Republicans Double Down on Rovian Strategy

Reflecting on the RNC festivities so far, it seems clear that the Republicans really don’t care about trying to attract the moderate voters and the undecided. Virtually none of what we’ve seen in their convention so far has had any appeal for those who are not already wholly committed to the Republican agenda.

The left, including me, marvelled at the Republicans’ motivate-the-base strategy back in 2004, thinking it couldn’t possibly work (since the red meat that fires up the Republican base is going to alienate many of the middleground voters, as well as angering the opposition and enhancing the opposition’s motivation), but it did work. I can’t see how it can work in 2008 given the huge shifts in party ID since 2004 — the Republicans’ base is substantially smaller than it was in 2004, and thus they need the “moderate” voters more than ever.

I have never understood the way the Republicans use 2nd-order symbols at their convention to mock the opposition — those symbols always seemed to me to be confusing to those not in on the stories behind them, and infuriating to those who knew what they represented. The chief example of this in 2004 was the purple band aids (which for the party faithful was a reference to the scurrilous Swift Boat charges that John Kerry had not actually earned his purple hearts). The new example is the chant of “Zero! Zero! Zero!” How can that do anything but alienate those who don’t live in the weird universe in which 11 years of legislative experience in a large state and the US Senate count for nothing against 8 years running a small town and 19 months running the 47th largest state in the Union?

I really thought that the Palin choice was designed not just to energize the base, but also to attract the moderates (especially women) — a gender-based choice (as this obviously was) makes no sense otherwise when the nominee is so manifestly green on the national stage. But they aren’t following through on the appeal to the middle at all — they seem completely uninterested in seriously courting anyone but the already-converted.

I can’t see how they can gain any bounce out of this convention at all. And I can’t see how it will do anything other than make for a really nasty campaign season.

Palin Reaction

I’ve not read today’s reaction to Palin’s speech last night, but I did read some of the live blogging of it. I originally heard the end of it on Air America, and then watched ABC’s full hour of convention coverage (with spillover into the 11:00 news). So what follows is just my thoughts after sleeping on it.

Looked at from the standpoint of the “undecided” voter, my overall impression of her was fairly good. She is attractive, she spoke skillfully and she had obvious good humor. The speech was well-crafted, with several clever political turns of phrase, as well as a few instances of darned good rhetoric. In comparison to the Giuliani red meat speech that came before her, she looked moderate and reasonable (I screamed at the TV only four or five times during Palin’s speech, vs. dozens of times for the disgusting Giuliani).

But those Republicans sure do like to tell lies, don’t they? Palin’s main one was that she insists on trotting out the Bridge to Nowhere (she campaigned on building it, i.e., she was for it before she was against it) as proxy for being anti-earmark/pork-barrel (while her actual record shows that she was a national champion of acquiring earmarks and other forms of pork barrel spending for her municipality and state), her anti-corruption stance (entirely politically motivated, and doesn’t apply to her personally) and her putative anti-oil company stance (they hated her because she was raising the taxes they would have to pay on windfall profits, not because she was standing up to them on any issues that would matter to the general population — all she cared about was increasing the size of the state’s oil welfare checks to the state’s citizens, currently over $1,500 per year per citizen).

Unfortunately, my reaction isn’t even close to representative. I’m politically knowledgable — I’ve been following every ounce of news and all the revelations since the Palin VP announcement. But your general voter in the TV audience isn’t going to know those things (like the Fox-news-watching delegates in the hall, who ate it up). Thus, we are at the mercy of the traditional media to point out the enormous number of lies and misrepresentations in the speech. I don’t know if McCain’s Palin choice has insulted the media enough that they are now going to stop giving McCain the special treatment he’s always received from them or not.

But I certainly do hope they put Country First in their reporting on Palin and McCain.

I’m not holding my breath.

As to the speech itself, it was written by one of the same people who has managed to make George W. Bush look like a competent speaker. It was very well-written, and she did make the most of the rhetorical high points, seems to me. But we know perfectly well that very little (if any) of it was written by her. The text may reflect her worldview and politics and personality, but it wasn’t constructed by her personally (can you say “new-clear”?).

This is the kind of thing that just doesn’t matter to most people, but it raises for me is whether or not the candidate can speak on her feet in unstructured environments. McCain himself is pretty good at it. Obama and Biden are both very good at it. It remains to be seen whether Palin is or not. I expect she probably is in a league at least with McCain (though without the mean-old-man tone that he does so well, though a lipstick-smeared pitbull might not be so different from McCain after all). The key question is whether she can stay on message, given how out of touch with her own party’s positions on national issues she’s shown herself to be in the past (e.g., the surge and withdrawal).

She’s very bright (I wish the commentators would stop using the phrase “she’s a smart cookie,” unless of course, they would also use it to describe a clever male candidate), so she’s probably got the potential to be an excellent standard bearer for the Republican party. But you can’t cram for a Presidential election. Look how poorly experienced campaigners like Richardson did in the debates — you couldn’t ask for someone who is more familiar with foreign policy issues, but he still managed repeatedlly to say things in the debates that were just inappropriate and wrong. Richardson is no slouch on the public speaking front (though not in a league with Palin, I’d think — at least, based on last night’s example before an incredibly pumped-up friendly audience, which makes every speaker look better), but he couldn’t square the circle of deep knowledge of the issues and an ability to convey those ideas in words and gesture.

How much chance of mastering the subject matter does a gifted novice like Palin have in such a short period of time (the debate with Biden is Oct. 2nd), especially when she has to be out on the stump campaigning on a daily basis? She has shown a complete lack of interest or appreciation of foreign policy issues in her past, and the section of her speech last hight that impinged on that territory (the geographic tour of the oil-producing nations) seemed to me to be the weakest part of the speech. Indeed, I couldn’t help but contrast it with my memory of George W. Bush’s performance in one of the debates with Al Gore in 2000 when he got to speak at some length on the subject of education. Unlike the other subjects, it was clear from the light in his eyes and the coherence and commitment of his remarks that this was something he knew about intimately, something he had thoughts of his own about (presumably because education reform was the major initiative of his time as Governor of Texas). It was like a bright light had been turned on in a darkened room, and it came across as completely genuine. It was the only suggestion in any of the debates that W. actually could formulate thoughts from his experience and knowledge and construct persuasive arguments on the fly. Everything else seemed to be completely by rote, straight out of the briefing books.

In Palin’s speech, the oil independence section brought that to mind precisely because it was the point in her speech where it seemed to me that the light went out in her eyes — she was just mouthing phrases from the teleprompter. And that was where the thin-ness of her experience and interests led me to suspect that despite all the political and rhetorical skill that she displays, she won’t be able to be credible on the key issues that the Republicans themselves have placed at the center of their campaign: national defense and foreign policy.

Obama, on the other hand, has been serving on the Foreign Relations committee in the Senate and has obviously spent the last several years gaining experience and knowledge in these areas. This is why he looks completely credible when talking about these issues, because he has the experience and knowledge to give the rhetoric teeth. And Biden? A slam dunk on these issues, as this has been his portfolio for decades.

I doubt that matters with the general electorate though — it certainly didn’t with W. But perhaps the traditional media will step up to the plate and do their job as actual journalists to provide their best objective judgments. Maybe she won’t be yet another beneficiary of the media’s long-term Republican affirmative action program, i.e., the soft bigotry of low expectations.

But, once again, I’m not holding my breath.

Experience Math III

Turns out I wasn’t using the right numbers for Palin’s term as mayor of Wasilla, nor was I accounting for her 4 years on the Wasilla city council. This post reflects the new numbers, 10 years of executive experience and 4 years of legislative experience.

10X > 11Y

That reduces to:

X > 1.1

Let’s be generous and just round that up to 1.5. The results for both tickets would be:

McCain : 17.333
Palin (leg) : 2.67
Palin (exec) : 10
Total : 30
Obama : 7.33
Biden : 23.33
Total : 30.67

If I’ve done the math right, using the Republicans’ own screwily absurd logic about executive experience, it looks like in total the two tickets are balanced in regard to “executive experience equivalence.”

I think this exercise has demonstrated that this whole Republican talking point is about as absurd as any we’ve ever heard from them (though the “Alaska is next to Russia” one is a pretty close second).

Republican Corruption

I can’t help but wonder what you’d find out if you did a side-by-side comparison of the careers of Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius.

I ask because I’m struck by how entangled Palin has turned out to be in corruption, abuse of power and your basic pork-barrel politics-as-usual. Is this just par for the course for any ambitious governor? Or is this something specific to ambitious Republicans? Or is it simply an Alaska thing, i.e., Alaska vying to replace Louisiana as the quintessential example of corrupt statewide pork-barrel politics?

Experience Math II

I’ve been continuing to think on the absurdity of the claim that Sarah Palin’s experience as an executive trumps Obama’s experience as a legislator. The whole argument comes down to an assertion that it doesn’t matter what that experience is — Palin has no foreign policy experience of any kind, but Obama has served on the Foreign Relations committee — all that matters is whether it’s executive experience or the vastly inferior legislative experience.

I recognize that in my original post, I failed to include Palin’s service as mayor of the metropolis of Wasilla, Alaska. So, in the interests of fairness, let’s re-run the numbers accounting for her entire executive experience. The new equation would be:

6X > 11Y

That reduces to:

X > 1.8333

Let’s be generous and just round that up to 2.5. The results for both tickets would be:

McCain : 10.4
Palin : 6
Total : 16.4
Obama : 4.4
Biden : 14
Total : 18.4

So, it really doesn’t change anything. The Democratic ticket still has more executive-equivalent years of experience, which just goes to show how absurd the whole attempt at painting Palin’s experience as comparable to Obama’s, Biden’s and McCain’s really is.

As if one needed any more evidence than the initial concept itself!

How Tall is Sarah Palin?

Surprisingly, this is one question that Google can’t answer reliably, it seems.

Why do I ask?

Well, first off, McCain himself is notoriously short at a pixie-ish 5′ 7″ tall. But the selection of Palin is so baffling that I’m looking for any plausible reason why McCain would have chosen her for VP, since she’s not only manifestly unqualified, but is also obviously completely uninterested in national issues, and laden with a whole lot of very problematic baggage in her personal and political history.

Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney are reported (neither at particularly reliable websites) to be 6′ 2″, and Joe Lieberman is reported to be 5′ 9″ tall. I can’t seem to find any information about how tall Tom Ridge is.

But Palin is said to be just over 5′ tall.

So, that must be why she was chosen — she was the only candidate who was shorter than McCain himself.

A Lose/Lose Situation for Palin?

So, if her daughter is really five months pregnant now, that means it’s virtually impossible for the daughter to have been the mother of Trig Palin (the child with Down Syndrome born just over 5 months ago).

OK, so the rumors about Palin’s fake pregnancy are scotched, but there are still plenty of details about the actual chain of events of the last few hours leading up to the birth of Palin’s last child that would make me question a parent’s judgment:

  1. When she began leaking amniotic fluid at 4am, she decided to go ahead and deliver the address she was scheduled to deliver the next day to a Texas audience
  2. Rather than going directly to a Dallas medical center for care immediately after the address, she instead went to the airport, to board a plane for an 8-hour flight back to Alaska.
  3. Once in Alaska, rather than availing herself of one of the large medical centers in Anchorage, she instead chose to travel back to Wasilla, an hour away, to deliver the child in the small local hospital in her home town.

Now, the weirdness of these decisions in regard to the health and safety of the baby (who was one month premature) is bad enough in the context of a coverup — in that case, at least, it would be plausible that they’d decided to take these risks in order to maintain the coverup. But if the Governor were the actual mother, what in the hell was she thinking by endangering the life of a child that she already knew faced lots of hurdles in terms of health?

Even leaving aside the optics of a pro-choice, anti-sex ed. mother having a child get pregnant out of wedlock, I can’t see how the refutation of the earlier rumor gets her out of hot water on the question of judgment. She looks more and more to me like the kind of caricature career mother that Democrats are so often accused by Republicans of being — it was more important to her to deliver that political speech in Texas than it was to make sure her baby was born in the safest possible and least risky environment.

How can the Palin choice attract mothers and women when she appears to be such a bad one? At the very least, it calls into question her judgment under pressure.

Experience Math

Let’s see.

Republicans are claiming that Sarah Palin’s executive experience trumps Obama’s legislative experience. It should be possible, then, to figure out approximately how many years of legislative experience equal a year of executive experience.

Obama has been a legislator since 1997, so that’s 11 years.

Palin’s been a governor for 2 years.

So, 2 years of executive experience is greater than 11 years of legislative service.

That would be, where X is a year of executive experience and Y a year of leglslative experience:

2X > 11Y

That reduces to:

X > 6.5Y

So, this means that McCain, with 26 years of legislative experience, has the equivalent of 4 years of executive experience, so that means Palin has fully HALF the experience of McCain.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, has 35 years of legislative experience, which would be the equivalent of slightly less than 5.5 years of executive experience.

This would mean that the Republicans have a total of 6 years of executive experience, and the Democrats 7.5.

Hmm. Something can’t be right here.

Mathematically, the equation is not that Palin has the same experience as Obama, but that she has more experience. That means that all of the Senators’ numbers are less than the calculated values.

Say the multiplier is 8 (i.e., Palin’s experience would be equivalent to 16 years in the legislature). In that case, the numbers would be like this:

McCain : 3.25
Palin : 2
Total : 5.25
Obama : 1.625
Biden : 4.375
Total : 6

Er, um, well, that can’t possibly be right.

In fact, there is no way to say that Palin’s executive experience trumps Obama’s legislative experience without also demonstrating that the Obama/Biden team has more experience between them than the McCain/Palin team.

Unless, of course, you throw in POW years as equivalent to executive experience.

How much you wanna bet some Republican moron will suggest exactly that?