Category Archives: Palin

Palin

Well, well. Fireworks on the 3rd of July.

As much as this is a (self-described) gift to the people of Alaska, I’m not sure it ends up being a gift to the conservative movement, the Republican party, or the lower 49.  As usual, more was left unexplained than was illuminated, and if the historical pattern of surprise-announcements-by-Republican-Governors is followed, many things in Palin’s statement will be revealed to be half-truths, deceptions, or outright falsehoods.

So the huge question is “Why?” and I can really see only three probable answers:

1) Household finances.

Palin has repeatedly cited the legal costs of defending the ethics claims against her (and erroneously cited the cost to the Alaska taxpayer oil industry) and has failed to raise the funds to pay her lawyers.  Pesky ethics rules prevent her from generating outside income while Governor, though her popularity is still strong enough that she could make up the nut in a book advance and a month of personal appearances.  It’s possible that this is just a kitchen-table choice: this job is costing her more than it’s paying her, and she could get out of debt fast and actually start being able to afford that Saks Fifth Avenue wardrobe if she quit.

I consider this the strongest theory because a) it fits the facts in evidence and b) she claimed her real purpose was otherwise.  (For most people, I take their stated reason as the most likely, but for her, that never works.)

2) Another shoe is about to drop.

There’s been little mention that her hand-picked, barely-qualified Attorney General also resigned, suddenly and without explanation, in February.  He was replaced by the head of the Criminal Division, and Palin’s attempt to nominate a heavily-armed good ol’ boy was soundly defeated in the Legislature.  She finally got a nominee confirmed last month, but meanwhile the investigation into whether she inflated the cost of an already-controversial sports complex to tag on construction and materials for a personal vacation home has continued.  The speculation is that subpoenas were issued last week and the Palins were notified that they were targets of at least a state criminal investigation, if not federal.

If true, it still doesn’t provide a full explanation. Resignation in advance of indictment isn’t a great idea; it sort of telegraphs guilt.  There’s certainly an element of wishful thinking, too.  Palin has dodged every single ethics complaint; the one set of charges that was well-founded came from a toothless Legislature.

3) She’s running for President.

The only evidence for this is her cryptic (and misattributed) quote of Douglas MacArthur about “advancing in a different direction.” If she is making a conscious attempt to run for President, the resignation shows almost zero deliberate planning for it; if somebody else is backing her, it is the most incompetently-staged campaign kickoff in history.  Her only credibility in 2008 was her experience in being the executive of a (geographically) large state; by not completing her first term, she will have ceded her only talking point, which was her lead on Obama in executive experience.

As for the other nutty theories—pregnancy, an adultery scandal, truly being sick of the toll politics is taking on her family, cashing in on her fame while she has it, etc.—they’re all pretty speculative and poorly formed.  If she truly doesn’t have the hide for the rough-and-tumble of American politics, her resignation speech was too defiant; if she’s really expecting further personal revelations, the speech was too political.

So, as real journalists say, “it’s too early to tell.”  But this is far from Palin’s swan song. It may be her rambling, incoherent take on a Checkers speech.

Debate

Last night’s debate got astonishingly high ratings, which is excellent it was one of the better national political debates in recent history.

The Governor did a fine job.  Yes, she’s had five weeks to go from zero to National Political Figure, and she faked it well enough.  In an America not in crisis, and with a pre-Cheney, pre-Gore definition of the job of Vice President, and a more physically robust top of the ticket, her effort would have certainly been enough to tread water, and perhaps even to win against a weaker opponent.  

The fact that she hardly answered a single question and instead turned most questions toward her pre-canned answers was typical for national political debates.  Evasion, redirection, and finesse are par for the course, and she did it well.

Getting past personal style, winks, gaffes, there was actually a fair amount of substance to the debate.  The triangulation where both candidates tried to contrast with each other while both distanced themselves from the Bush Administration was fascinating.

When quizzed as to who was responsible for the mortgage meltdown, both sides pointed at the banks.  The current meme in the right wing is that it was irresponsible low-income borrowers (and their liberal advocates).  But while that argument might move the base, it plays less well with the undecided voters than the populist “blame Wall Street greed”  angle.  Palin took that tack, and ended up on the losing side of the regulatory argument.  In this fight a Republican candidate is playing well against type when calling for increased Government intervention in and oversight of the free market.

Similarly, when cornered on gay marriage, both candidates got trapped in ideological dogma versus realpolitik.  Biden was forced to dance around the fact that Democrats are full-throated for gay rights, but have not yet fully accepted gay marriage; and Palin was trapped into acknowledging that the Republican opposition to gay marriage is not ”intolerant” and at least begrudgingly accepts gay rights as civil rights.  This is an amazing turning point for America, in a very short period of time, and indicates to me that the battle for universal gay marriage is nearly won.

Finally, I’m very pleased that the focus on sexual politics was almost nonexistent.  If you recall Ferrarro’s run in 1984, she was overtly asked whether having a female vice president would show weakness to the Warsaw Pact nations.  There was no such piffle this time, even considering the Republican candidate’s brief and superficial exposure to world affairs.  The question of her ability turned on the facts of her experience and knowledge, not on her sex.  Just as with the complete absence of racial dynamics in the Presidential debate, this is a great moment for liberalism.  There will be sexists in the electorate, and there will be racists, but the race and sex of the candidates are not issues in themselves.

That doesn’t mean that we’re now a sex-blind, race-blind nation, far from it. But I was delighted that the most notable, moving moment of the entire debate focused entirely on sexual politics and was won decisively by Biden:

He was responding to Palin’s personal narrative with his own.  “The notion that somehow because I’m a man I don’t know what it’s like to raise two kids alone… I don’t know what it’s like to have a child who’s… who’s not gonna make it… I understand. I understand.”  I nearly cried.  I still do, watching that again.  The loss of a spouse or child is one of the most powerful fears that humans have, and he experienced that fear, and still does.  And he showed it in a deeply human, deeply connecting way: he used a euphemism and choked up.  In a way that Palin doesn’t when talking about Trig, and that McCain doesn’t when talking about his imprisonment in Viet Nam.  

Watch the CNN response dials.  The men go way up, and the women peg the needle.  Where Palin talks about being a parent connects her with the voters as if it is something novel in politics and proprietary to mothers, Biden just connects, and snatches the issue from her.  “The notion that somehow because I’m a man” is the strongest attack on sexism that we’ve seen in this campaign so far, and it came from the white guy, and it won the day.

Update: Seventy-one million households tuned in. That’s astonishing. And I’m informed that the rules prohibited prepared notes, though both candidates read from their note pads throughout the debate.

Senator McCain’s Very Good Day

It started with Senator Biden making a very strong foreign policy speech that would have led the news cycle.  McCain deftly parried it by suspending his campaign so that all the lobbyists on his campaign staff he could race back to Washington to shape the bailout legislation.  He cancelled his appearance on Letterman but managed to keep his meeting with Lady Lynn Forster de Rotshschild and be interviewed by Katie Couric.  Letterman of course picked up the CBS feed from the other studio and mocked him unmercifully.

He then proposed that Friday’s foreign policy debate be postponed until the financial crisis makes its way through Congress. The attempt to cage Obama into either giving McCain a pass or looking like a political opportunist falls flat when Obama politely suggests that a President ought to be able to do more than one thing at a time.

SurveyUSA did a snap poll that showed 83% of voters wanted the debate to continue, only 14% supported delaying it.  Perhaps if McCain’s campaign hadn’t spent the previous two days in a shooting war with the media, they might have given him the benefit of the doubt on how “statesmanlike” the move was.  Instead, it played like a ploy, a gimmick, a stunt.  Even the NRO bloggers admitted that Obama sounded “reasonable.”

Then he was more or less forced to issue a joint statement with Obama on the economic crisis, which, in order to keep some daylight between himself and Bush, essentially was written by the Obama strategy team and reflected the proposal of the Democratic Congress.  Not much opportunity to be a maverick there.

And the long day wore on.

Viewers of his press conference and Couric interviewed noticed his left eye was almost swollen shut, the same region of his face where he had undergone surgery for a benign melanoma six years ago. This caused instant speculation that the campaign was being suspended for health reasons.

But what about the backup, the veep, the Obama of the Right? Both Laura Bush and Karl Rove acknowledged that she wasn’t ready to be President. 

The National Enquirer finally ran the Palin secret lover story.  Her interview with Coruic aired, and she came off as passive, evasive, and repetitive.

Finally, as the sun set over Colorado, a McCain staffer emailed the daily talking points to the working press instead of the volunteer corps.  The cover page noted “Please do not proactively reach out to the media on this.”

But it was all OK in the end.  At politico.com’s GameDay, Alexander Burns declared the day “a tie.

Sexism: An Introduction

Apparently a large number of white American middle-aged males have recently unearthed an undercurrent of sexism in American society.  Welcome to the twentieth century, guys.  You have a little catching up to do.

First, some definitions are in order, and that’s not as easy as it sounds.  Teasing apart the distinctions among sexism, chauvinism, feminism, sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and misogyny is complicated (there are in fact whole graduate programs in Women’s Studies at most major universities dedicated to the analysis of the topic).  But let’s start with the basic ism.

Most isms are understood to be the a stereotyping of individual behavior based on group membership.  Sexism is the prejudice that an individual woman’s behavior can be inferred from the norms of all women over any individual characteristic, and the expectation that her behavior as a woman is more important than her behavior as an individual.  In its original and base form, it holds that because women in general are inferior to men in general in some respects, an individual woman’s rights and abilities are presumed to be less than an individual man’s.

For thousands of years, women were considered the possession of men.  Until the nineteenth century, a married woman in America could not hold title to property in her own name.  When John McCain’s mother (alive today), was born, women were not legally allowed to vote in the United States.  Until the 1940s, much employment outside the home was closed to women; until the 1960s, no woman had ever sat on the New York Stock Exchange or headed a Fortune 500 corporation, and even today, women are not allowed to serve in combat roles in the US Armed Forces or to serve as priests in the Catholic Church.  The presumption of inability or inferiority is the most visible example of sexism.

That doesn’t mean that, to be non-sexist, women have to be considered “equal” to men, or that any given occupation should be represented by women and men in proportion to their population.  If the presumption of inability based on sex is sexism, then the presumption of ability based on sex is sexist, too.  The remedy for sexism is individual consideration.  Firefighters, for example, are a historically male-exclusive group.  All firefighters go through the same training and pass the same tests.  Weak men and weak women both wash out; strong men and strong women both pass.  Equal employment is not the goal, but equal opportunity is.

The second major effect of sexism is to make the shared attribute of the group more appropriate than the individual’s own.  This is objectification.  Even when those women firefighters prove they’re tough enough for the job, they still have to face their male peers who see them as women first and firefighters second (if at all).  Often, men are accustomed to mixing male socializing with work so much as to make them indistinguishable, and the line between, say, working competition between peers and male competition for female attention is very hard to discern.  Men who can’t see past clothing choices, body parts, and sexual potential in a working peer are sexist. 

Again, this doesn’t mean that to be non-sexist, men and women can’t dress attractively, compliment each other’s appearance, or even flirt and date.  It means that those social interactions have to be secondary to the professional relationship, and that preferences can’t be granted to one individual on the basis of sex, for example, picking a woman over a man as a companion for a business trip due to a sexual fantasy, or promoting a woman with larger breasts to a position more visible to male clients.  That’s objectification.

So when people look at the commentary on the Republican vice-presidential nominee, those who have an unformed notion of sexism may see things as sexist that actually aren’t, and also miss (or practice) blatant sexism themselves.

  • Was the selection of Palin itself sexist? I think not.  The primary motivation was her cred in the pro-life movement, which has rejuvenated McCain’s candidacy.  That cred is stronger due to her having borne five children, but she was selected for an ideology first. That said, the fact that Palin was picked over dozens of other better candidates might have something to do with her physical appearance.  Age-balancing the ticket isn’t sexist, but a “trophy veep” would be.
  • Would voting against McCain/Palin because a woman is not capable of being Vice President (or President) be sexist?  Of course.
  • Would voting for McCain/Palin because she’s a woman be sexist? Possibly.  The fullest form of this would be the notion that “any woman would be better than most men,” which is not something I’ve heard.  And McCain might get credit for picking a woman over less- or equally-qualified men, except it’s clear that Palin is woefully unprepared for the job.  
  • Is calling Palin woefully unprepared for the job sexist? No, it’s a fact.  McCain himself, Karl Rove, and Joe Scarborough all dismissed the experience of mayors and short-timer governors Giuliani, Romney, and Kaine.  Holding Palin to similar standards is not sexist, but excusing her from those standards because she’s a woman would be.
  • VPILF is sexist.  It’s objectification, plain and simple.  Sexual appeal is a qualification for a relationship, and actress, or a professional sex worker, but not the Vice President of the United States.  
  • “McCain/Babe ’08”, “Coldest State with the Hottest Governor,” “POW/WOW,” “The Hero and the Hottie” are sexist.  The Sexy Librarian meme is sexist.  
  • Descriptive and derisive terms that apply exclusively to women are not necessarily sexist: “Princess,” “bitch” if and only if parallel criticisms are made of men in similar situations.  
  • Disparagements that are not specifically sex-directed, but play into sexual stereotypes may be sexist if undefended.  Calling Palin dimwitted with no supporting evidence would sound sexist, implying the missing “…like all women.”  Calling her dimwitted because of a specific action or statement is not necessarily sexist, if a man who made the same statement would also be so labeled.
  • Quips that obliquely allude to her sex are not sexist.  “Lipstick on a pig” wasn’t a sexist gibe thirty years ago, and it isn’t now.
  • Assertions that she’s not really a feminist are not sexist.  They’re based on her individual positions, not on her sex.  
  • Any discussion of her status as a motherhood would be considered sexist had she not made it a central part of her campaign and personal narrative.  The topic is fair game because she made it so.  That said, general disparagement of the roles of mothers is not only sexist, but unwise.
  • On the other hand, equating personal forcefulness in the context of the PTA or high-school hockey games to that needed by a national leader is not sexist, simply irrational. There’s a reason we 200 million parents, 50 senators, and one Vice President: the more important jobs are supposed to be harder, and require more training and expertise.

After this is all over, conservatives are going to have to integrate the notion of not-being-sexist into their political ethic, and they’ll have to do it from a novel direction.  The conservative attitude about sexism has been that of “political correctness:” a silly denial of the realities of the common-sense difference between men and women by thin-skinned people who seek to control others’ thoughts.  When they realize that sexism should be shunned because it is a) fundamentally disrespectful to people and b) leads to mistakes in the evaluation of individual character, they might trumpet the Conservative Discovery of Sexism as their newest triumph, and make its elimination a new moral imperative.  And wonder why liberals are still so sexist after all these years. 

    Whirlwind

    Not Ike.  The past two weeks.  This is the fifth time I’ve tried to post.  There’s way too much to say.  So, very quickly:

    • The DNC.  Heartwarming, uplifting.  Reminded me why I’m a liberal and a Democrat.  Compassion, civic pride, a belief that forming and executing policy makes America stronger, and that solving national problems is our national talent.  And Obama’s acceptance speech deserved to be discussed for more than nine hours.
    • Palin.  Politically, a clear sign that tacking to the middle to peel off those less-than-infatuated with Obama was going to fail dismally, and a huge and risky concession that the only possible strategy was to completely engage the fundamentalist base that was (and still is) leery of McCain.  A brilliant, and entirely successful, convention and campaign strategy: it’s sucked all the oxygen out of the room for two weeks now.
    • Palin as a cultural force.  I’m in good company with others that thought the first weekend of scandal would cause the fundamentalists to rip her to shreds.  I misjudged the utter, complete power of the antiabortion narrative.  And it just amazes me that so many Americans are willing to give up every American greatness—governance, science, ethics, compassion, prosperity, military strength—to stop strangers from having abortions.
    • Palin as a vice president.  Really, truly, she is barely fit for her current office, much less the Vice Presidency (especially as Cheney has defined it.) There are several hundred people more fit and qualified than her: Governors of larger states, Senators and Representatives with better reform records, business leaders or Cabinet officials.  Women and men, some with as much pro-life cred. To put her in the front of that line shows cynical, callous disrespect for the United States Government and the people it serves.  
    • Palin as a symbol of the culture war.  Pat Buchanan said it baldly: it’s us vs. them.  And he put himself and Palin in the moose-shooting “us” camp, and “affirmative-action, Harvard Law, Columbia” Obama as one of “them.”  Mind you, Buchanan wouldn’t know a moose if it wandered into his Columbia ’62 class reunion.  This is a phony culture war staged by the Elite Conservatives pretending to side with the Real People Conservatives so they can still be the Elite.  
    • Palin and feminism.  Whatever happens, the face of feminism is changed completely.  Often it takes a brash act of tokenism on the part of the conservatives to save face while finally acknowledging the fundamental legitimacy of liberal values.  This is one such act.  Conservatives have now had to choke down their hypocritical prudishness about divorce, adultery, premarital sex, teen sex, mothers in the workforce, women in authority positions, and even daycare and equal pay in order to accept the McCain/Palin ticket.  If we gain nothing more from this experience, at least conservatism has lurched forward into the late twentieth century.
    • Palin as an actual feminist.  In short: She’s not.  Instead of breaking the glass ceiling by standing on the shoulders of the great ones who came before her, she’s standing on their toes, in spiky heels.  She infuriates actual feminists by benefiting from a century of feminist struggle, but turns around and repudiates the key issue that drove the sexual revolution: freedom from male and state control of women’s sexuality.  Being wobbly on birth control, strongly anti-choice (for others, while cherishing the “decision” her daughter had), and emphasizing that to succeed in a man’s world a woman has to be sexually attractive to men, she’s a parody of feminism, not its apotheosis.
    • Palin and sexism.  The two-facedness and mixed messages shouldn’t shock me; she’s clearly a product of our extremely confused sexual ethic in America.  For people to question her qualifications is somehow sexist, but for GOP delegates to wear “Palin/Babe ’08” buttons isn’t.  She’s tough as steel, but Biden better watch out and not bully her.  Questioning or even discussing the choices she made in the birth of her fifth child send her team to the fainting couch with a fit of the vapors, but she parades those same decisions in her stump speech as fundamental qualifications for office.  It’s breathtaking.  Clearly, after having for decades derided sexism as whining, man-hating, hypocrisy, or self-loathing victimhood, the Right is clearly having a hard time figuring out what it is when they need to accuse others of it. They know as much about sexism as they do about socialism; to them it’s just a new brush to tar others with.
    • The Cavalcade of Lies.  The end of the Palin Oxygen-Sucking Phase has been the newfound attack on Aristotelean logic and the Ninth Commandment being waged by the McCain campaign.  The Bridge to Nowhere lie, the Plane on Ebay lie, the No Earmarks lie, the Sex Ed in Kindergarten lie, the Lipstick lie, the lobbyists lie, the National Guard lie, the he’ll-raise-your-taxes lie, the Tiny Iran lie, the never-changed-my-position lie, the Drilling Will Help Now lie… it’s mind-boggling.  And these aren’t arm’s-length, plausible-deniablity 527s.  These are stump speeches and TV ads with the FEC-required candidate approval notice.  Even the saner parts of the conservative movement are scratching their head in wonderment why McCain, enjoying such a bounce from the convention, needs to sink so low so fast.

    I’d really like to write a short essay on each of the above points.  They’re piling on each other so fast I can’t, even though I’ve been on vacation and have had little more pressing than walking the kids down to the bus stop to go to school.  But I’ll try to pick up in real time, and come back to these as they remain relevant.