Thursday, September 04, 2008
More Thoughts on Palin
Credit where it's due!
That was an amazing performance by Sarah Palin last night. She delivered a powerful, clever, and deftly savage speech - but even more important, she projected through the speech a personality at once charismatic and down to earth, feminine yet tough.
Her words about her special-needs child, and her cradling of the child at the end of her speech, showcased the best side of the prolife cause: a movement to protect the vulnerable and cherish humanity in all its seasons and forms. Together with Rudy Giuliani she effectively pounded Barack Obama as out-of-touch, dismissive, and callow.
Rudy brilliantly mocked Obama's indecisiveness; Palin noted that even as a mayor of a small-town she had shouldered more responsibilities than Obama has ever had to face.
So: a great success. Palin revealed one of the sharpest political talents the Republican party has seen in a generation. She electrified the hall and added a powerful asset to a troubled ticket.
Do I therefore unsay any of the anxieties I have expressed in the past week? Well yes and no - but mostly no. Here's why:
1) The nation and the party still know astonishingly little about what Sarah Palin actually believes about any of the great issues of our time. Where does she stand on immigration - an issue to which a President McCain will surely return? How reliable is she on free trade? Does she favor a market-oriented approach to healthcare? And what oh what does she think about Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, China, Russia, and other grave challenges to the safety and security of Americans?
Campaigning in Ohio yesterday, Barack Obama tried to appeal to women voters by touting his support for a truly heinous piece of legislation: the Fair Pay act of 2007, which reintroduces the till recently moribund concept of "comparable worth." I take for granted that Sarah Palin would oppose this attempt to have government rewrite every employment contract in the country according to some arbitrary and whimsical central plan. But I do not know that she does. On this issue as on so many others she has no record, has never made a substantial speech. Conservatives are assuming that what they don't know cannot hurt them. Let's hope so.
2) From the beginning, the internal controversy (such as it is) over Sarah Palin has been a controversy not about Palin herself, but about John McCain. What kind of a decision-maker is he? How much information and consideration does he bring to bear?
If John McCain gambled on Palin without adequate research and preparation, the fact that he won his gamble does not reassure me very much. Gamblers sometimes do win. But the longer they play, the more they lose.
3) How sustainable is it for the GOP to put Sarah Palin's life half in the spotlight and half out of bounds? Republicans have highlighted her baby - while denouncing as sexist all questions about the raising of the baby. Republicans have invited America to admire Sarah Palin's reproductive choices - while fiercely disallowing any discussion of the reproductive choices of Sarah Palin's under-age daughter.
I cannot believe that this will work. Americans are not always interested in the details of the parties' healthcare plans. But they are always, always interested in the private lives of their leaders and would-be leaders. They will not be deterred from wanting to know more, and the press will eagerly serve that interest - especially eagerly when the would-be leader is a woman, a Republican, and a social conservative.
But even based on what we know already, opinion about Palin's life story will divide sharply. I wrote a column for The Week's online edition suggesting how that opinion will divide. Briefly, the Palin choice will intensify GOP support among downscale white voters - while adding to the GOP's difficulties among more educated white voters.
4) If the Palin choice was first and foremost about John McCain, it is also about us - us conservatives that is, about the way we think and act.
One of the great and important themes of Rudy Giuliani's speech to the convention was the importance of executive experience and crisis leadership. We are all mindful I think that over the past eight years, the record in this area has not been consistently outstanding. Rich Lowry months ago predicted that competence would become a big issue in 2008 - and certainly that was the issue that inspired me to support Rudy Giuliani in this year's contest.
Yet when the hour of decision arrives, it turns out that many conservatives care as little as ever about administrative skill and executive accomplishment. Our party and our movement overwhelmingly respond to symbolic cues.
Sarah Palin is exciting and appealing. But what kind of executive is she? None of us have even the remotest idea. We don't know whether she takes advice from a wide circle or a narrow one, whether she tends to decide quickly or slowly, whether her budgets are realistic, whether she is calm or excitable in a crisis. We have no idea whether she is decisive or vacillating, prompt or procrastinating, curious or incurious. These things matter enormously in a president. Yet they do not matter much to us. And that's a big problem.
09/04 09:31 AM