Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Savaging of Sarah Palin

A major post-election story has been drawn from a packet of gossip fed to the media by John McCain advisors about the supposedly colossal ignorance of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The Republican aides claimed that her geographical and political knowledge was no better than a second-grader's. Certainly, she has stumbled badly in interviews, and as the young governor of Alaska was not well-versed on international affairs, but is the allegation that she didn't know Africa is a continent at all credible? As some analysis have pointed out, her vetting and selection was the responsibility of these same aides, a strong indication of McCain's judgment and no doubt a factor in his defeat.

Throughout the campaign, the media has been more than willing to indulge such derision, particularly against a favorite target: the evangelical Christian. One of the few major media figures to cry foul was Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal: "By not bothering to look very deeply at the details beneath either candidate's governing proposals, the media have created a lot of downtime to take free kicks at Gov. Palin. My former colleague, Tunku Varadarajan, has compiled a glossary of Palin invective, and I've added a few: `Republican blow-up doll,' `idiot,' `Christian Stepford wife,' `Jesus freak,' `Caribou Barbie,' `a dope,' `a fatal cancer to the Republican Party,' `liar,' `a national disgrace' and `her pretense that she is a woman.' If American politics is at low ebb, it is because so many of its observers enjoy working in its fetid backwash."

In contrast to the rumor mill at the McCain camp, Barack Obama's campaign was disciplined and vigorously controlled leaks. Even as the president-elect dissociated from liabilities such as his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Professor Samantha Power, he kept the smears out. When the news story about Sarah Palin's daughter's pregnancy broke, he publicly declared the subject "off limits", including with it any negative references to a candidate's family. Since Tuesday, the sore losers have dubbed the Palin family "the Wasila hillbillies".

The rift between McCain and Palin is said to have been caused partly because of her future ambitions. One wonders why an older statesman would grudge a political future to a younger colleague, particularly after the tenacity she showed in campaigning for the less popular ticket. McCain advisors controlled the media access and the message for Palin to deliver. At one point, Todd Palin was reported to have called McCain aides to ask why she was being isolated from her own advisors. Now Sarah Palin is taking the high ground, downplaying any disunity and not responding to the disparaging charges. For example, regarding the "spending spree" allegations, reports instead show that campaign aides selected clothing for her, some of which she chose not to wear, and much of which was being returned to the stores.

Whether or not she was ready to be vice-president of the United States, she was employed for a particular purpose: to galvanize the religious right which was at best tepid about McCain. She delivered on that strategy. If the plan was flawed because it steered the party to the right and lost the center on a message of fear, those who wrote the script should take the blame. One wonders about the wisdom of party pundits in sacrificing a green but promising star. Fred Barnes, of the Weekly Standard, opined: "Palin, as best I can describe it, exudes a kind of middle-class magnetism. It's subdued but nonetheless very powerful. Whether they know it or not, Republicans have a huge stake in Palin. If, after the election, they let her slip into political obscurity, they'll be making a tragic mistake."

The strain in the Republican party was evident before the primaries, between those committed to cultural issues and others vested in conservative economic and foreign policy agendas. Whereas Obama and Clinton's battle was about experience more than platforms, the Republican contest highlighted strong ideological rifts. Is the scapegoating of Sarah Palin an attempt to dissociate from the social conservative branch? If so, the Republican party has not begun to assess the Reaganite synthesis necessary for its future viability. CNN analyst Gloria Borger called it when she said: "A civil war that is simmering will break out into the open if McCain loses, and the party will have to decide what they want to be in the post-Reagan world."

Published at Il Sussidiario.Net.


Dcn Scott Dodge said...

While I agree that the post-election invective against Gov. Palin is unacceptable with much of it lacking credibility, something that Sen McCain himself should publicly put a stop to it because it serves no purpose other than to kick a person while she is down, let's not lose sight of the fact that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be president. Hence, she is not qualified to be vice president and not because she is an Evangelical Christian. In fact, I have seen very little post-election criticism that takes aim at her religious beliefs. I contrast this with Gov. Huckabee, whose evangelicalism was arguably his strongest trait as a candidate.

There were two poor judgments, in my view:

1) Sen. McCain's selection of her
2) Her accepting the nomination "without blinking," thinking she was ready

The second poor judgment has probably led to her having no political future outside of Alaska, which is fine by me. One of the most disturbing moments, one that I wrote about earlier for this blog, was when she was asked by Katie Couric about abortion, specifically why she would make it illegal for a teenage girl who is raped and impregnated by her father to get an abortion. In her long, rambling answer, among other things, Gov. Plain did not seem to understand that Roe did not rule on a specific right to abortion, but created (that is the right word) a right to privacy, which has had serious negative repercussions in our country far beyond abortion, though none that dehumanizes us more. In short, she is confused as to why she opposes abortion under such tragic circumstances.

At least on these issues, Pres Bush is very articulate. My theory about Pres Bush is that in matters he had dealt with while governor, among which were abortion and immigration, he has been an effective president. Where he went wrong was by having to rely too heavily on other people in areas, like foreign and economic policy AND having the wrong people in influential positions.

Another aspect of the poor judgments exercised in the choosing of Gov Palin is that it cannot be dismissed that insurance actuarial tables, an objective measure if ever there was one, showed that had McCain been elected, there was a 1 in 6 or 7 chance we would pass away in his first four years in office. Being 72 years old and having battled melanoma, gave his pick for VP an understandably inflated importance.

Over the course of the campaign Gov Palin did not seem to improve. Increasingly, she spoke only to "the base," which everyone knew they to reach beyond in order to win. Her brand of campaigning in the end did not amount to much more than name-calling (terrorist, socialist, etc) degraded our politics even further, which is no mean accomplishment.

I have never voted for two people with a heavier heart than for McCain and Palin. I am glad I watched John McCain's concession speech because it was the real John McCain, the McCain I was excited about back in 2000. I very much like that Sen McCain chose a woman to run with him. However, there are certainly many intelligent, articulate, and experienced women who share a commitment to life, family, education, subsidarity, solidarity, etc.

Again, while I think her savaging by senior members of McCain's campaign staff and the media swooping in on these rumors with shark-like instinct needs to stop, I don't think it has much to do with her religious beliefs. Though, even as a Christian, I think a candidate's religious beliefs as they pertain to public issues are fair game. After all, if we're going insist on being in the public square, we're not exempt from critical examination, but only insofar as our beliefs bear on public policy. I remember Mitt Romney stumble bumbling around in an interview with Robert Siegel in which he was being questioned about the creationistic beliefs of the LDS, it was another occasion to completely not trust him.

Sharon Mollerus said...

It wasn't my intention to justify Sarah Palin's selection as a vice-presidential candidate so much as to point out how she is being scapegoated post-election. It seems that her role during the campaign was scripted, and this divisiveness is not her usual M.O. as an Alaskan governor. As far as being an evangelical Christian, I do think the media is enjoying this target and the advisors are using it. The way this has played out is indicative of a power struggle, and some would like to push aside pro-lifers out of the party.

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

I readily admit that I have a bit of an axe to grind over the selection of Gov Palin. So, I apologize, I didn't intend to savage you. Besides, I thought Henninger really didn't get why so many were so upset over her selection, even in his columns before the election. What bothers me about her being made the post-election scapegoat is that she is being scapegoated by some who no doubt helped in selecting her. Without a doubt her selection, as the numbers show, played a significant role in McCain's defeat. Prior to the covention it was neck-and-neck. There was then a post-convention Palin bounce, but the more known she became (i.e., the Gibson and Couric interviews) along with the negative turn taken, it was over long before election day. Again, the McCain folks have nobody to blame but themselves.

Who knows, maybe succeeding in getting pro-lifers out of the Republican Party would be the best thing for the pro-life cause? There are more of us than anybody is willing to recognize. Hopefully, after this election, pro-life voters will no longer be taken for granted.

Sharon Mollerus said...

I didn't feel savaged by you, Scott. In fact, I expected a reaction. ;)

The way I read it, and I could be wrong, is that Palin was set-up for this role. This may be a more cynical view, but I'm one of those who don't think that McCain is the most convinced pro-life candidate. He chose Palin to scoop up the disaffected moral conservative vote. His group scripted the negative campaign, which was to cast fear of the "other" and collect the base. Then when their strategy failed, they had a culprit, and McCain did nothing to stop it. I agree her knowledge was lacking, but I simply don't believe some of the stuff trumped up about it. As far as the religious angle, all I mean is that this woman was hated from the very beginning for what she stood for, and those who spilled the "facts" after the election fed these bits to a media hungry to tear her to shreds. She held up very well under criticism, both fair and unfair, and plenty of it.

I don't believe she lost the election for McCain, though she became a liability. The economic crisis did it, with McCain's inability to respond in a convincing manner with authority and a realistic plan. He stuck with the same old ideological Republican rhetoric. He went from even with Obama at the point of the crisis to losing ten points immediately, and the Palin effect had already been registered.

I was almost going to add with my earlier response that it might be a good thing for pro-life to be completely dissociated from the Republican party. It would be fine by me, as I lean Democratic instead. But we also have to work with what we have, and there are still some admirable people in the Republican party with heart and values. A particular favorite is Sam Brownbeck.