Liberals are proclaiming that by choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has changed the strategy of his campaign — when in fact, he’s doubled-down on it.

In a Slate post headlined “Romney/Ryan 2012 Means We’ll Ignore the Biggest Issue of Our Time,” Matthew Yglesias writes:

But attention is to an extent a zero-sum game. And focusing attention on the big-picture disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about long-term fiscal policy means we won’t be focusing attention on what ought to be the most pressing economic policy issue of our time—mass unemployment and the tragic waste of human and economic potential it represents

Talk about wishful thinking!  I think it’s safe to assume that unemployment will continue to be a major focus of the campaign.  Policy wonks and partisans may consider deficit reduction and unemployment as separate issues, but for swing voters I think it all conflates into responsible stewardship of the economy.

Here’s Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post:

… the choice of Ryan pushes against what has been the central theory of Romney’s campaign: make it less of a choice between himself and Obama and more of a referendum on the incumbent president and the languishing economy.

Actually, no matter who is on the ticket, a presidential re-election campaign will always be both a choice between two candidates and a referendum on the incumbent.  This time, Obama doesn’t have the luxury of running against the incumbent.

Ezra Klein, also in the Washington Post:

Romney’s original intention was to make the 2012 election a referendum on President Obama’s management of the economy. Ryan makes it a choice between two competing plans for deficit reduction. This election increasingly resembles the Obama campaign’s strategy rather than the Romney campaign’s strategy.

More wishful thinking.  Although Paul Ryan certainly is the primary focus of election coverage this weekend, that will soon fade.  Ultimately the election is a choice between Romney and Obama.

No matter how much Obama partisans want to wedge Paul Ryan into a Sarah Palin narrative, that won’t work.  Watch Ryan’s famous three-minute “Path to Prosperity” video above and you’ll see an articulate spokesman for fiscal responsibility. What you won’t see is a target-rich environment for Tina Fey.

Does Perry Even WANT to be President?

Of all the punditry about Rick Perry’s “oops” moment at the Republican debate this week, the best description about why it was more than just an embarrassing brain freeze came from Matt Bai in the New York Times:

Here he was calling for what would be a truly radical restructuring of the federal government — involving many thousands of jobs and many billions of dollars in federal expenditures — and he didn’t have a grasp on which sprawling departments he would shutter. It seemed the idea was not his own, but rather something he had tried and failed to memorize. …

There’s nothing more central to Mr. Perry’s campaign than the idea of scaling back the government in Washington — that’s pretty much the whole tamale right there — and what he proved last night, in 60 or so agonizing seconds, is that he hasn’t thought deeply enough about it to even master the basics of his own agenda. …

It underlies the lingering sense that Mr. Perry is running chiefly because he saw an opening he could exploit, rather than having spent much time thinking about what ails the country and what to do about it.

Perry was the last major candidate to join the race, jumping in a mere three months ago when the Republican Party seemed to want to unite behind someone more conservative than Mitt Romney. (Personally. I’m relieved that it looks like the moderate Romney will be the nominee.)

On paper, the idea of a Perry candidacy was compelling — long-time governor of our second largest state, etc.  But on paper, Gov. Sarah Palin with her executive experience was more qualified for the presidency in 2008 than was Barack Obama, and we know how that turned out.

I don’t think it’s possible to become president without spending many years steering toward that goal.  Even before the sexual harassment allegations began erupting, it was clear that Herman Cain had given very little thought to many of the issues that he would face as president (such as, you know, foreign policy and stuff).  The narrowness of his focus would doom his candidacy if he wins the nomination.

Sarah Palin and everyone associated with her political action committee are, no doubt, regretting the boneheaded decision to superimpose crosshairs on the districts of Gabrielle Giffords and other House members Palin was “targeting” in the 2010 campaign.

But it’s easy to make too much of the ad, and there was support for Palin from an unlikely source today.  Writing in The Daily Beast, Tina Brown’s left-leaning news and opinion site, former WaPo media columnist Howie Kurtz, puts it in perspective:

The use of the crosshairs was dumb. But it’s a long stretch from such excessive language and symbols to holding a public official accountable for a murderer who opens fire on a political gathering and kills a half-dozen people, including a 9-year-old girl….

This isn’t about a nearly year-old Sarah Palin map; it’s about a lone nutjob who doesn’t value human life….

Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?

Others on the left side of the media spectrum reacted more predictably.  In The New Yorker, George Packer wrote:

[F]or the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn’t a big-government liberal—he’s a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He’s also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor…. This relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right. (On the left it appears in anonymous comment threads, not congressional speeches and national T.V. programs.)

Packer falls into the common trap of believing that the opposition is uniquely guilty of inflammatory tactics and statements.  I’ve written about this phenomenon before — see, for example, “Don’t Blame Me for Rush Limbaugh, I Won’t Blame You for Michael Moore,” and “Left Vs. Right: Who Has the Best Echo Chamber?

Packer tries to inoculate himself with a lame aside about “anonymous comment threads.”  But Checkpoint, a 2004 novella based on a fictional plot to assassinate then-President George W. Bush, was not published in an anonymous comment thread, nor even by an obscure publishing house.  It was published by Knopf, a storied 95-year-old imprint and a division of Random House.  (Yes, I know that’s only one example.  But it’s one more specific example than Packer gave.)

Jonathan Tobin at “Contentions” puts his finger on a double standard:

As the political left seeks to use the Arizona tragedy to tar all conservatives with the brush of the murderer, there is another point to remember here. In the past few years, there have been several shootings and terrorists attacks carried out or attempted by American Muslims who were clearly influenced by extremist Islam.

Yet every time such a crime happens, liberals loudly warn us that an examination of the motives of those who carry out such attacks is beyond the pale, since such ruminations might be prejudicial to Muslims, even if the truth is that those crimes were influenced by Islam.

When a crime has a seriously deranged perpetrator, like the young man who opened fire in Tucson yesterday, it’s counterproductive to speculate about where the suspect falls on the left-right political spectrum. There’s plenty of inflammatory rhetoric on both sides, and the whole point of realizing that the perp is a nutcase is to understand that his political opinions are not based on reality.

Since the shooting, the New York Times has published two separate articles about “a wrenching debate” or “a wrenching process of soul-searching” over the lack of civility in America’s public discourse.  Let’s hope this soul-searching continues past the current news cycle.

Endorsement: Vote for McCain…

… and pray for his continued good health.

I guess if I want to be a titan of the blogosphere I should take this more seriously, but I’m tired of the damned election. Even the much-anticipated All That Is Necessary endorsement will not be enough to help McCain in New Jersey. My collected election posts can be found here.

Catfight in The Corner! Lopez vs. Parker

Welcome, Andrew Sullivan and 3QuarksDaily readers. While you’re here, I hope you’ll take a look around and leave a comment! The “Labels” section in the right column can be used as a menu.

I’m a big fan of National Review Online’s group blog, called The Corner. It has been described as “the Id of Conservatism,” and it’s the first political blog I visit on most mornings. I visit multiple times on most days — there are a dozen or more contributors who participate with varying degrees of regularity, which means there is fresh content throughout the day.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, known as K-Lo, is the Editor of NRO. She’s also the most frequent poster in The Corner, and serves as its “Mother Hen,” keeping her predominately male colleagues in line when they spin off on tangents such as Star Trek discussions. [Sexist metaphor alert: This post contains politically incorrect, gender-specific references, starting with the headline. What can I say -- I'm a man, and men are pigs.] I disagree strongly with Lopez on social issues (she’s an anti-abortion absolutist and opposes gay equality), but I admire her work ethic and I admire, evaluated as a whole, the product she produces at NRO.

In short, I’m not a K-Lo basher (cf. Sullivan, Andrew).

But she made a cryptic post this morning that inspired me to drop everything and figure out what the heck it was about. She thereby called my attention to a column on her own site that she finds “embarrassing and outrageous,” and that I likely would not have seen otherwise.

She doesn’t link to the column in question. Whatever could she be talking about? I had a hunch, but didn’t want to leap to a false conclusion. So I did some research.

Tempted though I am to document my sleuthing with step-by-step screen captures, I have actual professional obligations to get to today. So suffice it to say that I laborious opened each and every column listed under the daily “New on NRO” digest, below:

On each column I searched for the word “Monica,” and found it, as I expected, only on Kathleen Parker’s “Tragic Flaw” column. (Hence the “catfight” reference in the headline — they’re both women, get it? Har, har, har.)

A month ago, Kathleen Parker became one of the earliest and most prominent conservatives to go public with a strong condemnation of the Palin selection, saying she should withdraw for the sake of the party and her country. Pundits and bloggers on the Left gleefully plastered links to the column all over the Internets, while a few on the Right did so more in sorrow than in anger.

Gotta wrap this up, my phone keeps ringing — a happy problem for a self-employed writer/consultant. In today’s column, Parker suggests, without actually saying it in a quotable soundbite way, that McCain picked Palin because he thinks she’s a hot babe. The “Monica” in K-Lo’s headline, as you may have guessed, is a reference to Monica Lewinsky. Here’s the closing of the column:

It is entirely possible that no one could have beaten the political force known as Barack Obama — under any circumstances. And though it isn’t over yet, it seems clear that McCain made a tragic, if familiar, error under that sycamore tree [McCain apparently "proposed" to Palin under such a tree -- Ed.]. Will he join the pantheon of men who, intoxicated by a woman’s power, made the wrong call?

Had Antony not fallen for Cleopatra, Octavian might not have captured the Roman Empire. Had Bill resisted Monica, Al Gore may have become president and Hillary might be today’s Democratic nominee.

If McCain, rightful heir to the presidency, loses to Obama, history undoubtedly will note that he was defeated at least in part by his own besotted impulse to discount the future. If he wins, then he must be credited with having correctly calculated nature’s power to befuddle.

K-Lo (and apparently some readers who corresponded with her) are outraged at the idea that Parker arguably has compared Sarah Palin with Monica Lewinsky, and by extension arguably has compared John McCain with Bill “Can’t Keep it Zipped” Clinton. One can certainly interpret the column that way, but I urge you to read the whole column and consider whether the Lewinsky/Clinton analogy is central to her thesis.

I think Parker is on to something — it boils down to “men are pigs.” I don’t think McCain is nearly as big a pig, in the sexual sense, as Clinton… but I think an analogous dynamic is at work. It’s the best explanation I’ve seen for throwing caution to the winds and making the disastrous Palin selection.

I’m not a Palin-basher either, btw, at least not in any absolutist sense… I criticized the choice the day after it was made (“The Five Stages of Adjusting to Palin“), then was wowed by her convention speech (pig that I am, no doubt) and tried to make the best of until Palin became too much of a national joke. Here’s a link to all of my Palin-related posts.

Update: From the comments, Pretty Lady (who blogs about relationships, sex, politics, spirituality and other matters) offers a thoughtful personal perspective on how men relate to, well, pretty ladies:

When I adopted my blog moniker, I thought of it as a staggeringly obvious and overtly ironic joke. I was shocked to discover that it was taken absolutely seriously by the vast majority of bloggers and their commenters, and that it entirely colored their initial take on my observations.

Simply, people pay much more attention to words coming out of the mouth of a Pretty Lady. They may reflexively deride those words, or fawn on them, but they are definitely responding to context, rather than content.

Update: This post led to a Sullivalanche.

Losing the Presidential race has to be even worse than losing the World Series.

If you lose the World Series, you at least get to put up a banner proclaiming that you were the League Champion for the year. Your hometown throws you a consolation rally, and you start talking about the future (“hey, we’re tied for 1st place” in the coming season). There may be regrets about missed opportunities that could have produced World Series rings, but your own fans probably will not vilify you.

McCain, however, can already hear the long knives being sharpened on his own side of the aisle. (Oops, wrong metaphor.) McCain knows the throw is going to beat him to the bag, but he has to be seen running it out just as hard as he can. This is the big leagues.

Set aside ideology and partisanship for a moment and reflect on the momentous achievements of these two men, McCain and Obama. Think about how much they had to go through to get to where they are today. Neither one was given much of a chance coming out of Spring Training. From the Nov. 7, 2007 WSJ:

Democrats enter the 2008 presidential race with powerful political advantages, but face a tough and unpredictable battle because of the vulnerabilities of front-runner Hillary Clinton. … She’s locked in a dead heat against leading Republican candidate Rudolph Giuliani.

(Wow… remember Rudy Giuliani? But I digress.)

Flash-forward to October 2008. Now it’s getting late in the World Series, and McCain is badly behind. Real Clear Politics shows eight states as tossups (CO, FL, IN, MO, NC, NV, OH, WV). Even if McCain wins every single one of them, he comes up short of the 270 electoral votes he needs, unless he also can turn a blue state red. In baseball terms, McCain has made it to Game Seven of the World Series, but he’s down by five runs and he’s got nobody on base. It’s not the 9th inning yet, but it’s getting late in the game.

So he tries to hit a five-run homer. “Hey, let’s pick that hot Alaska governess for VP.” (Note to the beautiful blonde I’m proud to call my wife: This isn’t me talking, Sweetie — I’m channeling McCain.) “That’ll shake things up and energize the base.” He knew Palin’s national credentials were thin (to put it charitably), but there was no way to predict she would become such a target-rich environment for Tina Fey.

That move didn’t work out, and now it really is late in the game. He’s got his ace starter warming up in the bullpen on two days rest. He tries to bunt for a base hit with two outs, desperate to do something to get a base runner. Et cetera, et cetera — I don’t want to get overly tedious about matching baseball moves with specific McCain tactics, but I’m talking here about things like “suspending” the campaign, and announcing a half-baked, buy-individual-mortgages proposal in the second debate.

What do you do now, Mr. World Class Athlete who has come so far? This ain’t no basketball game, where the last few minutes turn into garbage time when the game is out of reach. It’s still theoretically possible to win until the final out.

“I know! Let’s go nuclear with Ayers, Rezko and Wright! Maybe that will take voters’ minds off of their 201Ks. It’s a long shot, but it’s all we’ve got.”

Now, let me be clear. I think Obama has made some appalling choices in associates over the years, and calling attention to those choices is a very legitimate campaign issue. As the indispensable Charles Krauthammer puts it, the most disturbing thing…

… is the window these associations give on Obama’s core beliefs. He doesn’t share Rev. Wright’s poisonous views of race nor Ayers’ views, past and present, about the evil that is American society. But Obama clearly did not consider these views beyond the pale. For many years he swam easily and without protest in that fetid pond.

“Fetid pond” is a nice touch. But while this is a legitimate issue, it’s not a five-run homer — and meanwhile, McCain has his Keating Five baggage.

I fear that McCain and the Republicans, in their understandable desperation, are going to ratchet up the negativity at the very time that people like me, who favor McCain despite his flaws, are trying to reconcile ourselves to Obama, despite his flaws.

I’m trying to reconcile myself because it’s clear to me that McCain is toast. Yes, it’s theoretically possible to come back when you’re down by five runs with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth. And monkeys might fly out of my butt. (Crude perhaps, but I gotta come up with something to compete with “fetid pond”.)

The economic crisis is driving votes to the Democrats. That may not be fair or logical, but it’s a fact. And the only thing that could possibly knock the financial crisis off the front page between now and Election Day would be an Unspeakable Event that I most fervently do not want, and that no loyal American wants. If such an event were to occur, it is not clear to me which way the votes would shift.

Going negative can be effective at the margins, but it will backfire if the Republicans take it too far. Ayers is an unrepentant terrorist, but Obama is not. Rezko is a criminal, but Obama is not. Wright is an anti-American racist, but Obama is not. Obama also is not a Muslim or a Marxist or a Manchurian Candidate, and however fervently some people may believe those things about him, the umpires are not going to be convinced.

Out of all the people who have any conceivable chance of winning the election next month, Obama to my mind is the second-best choice. I have serious qualms about him, but there is an upside as well, and I have no doubt the Republic will survive an Obama Presidency.

To paraphrase the best thing Al Gore ever said, during extra innings in December 2000, “if at the end of the day, [Obama] is sworn in as President, then he’ll be my President. He’ll be America’s President.” To which I would add, let’s treat the man with the respect the office deserves.

Notes on the Palin-Palin Debate

Here are some observations on last night’s debate that resonate with me.

Time’s report card on Palin (both candidates got an overall “B”):

By the standards of those Americans conditioned by the late night comics to think of Palin as an inarticulate idiot, incapable of putting coherent sentences together or understanding basic policy questions, she succeeded enormously. She had a solid ninety minutes of rapid, confident discourse and kept herself from being the story of the night (as well as the constant punch line of the election season). Improved her image and partially turned the page on McCain’s bad two weeks, enabling the Republican ticket team to try to regain some footing in a contest that has been steadily slipping away-but didn’t revolutionize the current race. Kicked off the debate with a demure handshake and query for Biden (“Hey, can I call you Joe?”) and indulged in some winks and folksy asides (referring to Washington insiders as “guys” for instance) but otherwise, didn’t leave Tina Fey much to work with.

Neo-neocon thinks Sarahcudda needs a live audience to thrive:

Some athletes are known for raising the level of their game when it is most important, in the championship or the World Series or the Olympics. Some are notorious for shining during the season but folding in the big ones.

Palin’s convention speech was a crucial debut in her rookie year, much like pitching in the season opener before the largest audience of her life. The Biden debate was more like stepping to the mound in the eighth inning of the World Series with bases loaded and nobody out, with her team behind. With most of America watching, she struck out the side.

That doesn’t mean her team will win, however. There’s still at least another inning to go, and she’s not the closer.

In contrast, Palin’s interviews with Gibson and Couric put her off her game. There was no audience present; it had to be imagined and filled in later. Since Palin seems to be most at ease and even invigorated interacting with a real crowd, this may have been part of the reason for her unease in the interviews. In her speeches and in the debate she was especially effective when she addressed the people directly.

From an astute commenter at Hot Air (via Neo-neocon):

We all know this was not the Palin/Biden debate. This was the Palin/Palin debate. Everybody who tuned into this thing, whether liberal, moderate or conservative were tuned in to see which candidate Sarah Palin handed the live hand grenade to, Obama or McCain. As usual nobody gived a rats a** what nonsense spewed from Biden’s cakehole. Nobody will remember a thing he said.

From Ross Douthat:

The Democrats have a lot of built-in advantages in this election cycle, and judging by the public’s reaction to the first debate, the key to victory for Obama-Biden is to do no harm – don’t squander your advantages, don’t freak out when the Republicans score their points on the surge and offshore drilling, and just be sure to always nudge the conversation back to the economy, to middle-class tax cuts versus tax cuts for the rich, to health care, and to George W. Bush’s record. So while Sarah Palin did an awful lot for Sarah Palin tonight, there was only so much she could do for her running mate – given her own limits, but especially given the state of the country, and the gulf between the issues the McCain campaign wants to fight on and the issues voters care about. She’s saved herself from Quayle-dom, but Obama-Biden is one debate closer to victory.

That last sentence sums it up pretty well, I think. The other day, my wife Nina came up with the line, “I can see the end of Palin’s career from my house” — a line which I grudgingly admire, even though I wish Palin well. But after last night I’m hopeful that Palin may still have a political future. I disagree with her on social issues and I don’t think she’s qualified to be vice president, but I admire her for taking on a remarkably corrupt Alaska political establishment, ousting a sitting governor of her own party in the process.

She’s in over her head, but she deserves better than the treatment she’s received. Ironically her best hope for better treatment is to lose the election. Who would remember Dan Quayle’s campaign-trail mishaps if he had never been elected VP?

Whew!

Gay Republicans Make Their Peace With Palin

This article is a response to gay friends who have taken issue, quite civilly, with my support of John McCain for President. (Disclaimer: there is a comment on the article from someone named “Kirk,” who is not me.)

While John McCain’s “selection of the Alaska governor has energized the GOP’s socially conservative wing,” it has also inspired a lot of gay and lesbian Republicans. It has brought together left-leaning lesbians and Hillary-supporting gay men concerned about Barack Obama’s qualifications with gay conservatives unhappy with McCain’s frequent departures from party orthodoxy.

We see in Sarah Palin John McCain’s real commitment to reform. That is why, despite her mixed record on gay issues, we are excited by her nomination.

The article is by a co-author of GayPatriot, which has been my favorite gay conservative blog ever since Andrew Sullivan let his Bush Derangement Syndrome morph into McCain Derangement Syndrome.

The reference to Sarah Palin’s “mixed record” is a euphemism at best — the only things on the positive side of the ledger are that she vetoed an anti-gay law (because she believed it was unconstitutional), and apparently she interacts respectfully with openly gay individuals. But there’s nothing really “mixed” about her stand on gay issues — she’s simply on the wrong side.

For me, and for some gay voters, national security is a more pressing issue in selecting a president. I think Palin was a bad choice on the basis of experience (although she is better qualified on that basis than Obama). But I think her reform record is admirable, and since for now at least she clearly is helping the ticket, I’ll take my chances on McCain’s continued good health.

Along the same lines, I also want to note estimates that nearly one out of every four gay voters pulled the lever for Bush in 2004 (as did I), despite Bush’s odious support for the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. (As for this year’s GOP nominee: “In the Senate, McCain has been an ardent opponent of a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, arguing his case on federalist grounds.”)

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.

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