Sunday, September 14, 2008

What's going on?

I have no idea what's going to happen in November, but I am gobsmacked by the state of the race right now. One of the best sites for poll analysis is a site run by some Democratic statisticians who have developed what they believe to be an accurate and honest model for projecting the outcome. A few weeks ago, they were projecting a likely - and comfortable - Obama victory. Now it is McCain who has the advantage. I did not expect this to be where things are right now. I thought that, maybe, a critical examination of Obama throughout the fall might swing the race to McCain. I never thought that, before that examination had even begun, McCain would be in the lead.

The conventional wisdom is to attribute this to Sarah Palin and at least some of the folks at fivethirtyeight seem to agree. They believe that the key to the election is to bring her down - not so much because people are voting for her, but because she has changed the way that people look at John McCain. For the conservative base, her selection is energizing. He has selected, as the party's future, someone who - particularly on foreign policy and social issues - thinks like we do. Because of her challenge to the Republican establishment in Alaska, she underscores his claim to independence.

It has, on a more superficial level, negated the old white guy issue. Obama is different, but so is she. And, one the ways in that she is different, is she is seen as coming from those God and gun clinging people that Obama has so much trouble with.

I think that the Obama campaign has finally stumbled on to this in deciding to run that ridiculous ad going after John McCain because he doesn't use e-mail (although, actually, he does). It's as if to say, wait, we are the cool kids table.

There is also a sense in which Palin epitomizes different approaches to the problem of life in America. No one really takes the position that government can never help you or that government can always save you. But she quite clearly tilts to the former over the latter and reinforces the less obvious notion that McCain does as well. In her world, goverment can help, but family and adherance to traditional values are more important. Women can assume positions of responsibility - even be elected to the Presidency, but they can also be women in a variety of rather traditional ways - a neo-feminist position that has pretty much carried the day in every day life. That position recognizes that women can have differing positions on things like abortion and "comparable worth schemes." They can be Democrats or Republicans. They might be urban liberals or moose hunters.

This is one of the reasons that her lack of urbane sophistication won't hurt her. I am a conservative, but I am also a wine-drinking, New York Times reading, irony savoring, Europhilic intellectual. I know Barack Obama's world. Like him, one of the formative experiences of my youth was not service in the military or struggling with college, but a stint in Gannett House.

So I have all sorts of cultural resistance to Sarah Palin. I can't relate to the "Great White North" accent or the shooting at caribou from something called snow machines. (OK, I know that they probably don't do that, but you get it.) As much as I may be a religious conservative, I come from the Roman Catholic/Anglican tradition and would find the churches that she has attended in Wasilla far removed from my own experience and, quite frankly, would probably be uncomfortable there.

When I watch her interviews with Gibson, my initial reaction is that she has missed an opportunity. He has flung a silly challenge that can be reduced to intellectual rubble, but she doesn't do that. What she does manage to do is reaffirm some broader principle which is at the root of the response that a more loquacious conservative would make and that is at the heart of what a lot of people care about. She does it in a way that is more genuine than articulate. She phrases things in a way that will never be heard in faculty meetings.

One of the responses to this, from people who are a lot like me, is that she is a "freaking moron." Not smooth enough. Insufficiently nuanced.

The problem with this response is to assume that the measure of a political leader is to whether or not she knows everything about all things. No one can do this, although some of us can act as if we can. All Presidents are radically dependent on the advice of experts. What we look for in a President is not the ability to begin at a position of complete neutrality and then reason - unaided - to the correct conclusion, but the right philosophical predisposition combined with the intelligence to recognize when her presuppositions are wrong or inapplicable and the courage to act on that realization.

A Presidential election is not a race for national valedictorian. Herbert Hoover, Woodrow Wilson and Richard Nixon were brilliant men who made poor Presidents. FDR, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan were not so euridite, but much more successful.

I might post later on the Gibson interview, but my view of it that Palin did well enough, but will have to - and will do - better in future forums. What she doesn't have to do is come across as Professor Palin and insistence that she do so on the part of the media or Democrats is likely to backfire.


Terrence Berres said...

"I am also a wine-drinking, New York Times reading, irony savoring, Europhilic intellectual."

Sounds like a personal ad in the New York Review of Books.

Anonymous said...

And that, folks, is why she has connected so well with the "unwashed". There are many here, outside the faculty lounge, that love to have the proverbial beer and shoot some pool that are quite intelligent, thank you. Even if we haven't attended the Ivy League or law school.

But I certainly hope that the Obama camp and his supporters keep trying to destroy her as being unworthy. Its worked great for them so far :-)


Rick Esenberg said...


That's great. It would have made my afternoon, if Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson hadn't already made it.

Anonymous said...

"I can't relate to the 'Great White North' accent . . ."

Huh? She sounds to me like every woman I've met in Wisconsin.