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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Don't confuse Republicans' thrill over the Palin nomination with the Dems' worship of Obama: A reply to Paul Mirengoff

My blogospheric friends over at Power Line are still struggling to get their minds, individually and collectively, around what has just happened in the Grand Old Party. Paul Mirengoff writes:

We conservatives have had a good time ridiculing the Obama phenomenon, especially its messianic feel — the willingness of its adherents to pour so much hope and belief into such an empty, or at least incomplete, vessel — and its elevation of "narrative" over substance.

It turns out that we were dying to have basically the same experience.

That was posted late at night, and I hope Paul didn't intend to call Gov. Palin an empty or incomplete vessel. Maybe he didn't re-read the post; maybe he didn't think through the comparison. If that is truly his considered opinion after having thoroughly investigated Gov. Palin, he's entitled of course to that opinion, but I think it is a profoundly wrong one, more wrong than anything I've ever seen published on that blog (of which I've been a regular reader for about five years).

This will be my 43rd post on Gov. Palin, dating back to June 8th of this year. I will let the previous 42 posts stand on their own as refutation of the "vessel" comment.

But Paul misunderstands — in a way that surprises me a great deal — the nature of the GOP faithful's reaction to Gov. Palin.

Relief: Prior to the Palin nomination, Paul and his co-bloggers have been among the most articulate conservatives who've voiced reservations and doubts about Sen. John McCain. He was not their first choice from among the GOP presidential candidates, and neither was he mine; at best, he was the leading plurality candidate in a primary system deliberately weighted (contrary to the Democrats' system) to winnow the field rapidly. Moreover, although the McCain campaign's secrecy was impressive (especially in retrospect), press reports had suggested that Sen. McCain was considering selecting a VP nominee who would have amplified, rather than dampened, conservatives' reservations and doubts.

That being the case, it's inexcusable that Paul fails to recognize a major component of the current emotional wave: Simple relief. It wasn't Michael Bloomberg. It wasn't Joe Lieberman. It wasn't Tom Ridge. It wasn't Lindsey Graham. Instead, it was someone who has a career-long commitment to, and record of upholding, conservative principles. On one of them in particular — reverence for the sanctity of human life — the VP nominee has unassailable credentials unmatched by any other national political candidate in history.

Reform: The Power Line bloggers have also blogged a good game in attacking government waste and pork-barrel politics, and I believe they have been sincere in that. The fact that Barack Obama has built his campaign around the word "change," however, seems to have blinded Paul to the incredible hunger in the GOP's rank and file — and in a lot of Americans who don't consider themselves to be GOP rank-and-filers! — for genuine reform. John McCain's own record on that is pretty good. But objectively, Sarah Palin has not just campaigned on, but actually accomplished more meaningful fiscal and ethical reform in the last three years than any other GOP politician in the country. So combined with the sheer relief it brought to us, the choice of Sarah Palin brought to the GOP ticket a prominent symbol of fiscal and ethical reform, and that explains another good-sized chunk of our current enthusiasm.

Renewed hope that we can win: And with that, and in part because of it, suddenly there came optimism. As Paul himself admitted in his immediately preceding post, "the phrase 'energizing the base' hardly does justice to Palin's impact on conservatives," and so far "the evidence is that independents and swing-voters are intrigued by the pick and are more likely as a result of it to give the ticket serious consideration." Thus, just from a purely political standpoint, he admits that "the Palin pick looks like a clear political plus." Indeed, the Palin nomination was a game-changer that has simultaneously thrown our opponents for a loop and helped us believe things are possible — including capturing the electoral votes of some previously not-in-play states — that three weeks ago we would have thought were impossible. No longer do we feel like we're sleepwalking through a repeat of the 1996 election season, with a grumpy old war-hero candidate doomed to put up a good fight, lose badly, and then go off to make Viagra commercials.

Balance: McCain is, as he himself jokes, old as dirt. Everything he says, we've heard him say before. He is a man's man and a war hero and has decades of experience and proven expertise as a legislator, but other than running a naval air squadron (which ain't bad, but ain't running a government), he has no executive experience, and he knows less about the economy than he admits he should. Sarah Palin is young and fresh. Almost everything she says, none of us have heard before, at least not from her, and not from someone from her background. She is a woman who has made it in politics without the benefit of being the wife or daughter of anyone important or rich or powerful. She's got more executive experience than either Democrat on their ticket, including executive experience at the local level and in an important state agency, and she has executive accomplishments that are disproportionately large compared to her years of service. And she knows about, and is a symbol for, new energy, literally and figuratively — an articulate proponent to make the case on the GOP's single best economic issue. She completes the ticket; she complements McCain's weaknesses, and their overlap — as "maverick reformers" — exactly corresponds to this most effective campaign theme McCain can run, and it's the one he wants to run on anyway! With Palin on the ticket, it no longer limps.

Narrative: The word's overused this political season, but the fact is, Americans of all stripes enjoy a good romantic tale. Barack Obama's saga is kind of weird to most of us, and indeed, that's a large portion of his appeal. When he says, "My story could have only happened in America," that's one of the truest things he's ever let slip through his lips, and besides it being true, it's an implied compliment to us, and we don't mind a little flattery. Lots of us would also take satisfaction in the symbolism and historic significance of a black man becoming president. And athough John McCain's story — as a war hero and POW — is also compelling, it's a story that's no longer new and exciting to us. But suddenly, here's a new character on the dramatic stage of national politics! She whips the corrupt insiders and forces them to flee town, then (quite literally) bakes cookies to take the the press who were covering the slaughter. She's got a gorgeous husband who's a champion snow-machine driver, a fisherman, and an oil worker; she has five adorable kids. And she takes the stage at the RNC and before a TV audience of 37 million, she delivers the best-received political speech of the 21st century (eclipsing the one given four years ago by Barack Obama, which he couldn't nearly match this time around at the DNC). Boy, howdy, that is a story! And we're caught up in it! We want to see what happens in Chapter Two!

Now, some of that will fade. And a lot of that is shallow. But it won't all fade, and it's not all shallow. Sarah Palin is easily the most gifted natural politician the GOP has seen since Ronald Reagan, and that's not something that can be faked, nor even contained. She has changed national politics already, even if the McCain-Palin ticket loses. Bill Whittle aptly called her acceptance speech "a tectonic event."

Salvation? When Paul wrote of Democrats pouring hope and belief into an empty vessel, Barack Obama, and referenced the Obama campaign's "messianic feel," he implied that we, too, feel like we need a savior. The Democrats are frustrated: They've been out of the White House for 20 of the last 28 years, and they're completely invested in the notion that the guy who's beaten them in the last two elections is an incompetent fool (a meme that ends up adding to their own self-hatred and feelings of impotence). So yes, they do want to be "saved." They want a Moses to lead them from the wilderness and lay down the law. They want a Jesus to multiply the loaves and fishes, and redistribute them (along with the contents of all the money-purses of the Philistines).

Conservatives aren't looking for a redeemer or a savior, although a new Reaganesque hero would be nice. If that hero can keep the Dems from taxing us into dust and surrendering to the terrorists — maybe lift some drilling prohibitions and let the markets work — we'll be content on our own, thank you.

So, Paul: Re-think that comparison, my friend. Give your fellow conservatives and Republicans a little more credit. And maybe hold off on those nasty comparisons until you've gotten to know Gov. Palin a little better. If you're not sold yet, that's okay. There's time. But be open to the possibility that what's going on right now with our team is quite a bit different — and ultimately, a whole lot more encouraging — than what's been going on with the other guys.

Posted by Beldar at 01:27 AM in 2008 Election, McCain, Obama, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Don't confuse Republicans' thrill over the Palin nomination with the Dems' worship of Obama: A reply to Paul Mirengoff and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) craig mclaughlin made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 2:22:08 AM | Permalink

Mirengoff wrote this graf during the feeding frenzy:

"Still, it's difficult for me to see the story as other than a minus for McCain in the short run. This is a presidential election, and folks are looking for a president with sound judgment. Considering the totality of this story, including the way it was revealed to the public, swing voters -- the ones who will decide this election -- are likely to be unimpressed with McCain's judgment here."

Then she gave her speech and Mirengoff was left grabbing his ass. Or showing it. Or something.

I gather he was for Pawlenty--a household name, celebrated coast to coast and in every schoolgirl's dreams.

Pawlenty actually did address the convention--if I need an insurance policy I'll give him a call...

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 3:47:34 AM | Permalink

Mr. McLaughlin, I saw Gov. Pawlenty speak at the RNC too, and I agree with you. He was no better, and no worse, than on the three or four times I'd seen him on the Sunday morning talk-show circuit. Which is to say, he was very polite, and spoke in complete sentences, and those connected into nice paragraphs, and I thought, "Well, there's a nice young man with a good head on his shoulders."

But: If he were the Veep choice, I doubt he could have carried Minnesota. And I think Sarah Palin might. It is no disrespect to him to point out that they are just not in the same category: he would have been a safe, dull choice, and she is a force of nature.

(3) Dan S made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 7:13:46 AM | Permalink

I had the same reaction to Paul's post, Beldar. And I've been musingly watching the Powerline reactions and not quite understanding where they're coming from. Or maybe I do, just not in degree. I'm still trying to find my center on this abrupt change. I really don't like a lot of McCain's last decade's "accomplishments." Maybe really isn't strong enough. But on some other things he's been very strong. In THAT I feel about him about the same as I do towards W. They both "get" half the spectrum really well, and then wander off into left field on the other half.

So, after deciding Sarah would be the best pick possible this year for Veep, and deciding that unfortunately there was no way our dear maverick would pick her (and with all the recent talk on Lieberman, for Pete's sake!), I can only say I was stunned when he DID pick her. I was struggling not to be giddy, not to be too optimistic, because, after all, the top of the ticket is still your "Grumpy Old Man." And I do not trust him on a lot of things.

So while I am really happy to see Gov Palin in the spotlight this way, which leads to real hope for the future... I'm struggling with my reactions to the overall situation.

Powerline still seems to think there was a better Veep choice out there, however. That does further complicate things for them.

My reaction to Pawlenty was very much like yours also. He's ready for prime time, but he's not going to be the star, at least this cycle. He might be a good supporting actor to a star. GOP needed a star, and got one. As long as The Grumpy Old Man doesn't mind doing the heavy lifting alongside the latest sensation, this should work out rather well. Fortunately, he has more than talked the talk on not minding to share credit, so it's believable that he CAN perform in these conditions.

I'm cautiously optimistic for this year. I'm very hopeful for the future.

And on that future issue... Gustav and Jindal's response sure made a contrast to three years ago! More hope.

(4) hunter made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 7:15:36 AM | Permalink

sour grapes are still sour.

(5) Mark L made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 9:00:30 AM | Permalink

Dead nuts on analysis Mr. Dyer.

Keep on like that and you are going give lawyers a good name again.

(6) JDB made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 9:10:08 AM | Permalink

The whole Power Line crew are Pawlenty bitter-enders, unfortunately. No snide remark about the Palin selection has been beneath them so far. I expect they actually believe their buddy Pawlenty would have been a boost to the ticket and that he was the only rational choice. I expect they believe that if only McCain had named Pawlenty, the press would have given up and fawned over him - or maybe even that the press couldn't have found (or invented) any dirt on him!

They'll get over their delusion eventually. Or at least stop talking about it if they lose half their readers.

(7) Ronnie made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 9:14:09 AM | Permalink

Great analysis. Your posts on Ms Palin has been top notch. I hope the McCain campaign is reading :)

(8) Micropotamus made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 10:29:27 AM | Permalink

because, after all, the top of the ticket is still your "Grumpy Old Man." And I do not trust him on a lot of things.

I agree that after McCain-Feingold and its havoc to the First Amendment (and the failure in practice of its supposed ideals), McCain deserves some skepticism. May we hope that Governor Palin will have some influence? Or will she be shunted off to an Al-Gore-like nullity?

But then, who do we want when facing a hostile enemy who does not abide by the rules of Hoyle and the Geneva Conventions? A naive youngster whose skills in glibidity have inflated his self-esteem to the point that he thinks that a personal visit to a foreign 'leader' can sweet-talk and appease and yield his way to peace and love between nations? I'll take the grumpy old man, thank you.

Said grumpy old man is not promising a gigantic corps of Federally-funded 'community organizers' to hector and nag us out of our own choices, and pave urban areas with Democratic walking-around money, either.

(9) Diffus made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 10:54:05 AM | Permalink

I think it's reasonable to assume that the Powerline guys, two of whom are from Minnesota, were pulling for Pawlenty. It wouldn't surprise if either or both know him personally, though I can't recall a post where that's been mentioned, and that can't help but influence their opinions about him, and that, in turn, influences their thoughts on Palin. That's why, IMHO, they see a half-empty glass while many of us see one that's about to overflow.

(10) Chuck Burns made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 11:16:54 AM | Permalink

Posts like this are why I've been visiting this blog several times a day.

I do think referring to BHO as an empty suit can work against us though. He is not empty; well yes he is empty of the traditional American values and mores. He is full of fairly pedestrian socialist/Marxist values and truly means to remake this country.

I jokinly refer to my self as "somewhat to the right of Atilla the Hun" but in my teens and early 20's I was a real lefty loon. I was heavily involved in Vietnam War protests, sit ins, draft counseling and all manner of left wing garbage (including good ole Saul Alinsky). I read and absorbd all the lefty literature. So when BHO came on to the scene my antennas went up and I said this guy wasn't the reformer and new politician that he claimed to be but Alinsky's wet dream. The good news is I think they screwed up. I don't believe they (his runners - Soros etc?) intended for him to be the candidate this time. This was to get him name recognition and prepare him for later.

I think we can beat him. Somebody really needs to to a phamphlet sized expose or 30 minute uTube spot on his radical left wing credentials. A factual presentation of what he believes and the influences on him will lead to a McGovern style defeat.

(11) Jim Hu made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 11:26:19 AM | Permalink

I'm not a conservative or Republican (though I will vote that way this time, again) so I won't presume to speak for them. But my reading of the political zeitgeist is that the GOP has been hungry for their own political redeemer to throw out the money-changers and return to the Reagan old-time religion.

I like Palin and think you've done a great job in arguing for her (Disclaimer: I was probably one of only a handful of people who was with you on Harriet Miers!). But it seems to me that some supporters and most detractors seem to be projecting beliefs onto her based on their visceral like (or dislike) of what they already know about her. In that respect, I think there's a resemblance to the reaction to Obama.

For example, Micropotamus above wonders if Palin will have influence on McCain about the bad effects of BiCRA. But I haven't seen anything about what she thinks about McCain-Feingold... something I expect she'll be asked before election day.

(12) Michael B made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 11:46:56 AM | Permalink

I agree, I was much surprised to read such facile, equivocating language at Powerline when it came to this subject.

(13) The Ancient Mariner made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 11:48:40 AM | Permalink

Mr. Dyer, thanks very much for the post; I've been bothered by this as well, and you spurred me to piggyback on your post with some additional arguments of my own.

(14) willem made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 12:19:19 PM | Permalink

I can see the bitter-ender thing but more notice the typical Ivy League bigotry based in the presumption, that, with the exception of one or two California universities, there is nothing of academic, political, legal or intellectual substance which doesn't emanate from the orthodoxy which holds the eastern seaboard and rust belt in a death grip. The Powerline Guys are Dartmouth Boys to the core. And they've letting it show. There is a difference between being conservative and being a provincialist whose identity becomes threatened when an "average American" like the rest of us rises to the top and commenses to whuppin ass. We forget there is more than one culture of entitlement in this nation; the Ivy Leaguers were the first and may still be the worst of them all. I just hope Palin has the strength to not let Hubris do to her what has happened to them. I also hope the Powerline folks realize their provincialism exposes petit bigotries which do little to preserve or advance the best of conservative values.

(15) LMK made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 12:50:59 PM | Permalink

Thanks for addressing this issue, Beldar. I saw Mirengoff's comments last night and had a very similar response. There's a critical distinction to be made between the mesmerism of personality and the inspiration that comes from principle. We cannot presume to build a government upon false foundations and supposed rights that are a direct contradiction to the self-evident Truths of our country's founding documents, let alone the message of Moses. That's what is so ironic about the adoration that Obama is receiving. For me, the contrast between the Democratic presidential candidate and the GOP's VP candidate is the same as the contrast between moral relativism and moral courage.
It is night and day and there is certainly a difference between the attraction to the two. I appreciate you facing the matter so "squarely". ;)

(16) DRJ made the following comment | Sep 6, 2008 5:06:38 PM | Permalink

Good post. There probably is an element of Pawlenty disappointment behind the Powerline posts. I would have been disappointed had Pawlenty been picked instead of Palin, and I'm sure it would have affected how I write about the GOP ticket.

There is also an element of truth to the celebrity comparison. Palin is a celebrity right now and celebrity is a big part of Obama's appeal. Celebrity makes people listen to candidates but, in most cases, it doesn't make them believers.

At this point, it's not unlike closing the deal with a jury. During the next weeks of interviews and debates, the jury of American voters will decide one set of candidates offers a better, more believable plan than the other. Not everyone will agree who that is but my guess is many voters will prefer McCain-Palin's everyday answers over Obama-Biden's existential ones.

(17) Huan made the following comment | Sep 13, 2008 6:43:42 PM | Permalink

I respect the Powerline posts because they are informed and reasonable. There is a sense of disappointment there on the Palin pick. They focus on "most qualified" and they are probably right, there are others with better credentials. But Palin is qualified and even more important, the right person for the right position coming at the right time. This will trump credentials each and every time.

Along with Krauthammer, I think their voice is necessary and thus should be welcomed to keep the conservative conversation and debate balanced, reasoned and intelligent.

I just happen to disagree with both.

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