Palin Backlash Watch, Parts III & IV

From Tammy Bruce, former head of the Los Angeles chapter of NOW and “a registered Democrat her entire life until February”:

In the shadow of the blatant and truly stunning sexism launched against the Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential campaign, and as a pro-choice feminist, I wasn’t the only one thrilled to hear Republican John McCain announce Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. For the GOP, she bridges for conservatives and independents what I term “the enthusiasm gap” for the ticket. For Democrats, she offers something even more compelling – a chance to vote for a someone who is her own woman, and who represents a party that, while we don’t agree on all the issues, at least respects women enough to take them seriously.

From Phyllis Chesler, feminist psychologist and author of a dozen books on women’s issues:

Ah, the abortion issue, always, only, the abortion issue. We fought hard for that right, and we have been forced to continue fighting for it. I don’t agree with the Right to Life position but I can work with someone whether or not we agree on this hot-button issue. … I have worked with some Christian conservatives who are anti-abortion but who are, nevertheless, pro-woman. Interestingly, they have sometimes taken pro-woman stands that are, in my view, even more radical in certain areas than those taken by secular feminists. Indeed, I have found that religious people can also be profoundly pro-woman. Feminism cannot be defined only by secularists or only by one political party.

Contra Tammy Bruce, I don’t think Obama’s decision to pass over Hillary Clinton had as much to do with sexism as it did with Clinton’s own baggage, as well as Obama’s understandable desire to avoid being saddled with a second-guessing Second Gentleman who used to hold the top job.

I also, frankly, still don’t think Palin is qualified to be president. She would not have been selected if she were a man. However, Democrats are in no position to complain about appeals to identity politics.

Palin joins a long tradition of underqualified VP nominees in both parties, ranging in my lifetime from Spiro Agnew to Sargeant Shriver to Geraldine Ferraro to Dan Quayle to John Edwards. I’ll take my chances with Palin.

Palin’s Key Appeal is Class, Not Gender

Lisa Schiffren makes the case that Palin is on the ticket not so much to appeal to women as to appeal to working-class, Reagan Democrats:

If you were that autoworker or miner — even if you think that Democrats will give you more money, even if you hope that they can solve your pressing health-care issues — it’s hard to see how you’d accept that this Harvard Law grad, who “organized” in the slums of Chicago, has a clue about your three-dimensional life. For instance, you support the military and want to see the U.S. win in Iraq — not just turn tail and leave. And while it’s not your issue, you’ve never been happy with abortion on demand. But you aren’t rich, and you mistrust the party of Wall Street.

Maybe George Bush and his dad never really got you either. Does John McCain? Maybe. Partly. But this Palin babe — she is right on your wavelength. She lives where you live.

So who are the Democrats going to send to fight the Palin dragon? Women? Senator Joe Biden, son of Scranton? Can a vice-presidential candidate really double as the ticket’s foreign-policy expert and it’s emissary to the nation’s blue-collar neighborhoods? That will be quite a trick. Given the electoral votes at stake — Obama’s strategy for victory depends on it.

His & Her Candidates

My lovely wife, the self-taught Web Goddess, supports Obama (as does almost everybody we know in our blue-town/blue-state of Maplewood, New Jersey). I support McCain, primarily on the basis of the Iraq war issue. As I’ve discussed before, this makes for some careful-but-substantive conversations as the election drama unfolds.

Tempting though it may be sometimes to mock the opposing candidate, we know it can easily feel like mocking each other by proxy. Because we have an extraordinary personal bond, there is no worry that political differences might damage the relationship. But out of simple respect, we avoid excessive harshness and look for common ground, even as we state and stand by our opinions.

This model cannot, of course, be replicated in the broader society. Democracy depends upon the clash of ideas, and negative campaigning can be a highly effective way neutralize an opponent’s strength. However, excessive harshness can cause a backlash, as the Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) have found in their initial feeding frenzy over Sarah Palin.

Palin may have gone too far herself in mocking community organizers in her acceptance speech. Less than a day after Palin’s speech, Daily Kos launched the meme of Jesus vs. Pontius Pilate, and it’s gaining a lot of traction. On Facebook, if you search the popular Flair application for “Community Organizer,” you’ll find more than two dozen buttons making this point. The button at left is the one that comes up first, indicating more people have chosen that than any other similarly themed button. I mention this because this button was created by my wife Nina, whose graphic design skills led her to design a button more readable than the alternatives, featuring a red-blue color scheme that helps tell the story.

The Republicans are seeking to buff some of the harsher edges off of the meme — McCain’s acceptance speech made a nod to community organizing without using the term, and then on Face the Nation he explicitly said that community organizing is “very honorable.”

But I think the Jesus-vs-Pontius debate helps the Republicans much more than the Democrats. The downside for Republicans is it helps establish a High School Mean Girl image for Palin that will cost her some sympathy. However, what it does much more powerfully, I think, is emphasize two story lines that cannot help Obama: the experience issue (by all means let’s argue until Election Day about whether Obama has more experience than Palin), and the Obamessiah image that undermines the ability of many voters to feel comfortable with the idea of Obama in the very pragmatic and secular role of leader of the free world.

McCain: Nine-and-a-Half Extraordinary Minutes

I had an event to attend in New York City last night, so I didn’t watch McCain’s speech. On the brief drive home from the train, I heard snippets of it live on the radio, and I wasn’t impressed.

It was the section in the first half that started, “I fight for Bill and Sue Nebe from Farmington Hills, Michigan, who lost their real estate investments in the bad housing market.” He went on to name other couples from other states, and of course the state delegations broke out in applause when he named their state. It seemed formulaic and tired — and I was tired, after staying up way too late the prior night writing about Palin. When I got home, I left the TV off and went to bed.

I didn’t want to sit through the entire video, so today I found the full text online and read it. I was glad to see him say ” I hate war. It is terrible beyond imagination. I’m running for President to keep the country I love safe, and prevent other families from risking their loved ones in war as my family has.” The Democrats will try to pin a warmonger label on him, but among all the presidential hopefuls this year, he is uniquely qualified to hate war.

As a former speechwriter myself, I look for the craft as much as the content, and as I read along I thought it generally was a solid speech. Then I got to the section on his experience in Vietnam… and I found myself in tears, right about here:

I always liked to strut a little after I’d been roughed up to show the other guys I was tough enough to take it. But after I turned down their offer, they worked me over harder than they ever had before. For a long time. And they broke me.

When they brought me back to my cell, I was hurt and ashamed, and I didn’t know how I could face my fellow prisoners. The good man in the cell next door, my friend, Bob Craner, saved me. Through taps on a wall he told me I had fought as hard as I could. No man can always stand alone. And then he told me to get back up and fight again for our country and for the men I had the honor to serve with. Because every day they fought for me.

I found myself thinking that this may be a rare example of a speech that is more moving when you read on paper than when you hear it delivered. Then I realized I had to listen to him deliver that section. And I was blown away.

In the video on the GOP Convention site, that section starts precisely at minute 42. The speech ends at 51:30, everything after that is applause and balloons. Obama is still the better orator, but for nine-and-a-half minutes, McCain more than held his own. I loved the way he talked over the applause at the close, so the ovation lent energy to the words.

Obama supporters say that just because McCain was a POW doesn’t mean he should be President, and that’s certainly true. Keep on supporting Obama, if that’s your inclination — he’s a good man too. But if you didn’t watch the speech last night, give Mr. McCain nine-and-a-half minutes of your time. Vote against him if you will, but take the measure of the man.

So THAT’S Why He Picked Her – What a Speaker!

I take back everything I said or hinted or even thought about Sarah Palin being a drag on the ticket.

She did several things she had to do in her speech tonight:

  • She established that her record of actual office-holding achievement compares very favorably with Obama’s. (Obama’s achievement of winning his party’s nomination for president is extraordinary and admirable. But as Palin said tonight, “this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform – not even in the state senate.”)
  • She demonstrated the combination of combativeness and populist appeal that have given her an 80% approval rating from her fellow Alaskans.
  • She showed she was ready — more than ready — to fill the customary VP role of attack dog on the stump. She even claimed the dog imagery for her own. I had already read the line, which she has apparently been saying for years, that the main difference between a Hockey Mom and a pit bull is lipstick. It seemed a little contrived when I was reading it on the screen, but when she said it, she owned it.

She took lots of hard shots at Obama, but by my count only one cheap shot. I wish she had left out the snipe that Obama’s worry about Al Qaeda terrorists is “that someone won’t read them their rights.” I don’t think that’s fair even as an exaggeration of anything I’ve ever heard Obama say.

But I loved the line that “Victory in Iraq is finally in sight … he wants to forfeit.” The “wants to forfeit” part isn’t literally true either, of course — but it’s certainly true that Obama’s pre-surge proposal to retreat-no-matter-what would have forfeited any chance at a positive outcome in Iraq.

My Obama-supporting wife — whom I love with a love that transcends space and time, let alone politics — didn’t like the speech. We both reacted negatively to the cheap shot on Miranda rights. But Nina was clearly pained to hear a man she admires attacked again and again, first by Giuliani and then by Palin. We watched the speech through different filters. Because I want McCain to win, I felt good about the effective, substantive, sarcastic hard punches being thrown at Obama — a man whom, as I’ve written before, in many ways I admire also.

Nina and I have virtually identical views on social issues. We both think the Republicans are on the wrong side of the abortion issue. Even more strongly, we both think they’re on the wrong side of marriage equality for same-sex couples. She was as angered and appalled as I was by the attacks of 9/11, and she knows the danger isn’t over. But we’ve reached opposite conclusions about which candidate to support. We respect each other’s decision, and we respect each other. We have in-depth, substantive discussions on the issues, but we’re careful not to mock each other’s candidate when we talk. That’s the way it should be in a marriage

But that’s not the way it’s going to be on the campaign trail. Unfortunately, negative campaigning works. Because it works, both sides have to do it. I wish it were otherwise — but no candidate has ever won a major election by staying entirely on the high road.

And so to bed.

Palin Backlash Watch, Part II

Palin’s working-mom street cred is going to appeal to some (certainly not all) women who would not be expected to share Palin’s political views — such as, a national correspondent for NBC’s Today show:

Politics aside and as a journalist, it’s intriguing to see the so-called mommy wars resurrected and reignited once again. As a working mom, it’s disheartening to see another — whomever she is — attacked for her choices.

Outperforming Her Resume

TNR offers an Alaskan perspective (hat tip: Neo-Neocon):

What the Republicans missed about Sarah Palin then [just before she ousted a sitting Alaska governor in a primary]–and what the Democrats seem poised to miss now–is that she is a true political savant; a candidate with a knack for identifying the key gripes of the populace and packaging herself as the solution. That keen political nose has enabled her to routinely outperform her resume. Nearly two years into her administration, she still racks up approval ratings of 80 per cent or better….

Sarah Palin is a living reminder that the ultimate source of political power in this country is not the Kennedy School or the Davos Summit or an Ariana Huffington salon; even now, power emanates from the electorate itself. More precisely, power in 2008 emanates from the working class electorates of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Sooner or later, the Obama camp will realize that the beauty pageant queen is an enormously talented populist in a year that is ripe for populism. For their own sake, it had better be sooner.

McCain Strategist Describes the Vetting of Palin

I’m skeptical of the partisan contention that McCain did little or no vetting of Palin in advance of the announcement. Here’s an extended response from the McCain camp — according to an unidentified senior McCain strategist, the vetting

“included her filling out a 70-question questionnaire that was highly intrusive and personal. She was then interviewed for more than three hours by A.B. Culvahouse [head of the VP selection team]. There were multiple follow-up interviews. … There was a public records search and political vet. There was a private life and financial vet. Everything that has come out was known by the campaign through the vetting process.”

Because of America’s bizarre process for vice presidential selection, the safest pick for a running mate seems to be someone who has recently run for president (Obama-Biden, Kerry-Edwards, Clinton-Gore, Reagan-GWBush, etc.) If the prospective VP has not already been through the campaign crucible, the vetting has to be accomplished in strict secrecy, and the secrecy inherently limits how thorough the vetting can be.

The Quayle Comparison

The second half of this 1988 NYT article explains how George H.W. Bush waited until the convention was already under way to announce Dan Quayle as his running mate. Consequently, the first part of the convention was overshadowed by speculation about who would be the VP candidate, and the second part was overshadowed by a media feeding frenzy over Quayle, aggravated by Quayle’s fumbling responses in his initial interviews about “his military service, a golf trip to Florida with a female lobbyist and whether he had enough experience to be President.” (Hat tip: Slate.)

Palin acquitted herself reasonably well in her first public remarks, when she was introduced on the morning of the announcement. She’ll be under the microscope tonight when she speaks at the convention.