The Lesson Of Sarah Palin

Ross Douthat has the best take on the Sarah Palin brouhaha out there:

Palin’s popularity has as much to do with class as it does with ideology. In this sense, she really is the perfect foil for Barack Obama. Our president represents the meritocratic ideal — that anyone, from any background, can grow up to attend Columbia and Harvard Law School and become a great American success story. But Sarah Palin represents the democratic ideal — that anyone can grow up to be a great success story without graduating from Columbia and Harvard…

Here are lessons of the Sarah Palin experience, for any aspiring politician who shares her background and her sex. Your children will go through the tabloid wringer. Your religion will be mocked and misrepresented. Your political record will be distorted, to better parody your family and your faith. (And no, gentle reader, Palin did not insist on abstinence-only sex education, slash funds for special-needs children or inject creationism into public schools.)

Male commentators will attack you for parading your children. Female commentators will attack you for not staying home with them. You’ll be sneered at for how you talk and how many colleges you attended. You’ll endure gibes about your “slutty” looks and your “white trash concupiscence,” while a prominent female academic declares that your “greatest hypocrisy” is the “pretense” that you’re a woman. And eight months after the election, the professionals who pressed you into the service of a gimmicky, dreary, idea-free campaign will still be blaming you for their defeat.

All of this had something to do with ordinary partisan politics. But it had everything to do with Palin’s gender and her social class.

Douthat has it exactly right: Sarah Palin was despised by the left because she represents a culture that is alien to the left’s worldview. She’s a female, she’s attractive, she’s actively pro-life, she’s rural, she’s plain spoken, and she’s conservative. To the left, such a thing just should not be. She embodies values that stand in very clear contrast to those of the left, and were she to obtain national popularity she could be very influential.

The former governor was not prepared for the race in 2008, and the McCain campaign did an extremely poor job of preparing her for what she would face. Douthat is right that she would have been wise to turn down McCain’s offer, although it is understandable that she did not.

But, Douthat notes, Palin is still relatively popular. She has a net positive approval rating, even after 10 months of constant fire. If Palin wanted to return to politics—and perhaps she does not—a Sarah Palin that had spend some time learning policy and crafting her positions could still be a potent political force.

Right now the lesson of Sarah Palin is that if you’re not prepared for the national stage you will be eaten alive. But there is a possibility, however small, that the lesson down the road might very well be that counting Sarah Barricuda out is a very unwise idea.

Good Riddance To Bad Rubbish

Sen. Ted Stevens, perennial embarrassment and convicted felon, has narrowly lost his Senate seat. Had the GOP been sensible, they would have asked him to resign—and it was that lack of sense that has contributed to the waning fortunes of the GOP over the past few years.

There is no excuse for corruption. Not cleaning house was a major mistake. Losing Stevens’ seat puts the Democrats closer to a filibuster-proof majority, but the Republicans were fools to rely on him in the first place.

The First Step Is Admitting You Have A Problem

Via the incomparable James Lileks comes a map that should send chills down the spine of every Republican:

A county-by-county map of the 2008 election results.
A county-by-county map of the 2008 election results.

Even though this election was relatively close, the map does not show that McCain did very well in spreading his message nationwide. The Republican Party cannot hope to win as a regional party any more than the Democrats could. The task for the coming years will be in crafting a Republican message that can resonate beyond the Bible Belt of the country.

The good news is that this country remains a center-right country. There are still more self-described conservatives than liberals, and the center remains persuadable. If Obama over-reaches—and with a strident liberal Congress that is quite likely, the Republicans can come back again. This isn’t necessarily a realigning election that presages a Democratic majority for years to come any more than 2004 was the same. The normal political cycle of realigning elections in this country seems to be dramatically shortened thanks to mass media and technology. Republicans shouldn’t be consigning themselves to defeat yet.

But we have to admit that this map shows a massive problem. The strategies of exploiting cultural wedge issues and national security won’t work anymore. The Karl Rove playbook worked in 2000, 2002, and 2004. It didn’t in 2006 or 2008, and it won’t work in 2010 and 2012. The Republican Party needs to broaden itself and admit that it has a problem reaching out to the center.

Granted, the 2008 result was largely due to two factors: President Bush’s unpopularity and Barack Obama’s immense political skill. Those factors aren’t going to repeat themselves again—and in 2012 it could be a skilled Republican like Bobby Jindal versus an unpopular President Obama. But even if that is true, the problems with the Republican Party are structural, and need to be fixed.

I don’t pretend to have the right answer. There’s going to be gallons of ink and gigabytes of blog posts figuring out where to go next. What I do know is that something has got to change, and the Republican Party will have to adapt to a changing political climate. That does not have to mean compromising on our values—Republicans can win in places like the Northeast without compromising on key values. But it’s also going to require the GOP to do more than try to use cultural wedge issues to their partisan advantage.

In a democracy, parties can and should win and lose. Politics is cyclical, and the Republican Party has done much to put themselves in this position. The goal moving forward is to rebuild the party for a post-Bush world. There can be a Republican renaissance, but only if the party and its constituents are willing to make it happen.

Examining The McCain Defeat

In the aftermath of the defeat of the McCain campaign, Republicans are trying to figure out not only what went wrong, but what to do in the future. This is a conversation that is a long time coming. From 2000 on, the GOP was unified around George W. Bush. From about 2005 on, Bush was as toxic as a mortgage-backed security. Political movements based around single individuals do not tend to last, and by hitching their wagons to Bush, the Republican Party sowed the seeds of their own downfall. (Note that the Democrats are doing the same with Obama now. Sic transit gloria mundi.)

The failure of the McCain campaign must be tied to the failure of the Bush Presidency. He fought on a completely uneven playing field. The media was in the tank for Obama, and the Democratic machine was energized. But that doesn’t excuse the mistakes of the McCain campaign. They had the right message in the “Country First” theme, but they never really used it effectively. McCain could have won, but it would have taken an incredibly smart campaign to have done it. Instead, the McCain campaign went for the tried-and-true techniques of Bush 2000 and 2004—in a political climate that could not have been more different.

How McCain Could Have Won

The first step that a candidate has to do is understand the political climate. McCain never really had a handle on it. The American public was furious with Congress. Congress’ approval ratings were at the level usually associated with used-car salesmen and dirty diapers. The “politics as usual” of the last 8 years was creating the perfect climate for someone to run against the Beltway.

Obama was “change.” McCain should have been “reform.” With an incredibly unpopular Congress, McCain could have easily ran as the candidate who would clean up government. That’s why the Palin pick was, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the right pick. But the McCain camp never really used her in the right way. Their “maverick” message was nice, but it wasn’t substantive enough. They let the media paint the picture of Sarah Palin, and they lost control of the only one truly brilliant tactical choice they made. The Palin situation could have saved McCain, and it gave him his best numbers, but they never built on the momentum she generated.

When the financial crisis hit, what did McCain do? He ran to the Beltway, and pushed through another pork-laden Beltway deal. I agree with Todd Zywicki that the bailout was the moment where McCain cruised to failure. It undercut McCain’s credentials as a reformer. The “suspension” of his campaign never went anywhere, and McCain never capitalized on it in the way he should have. It made him look panicky and indecisive, which only made Obama’s too-cool-for-school demeanor more attractive.

What should McCain have done? I think the idea of a suspension was not played right. He should not have suspended his campaign, but gone to Washington. He should have demanded that Congress pass a clean bailout with no pork but lots of accountability. He should have stood against both the Congress and the President and opposed the final bill. He should have clearly and convincingly said that his choice to do those things was based on a rejection of the usual politics in Washington. If the bailout passed (which it would have), he should have continued to use it in every speech as a sign about how the whole system in Washington is broken.

If this had been an election about generic “change” versus substantive reform, McCain could have won. But McCain’s campaign was too orthodox to defeat the Obama juggernaut. They ran a stereotypical Republican campaign when they should have run a campaign that pit McCain as the experienced leader that would clean up Washington. McCain’s campaign executed their strategy quite well, all things considered, but their strategy was simply the wrong one at the wrong time.

My Predictions

I have had neither the time nor the inclination to do my usual election-time prognostication, but I’ll give it a go for old time’s sake:

Minnesota CD 2: John Kline will do what he always does: kick ass and take names. Steve Sarvi will lose in a blowout.

Minnesota Senate: Norm Coleman is not a Republican’s Republican, but he’s a smart and honest guy. Franken is and always has been a joke. Franken will lose by at least 5.

Minnesota Presidential Results: I wish that someday Minnesota will turn red, but it won’t be this year. Obama will win, but not in a blowout. Obama by 4.

Other Minnesota House Races: Paulsen will squeak by Madia by the narrowest of margins, Bachmann will narrowly beat out Tinklenberg, and the rest are obvious.

President of the United States: I’m going to go off on a limb here and say that McCain will win Pennsylvania, and thus the Presidency. Obama and Biden have done much to alienate voters in Western Pennsylvania. From the “clinging” comment to Joe the Plumber to Jack Murtha’s accusations of racism to the recent brouhaha over bankrupting coal companies, the gaffes have just kept on coming. In the end, the Palin pick was one of the smartest things that McCain could have done, as it let him connect with the voters in the heartland. She’s one of them, and that may make her hated in the Boston-NYC-DC megalopolis, but it makes her popular with the rest of America. McCain will eke out the narrowest of Electoral College wins, trading PA for CO, IA, and NM. VA stays red by the slimmest of margins.

U.S. Senate: The Democrats miss their filibuster-proof majority (thank God), but pick up enough seats to be close: 58.

U.S. House of Representatives: The Dems pick up plenty of seats, but there’s one silver lining for Republicans: the execrable John Murtha is sent packing.

We’ll see how this plays out as the night goes on.

Stand Up, And Keep America Strong

Today is Election Day. For weeks we’ve heard how Barack Obama is going to be the next President of the United States. Now is the time for every good man and woman in this country to take their stand. John McCain is a man of honor, wisdom, and patriotism. He nearly gave his life in service of his country, and while he isn’t perfect, he will help keep this country strong. Every Republican and conservative needs to vote today, and they need to vote for John McCain.

We know what the stakes are. We can either have a government that is responsible to us or a government that tries to be responsible for us. McCain, imperfect as he is, will fight the abuse of earmarks. He will fight government waste, tooth and nail. He will clean out the sewer of Washington D.C. and root out corruption. We need that now more than ever.

John McCain has never bowed to tyrants. He will stand up to Ahmadinejad, Chavez, and Putin. He will not flinch in supporting America’s interests abroad. He will fight al-Qaeda with vigor, and he will not give them an inch of ground in Iraq. He is the only candidate in this race who has truly fought for us. The men and women of our Armed Forces trust John McCain, and we dare not let them down.

Our economy is in crisis. We cannot have higher taxes, more intrusive regulation that benefits Democratic special interests over the common good, and a system of government that thinks it’s Robin Hood. McCain realizes that. Obama does not. Obama will take his cues for Herbert Hoover by raising taxes and engaging in economic protectionism—the very actions that made the Great Depression great. He will make the economy even worse. McCain will keep taxes low, support growth-enabling policies, and help America recover. The choice could not be more clear.

When it comes to the defense of the unborn, the choice could not be more clear. Obama is part and parcel of the abortion culture. He has failed to stand up for infant protection. He supports the judicial monstrosity of Roe v. Wade. A few misguided individuals think that Obama will support life, despite his record. They are wrong—dead wrong. McCain is absolutely solid in his support for life, and every pro-life voter should vote their conscience and vote for McCain. He is the only consistent choice on this issue.

This country does not need a cult of personality. It does not need empty promises and mindless slogans. Hope is not a plan, and change is not a direction. John McCain offers substantive reform, real policies, and a real plan for America’s future. It is time to stand up for the values that have made us a land of opportunity.

Now is the time to stand up and be counted. John McCain needs our help, and far more importantly America’s future needs our help. We must not allow this country to go in the wrong direction, and John McCain will hold the line as he has always done. It is time for him to go on one last mission on our behalf.

Obama And Redistribution

David Harsanyi has an astute piece on Obama’s collectivist tendencies:

Now, I’m not suggesting Obama intends to transform this nation into 1950s-era Soviet tyranny or that he will possess the power to do so. I’m suggesting Obama is praising and mainstreaming an economic philosophy that has failed to produce a scintilla of fairness or prosperity anywhere on Earth. Ever.

If you believe that “fairness” — a childishly subjective idea that ought to be quarantined to playgrounds and Berkeley city council meetings — should be meted out by the autocrats inhabiting Washington, D.C., your faith will be duly rewarded.

You know, once upon a time, the stated purpose of taxation was to fund public needs like schools and roads, assist those who could not help themselves, defend our security and freedom, and, yes, occasionally offer a bailout to sleazy fat cats.

Obama is the first major presidential candidate in memory to assert that taxation’s principal purpose should be redistribution.

For his talk about “hope” and “change”, Sen. Obama’s policy positions are nothing new, and nothing hopeful. They are based fundamentally on envy. “Redistribution” has nothing to do with fairness, and everything to do with greed. It is about demanding the work of others without having done anything oneself. Such an attitude is corrosive to democracy—the moment that the levers of the state can be used to rob from some to give to others, then such concepts as “equal justice under law” become just empty words.

I’m not so sanguine as Harsanyi about the future of this country. That so many Americans have been taken by the rhetoric of redistribution is itself troubling. The lifeblood of a democracy is in its citizenry, and when the citizenry decides to use government to line their own pockets with the wealth of others, they will inevitably take the country down the road to serfdom.

The Founders realized this, of course. That is precisely why they created a government of limited powers, enumerated in the Constitution. They lived in a time of out-of-control government when the Crown “redistributed” wealth from the Colonies to Great Britain. They saw the results of what happens when government controlled everything from the disposition of property to the publication of ideas. The strictures put in place in the Constitution exist to preserve the rights of the individual. Economic redistribution is premised on the idea that the individual has less right to their wealth than does the collective. Economic redistribution and individual rights are at odds, and for one to gain, the other must recede.

This country cannot embrace economic redistributionism and remain a democracy for long. The two will always be at odds. Obama is perhaps but a symptom of a larger sickness, and the cure is a reaffirmation of the principles of constitutional government.

The Case For McCain

While every election of the last few cycles seem to be called “the most important of our time,” the 2008 election may very well be a critical election for the future of this great nation. We have two candidates: one an eloquent speaker with scant experience and the other with a lengthy history of bipartisan accomplishment. The case for McCain is straightforward: John McCain has been tested, Barack Obama has not. McCain has had to make the hard choices that a leader must, Obama has not. In an election that puts hard-edged experience versus gauzy promises of hope, Sen. McCain offers the leadership that this country desperately needs.

In a crisis, we need someone who has demonstrated leadership. John McCain has done so…

The Obama campaign continues to run against a man who is not on the ballot. There is little room for doubt that the Bush Administration in profoundly unpopular, and it has dragged the Republican Party down with it. Politically, it makes sense for the Democrats to tie McCain to Bush. But outside of the world of political spin, George W. Bush and John McCain are radically different. No one can doubt that Sen. McCain has a long record of serving his country. McCain has stood on principle, even when it has put him at odds with his own party. McCain’s life experiences as a prisoner of war—something he has rarely mentioned on the campaign trail—has shaped his view of the world in a way that few can understand. John McCain has been tested in a way that few people ever have.

Sen. McCain’s record demonstrates his commitment to “putting country first.” McCain took a stand on the issue of torture, not because it was popular or politically expedient for him to do so, but because he believed that banning it was for the good of the country. He not only opposed the Bush Administration on this issue, but he pushed them towards his views. He opposed Donald Rumsfeld’s strategy in Iraq and asked for more troops at a time when it was neither popular nor politically expedient. John McCain was right about the surge before there was a surge. He stood on principle and won. On campaign finance reform, he worked with one of the most liberal members of the Senate on crafting a bipartisan solution. Whether one agrees or disagrees with McCain-Feingold, it demonstrates that McCain has reached across party lines to get things done.

John McCain

McCain bucked his party on immigration. It nearly cost him the nomination, but he did so because he honestly believed it was the right policy. He has been a firm supporter of efforts to combat global warming—not because it was popular with his own party, but because he believed it to be in the national interest. That is the character of John McCain. Even if the misleading statistic of him voting with the President 90% of the time were an accurate measure, the whole of his record demonstrates a politician who has reached across the aisle time and time again. The fact that conservatives often vehemently disagree with some of these choices makes it plain that McCain is anything but a party loyalist.

Contrast this with Sen. Obama. Obama has no executive experience. He has never led anything larger than a law school classroom. Obama has not one significant legislative achievement to his name. He has never been seriously tested in a crisis. He has grown up in a political cocoon, and the media is unwilling to probe into his character or his fitness to serve. Barack Obama remains an unknown quantity, an empty vessel into which his supporters are pouring their own hopes. That is not what a President must be. A President must make the hard calls, he must take controversial stands, he must be willing to challenge the system for the good of the nation. We know that John McCain has done these things. We know that McCain can lead, and we know that he will work across the aisle for the good of the country, even at the risk of alienating his party. Do we really know that Obama would do so, or is a large segment of the electorate blindly hoping that he will?

This election should not be about blind hope. Those who put their faith in a politician will always be disappointed. In a crisis, we need someone who has demonstrated leadership. John McCain has done so, Barack Obama has not. We know that John McCain has made hard calls. We don’t know what Obama may do in a real crisis. We know that John McCain has reached across the aisle on multiple occasions to do what he felt is right. We’ve yet to see Obama stand on any principle that significantly departs from his comfortable liberal orthodoxy. John McCain is a known quantity. Barack Obama is a cipher.

In a time of crisis, this nation should not take chances. With the economic meltdown, rash government action could make the situation worse. Handing control of the government to one party is a recipe for disaster. The likely outcome of an Obama Administration and a Reid/Pelosi Congress would be unfettered left-wing experimentation. Our system of government works best when there are checks and balances—and the best way of ensuring that our government produces the best policies is through divided government. There is a reason why Congress’ approval ratings are so abysmal. Do we dare give them a rubber stamp in the White House? Can we truly trust that the results will be any better than when the Republicans had control of the government? Are the Democrats truly any less corrupt, any less viciously partisan, or any more competent than the Republican? The record suggests that they are at best no better, and in many cases worse.

This is the reason why Obama can never be the “transitional” figure that his supporters promise. McCain will have to work across the aisle to get anything done. Obama can embrace the same sense of partisan entitlement that led to the excesses of the Bush years. Would Obama conciliate to a weakened Republican Party? He would not need to do so, and there’s no political reason to do so. The vicious partisan divide in this country will not be healed by giving one side unchecked power—can one honestly expect Obama to “heal” the nation while at the same time pushing his agenda? There is little in Obama’s policies that suggest bipartisan compromise. Taking him at his word, he will shift this country dramatically to the left, which will only feed the cycle of partisanship that has polluted Washington.

John McCain has led. He has reached across the aisle. He has the experience to be President. His record is one of someone who has put country above party. In a time of turmoil, taking chances on an unknown quantity is not a smart policy. McCain is the right man for the job, and the right choice for the nation.

Powell’s Flimsy Case For Obama

Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama, although not unforeseen, is the big political story of the day. The Editors of National Review have a well reasoned response to the Powell endorsement that is well worth reading.

Contrary to Gen. Powell, Obama will be another divisive and polarizing political figure…

The problem with Powell’s endorsement of Obama is the same problem with the vast majority of endorsements of Obama: they’re all built on unsound logical ground. Even taking it for granted that the Bush years have been bad for the country (although not because Bush has been a radical conservative—he has not) and that some kind of “change” is needed, I’ve yet to see a coherent case for why Obama’s policies are the right direction.

Oh yes, I’ve seen plenty of ink spilled on why Obama’s personal qualities are so wonderful: everyone says that he’s intelligent, articulate, and vibrant. None of those mean a great deal in the long run. Many very intelligent men and women believe some very idiotic things: visit a college or university campus and ask members of the faculty about basic economic questions and you’ll get some profoundly unserious and utterly misinformed answers. Intelligence alone does not qualify one to be President: Nixon was a very astute thinker, but a lousy President.

Being able to use the bully pulpit of the American Presidency is critically important—look at what Bush’s failure to do so has done to his Presidency. But again, it is not nearly enough to make up for poor policies. Everything Obama stands for, from taxes to the Supreme Court to foreign policy is ill-conceived and often dangerous to the future of this great nation. Crafting lofty speeches will not make it less so. Being a good salesmen does not make the product any more safe.

Would Obama would be a “uniting” force—a “post-racial” President? There’s some good reason to believe that is so. But that is neither assured, nor is it enough. Obama has a history of being a political radical, a member of a virulently racial church, and surrounds himself with members of the extreme left. He has scant little in his record to suggest that he will govern as anything less than a doctrinaire across-the-board leftist—in a country that remains conservative. When Obama has to actually enact his policies, he will do so over the objections of a plurality of Americans who are increasingly seeing themselves as divorced from a left-wing elite. Obama will have to reach across party lines if he wants to avoid being another Clinton or George W. Bush. There is little in his record that suggests that he will do so.

In the end, Powell’s rationales are as superficial as the rest. Obama is a compelling figure, but the messianic nature of his campaign and his virtual coronation by a lickspittle media only makes it that much harder for Obama to govern with anything but a sense of institutional arrogance. Make no mistake about it, contrary to Gen. Powell, Obama will be another divisive and polarizing political figure. We do not need more of that kind of political division.

Sen. McCain, in contrast, has a long record of bipartisan accomplishment, including doing things that have put him against his own party. He stood his ground on campaign finance reform, on immigration reform, on torture, and especially on Iraq and each and every time his stand was based almost entirely on putting principle above politics. McCain can and will reach across the aisle—he’ll have no choice but to do so. Divided government would be healthy for the economy. A government totally controlled by the Democrats would lead to even greater political division than we have now. If an Obama-Pelosi-Reid government passes card check legislation, renews the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” to muzzle criticism of their rule, and enacts legislation repealing the ban on partial-birth abortions, will that heal the nation’s political wounds, or will it make things even worse? The answer should be obvious.

Our Republic is a house divided, and Obama will only expand those divisions. He will not be the figure of “hope” and “change” and the great transformational leader that Gen. Powell would hope him to be. Instead, he will do what he has always done: act as a radical leftist in concert with a radical Congress and arrogantly impose a radical agenda on a divided nation.

That is not the change we need, it is the change that will tear us apart.