger Ebert tells this little story in his article taking down Sarah Palin:

And how can a politician her age have never have gone to Europe? My dad had died, my mom was working as a book-keeper and I had a job at the local newspaper when, at 19, I scraped together $240 for a charter flight to Europe. I had Arthur Frommer’s $5 a Day under my arm, started in London, even rented a Vespa and drove in the traffic of Rome. A few years later, I was able to send my mom, along with the $15 a Day book.

This looks to me like a generational thing — Ebert is old enough to have benefited from the years in the early 70s when the dollar was still increbibly strong against European currencies. I have a friend who travelled to the South of France several summers in a row, at a time when he was making about $5,000 gross income per hear. I have always really envied that, because by the time I was that age (just out of college), the era of the strong dollar and cheap travel to Europe was simply over. Palin is two years younger than I, and she wouldn’t have had that opportunity, either.

Experience Math IV

Well, we now have a definitive solution to my speculations on how many years of legislative experience are equivalent to a year of executive experience. It was provided by the delegates at the RNC last night, chanting “Zero! Zero! Zero!”

Thus, in my equation representing Palin’s experience vs. Obama’s:

10X > 11Y

The ratio here has to be less than 1.1, and, certainly, 0 is less than 1.1.

Thus, when you apply that across the board to the candidates of both parties, you get this:

McCain : 0
Palin (leg) : 0
Palin (exec) : 10
Total : 10
Obama : 0
Biden : 0
Total : 0

This causes a bit of a problem for the Republicans, though, as they’ve made the argument that the Democratic ticket has the less-experienced man at the top of the ticket. But given the fact of Zero! Zero! Zero! it’s pretty clear that by the Republicans’ own logic, their ticket is upside-down, too — Sarah Palin should be the nominee and John McCain should be the VP.

Or course, an argument like this has no legs at all — as one blogger put it today, the Republicans have a form of ADD that means that whatever they said 60 seconds ago, no matter how vehemently they argued it, is now inoperative. All that matters is what they are saying now, and suggesting they are inconsistent is just nitpicking.

Or so the argument that the traditional media will dutifully lap up from the Republican operatives will run.