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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Glib dismissals of Gov. Palin's executive record are unfair and unpersuasive: A further response to Paul Mirengoff

A couple of days after John McCain's surprise nomination of Sarah Palin, I wrote a post entitled A plea for patience with sour, conventional conservative pundits who are still getting their minds around the Palin pick. In it, I argued that since Gov. Palin was an unconventional choice, and someone largely unknown to many conservatives, we ought to not rush to condemn those from our own side who expressed reservations. I did plead, however, for them to keep an open mind, and for them to learn about Gov. Palin.

Gov. Sarah Palin shows Sen., John McCain a Detroit Red Wings jersey presented to her by a supporter at the Freedom Hill County Park in Sterling Heights, MI, on Friday, Sept. 5, 2008 (AP Photo)

But I'm terribly disappointed in my blogospheric friend Paul Mirengoff at Power Line, who it seems to me has done neither of those things during the intervening week.

Yesterday I took Paul gently to task for insulting both Gov. Palin, whom he compared to an "empty vessel," and the conservatives who are enthused by her, who he accused of anointing Gov. Palin as a "messiah" in the same way that the Democrats have anointed Obama.

Since then, Mr. Mirengoff has delivered another slam. As is generally true of his posts, it's well written. But it is not well-argued. His concluding paragraphs:

It's very difficult to find someone with both extensive executive experience and a background in foreign policy/national security. People like the current vice president don't grow on trees. But we expect one or the other from a nominee for president. Palin lacks either.

That's why those who defend Palin's qualifications typically end up moving to more defensible terrain — the argument that her credentials compare favorably to Obama's. This may constitute an additional reason to vote for McCain, but it's not a defense of McCain's selection of Palin.

For the ten thousandth time, governors almost uniformly have light foreign policy/national security experience. That's equally true of, for example, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. It was true of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. But this argument ignores John McCain's foreign policy/national security experience, and the fact that he's at the top of the ticket, and the fact that he is likely to assemble a group of advisors who share his own values and experience, who would continue to be available to Gov. Palin if she were suddenly thrust into the presidency.

As for executive experience, Mr. Mirengoff gives us a bare conclusion. No argument. No evidence. Just insult. And that's unworthy and unbecoming of a thinker and writer of his demonstrated skill.

I am certainly among those who've pointed out how well Gov. Palin's executive experience and credentials compare favorably to Sen. Obama's. But I've also discussed — at length, starting in June, in most of my 44 prior posts about her  — Gov. Palin's record of accomplishments, beginning as a city councilman and mayor, and then as chair of the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, and most recently as Governor of Alaska. At least judging by what he's written in Power Line, by contrast, Mr. Mirengoff hasn't given her performance in any of those jobs any close attention. To the contrary, from everything we can see, he appears to have swallowed — hook, line, and sinker — the memes peddled by Gov. Palin's opponents, partisan and panicked elitists who've trivialized both those jobs and Gov. Palin's performance in them.

Mr. Mirengoff discounts to almost zero Gov. Palin's proven success as a reformer:

We are told that she was a courageous whistle-blower. But whistling-blowing isn’t evidence of leadership skill, administrative ability, or familiarity with vital policy issues. We are told that Palin challenged an incumbent governor and called him out for his corruption. But mounting an insurgent’s campaign for governor isn’t evidence of fitness for the presidency either.

That's unfair, and it badly misses an important point. When politicians are running — as the McCain-Palin ticket clearly is — as reformers, the past success or failure of the ticket's members in actually accomplishing reform is damned sure relevant. In an election in which both sides are stressing change, but only one has even arguably delivered it in the past, that past record may become decisive. When the record includes, as Gov. Palin's does, not only electoral success (throwing the bastards out), but also success once in office (fixing what the bastards screwed up), then one's experience as a reformer becomes genuinely noteworthy.

If Mr. Mirengoff is even aware of Gov. Palin's record as a fiscal conservative — aggressively using a line-item veto to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in pork, and making those vetoes stick even in a time of budget surpluses — he gives no evidence of that in his blogging. If he is aware of even the symbolic moves she's made — selling the previous governor's executive jet, reassigning the executive mansion chef, driving herself to work, all of which are gestures intended to impress on public and public servants alike that a new day has arrived — he gives no evidence of that in his blogging, either. Gov. Palin has deeds, not just words, to prove her fiscal conservatism, but she's also aware of the power of example as a foundation for genuine leadership.

If Mr. Mirengoff has any appreciation of the difficulty in leading a reluctant legislature — which comprises both a large number of Democrats (partisan opponents) and upset old-guard Republicans (allies of the good old boys whom she displaced) — again, his writing shows no evidence of that. Gov. Palin kept her campaign promise to restructure the state severance tax on oil and gas production (which, contrary to some reports, is not a "windfall profits tax") through an open-door process of negotiations and resulting legislation, instead of a close-door sweetheart deal — thereby restoring public confidence that those taxes have been fairly arrived at. Albeit on a state-wide stage instead of a national one, Gov. Palin's restructuring of this tax that is so critical to the entire state budget was no less impressive an accomplishment than the Reagan or Bush-43 tax cuts early in each of their first terms.

And Gov. Palin has also undertaken, and succeeded in mastering, the most important and most difficult governmental challenge in Alaska, one that has deadlocked Alaska's government for years: She led an open bidding process to get underway a desperately needed cross-state natural gas pipeline. Tens of billions of dollars are at stake, as are cheap and reliable energy for Alaska's own citizens and a major accomplishment in supplying Alaskan natural gas to the lower 48 states to reduce dependence on foreign supplies of fossil fuels. But Gov. Palin not only broke the preexisting deadlock, she broke the monopoly hold of ExxonMobil, ConocoPhilips, and BP on the state's energy industry. She once again forged a bipartisan consensus with the legislature — using every tool in a governor's arsenal, including special sessions — with the result that a contract has been negotiated and signed.

Finally spurred by effective competition, the disgruntled oil giants who previously ruled the roost are now exploring their own alternative pipeline that would not rely on even partial public funding.  There is no chance that would have happened in the business-as-usual atmosphere that Gov. Palin successfully reformed. But Mr. Mirengoff is either unaware or unappreciative of how Gov. Palin — without engaging in class warfare, without demonizing anyone, and indeed while freely admitting that oil executives are just "doing their jobs" as they seek to maximize their profits — has nevertheless broken her state free of the grasp of these corporate giants, and bestirred them into action that may ultimate work to both their and the public's benefit.

If Gov. Pawlenty, or any other state governor of either party and any length of tenure, has yet done as much as Gov. Palin has to address the national energy crisis, I'm certainly unaware of that.

Paul, my friend, until you have paid attention to her actual record — which requires something other than looking at the names of the jobs she's held and counting the months she's held those jobs — you're embarrassing yourself by displaying your ignorance. You're doing reckless damage to the McCain-Palin ticket. And you're short-changing a governor of short tenure but disproportionate accomplishments.

If Gov. Palin were at the very beginning of her term, then one might disregard her approval ratings as being not very meaningful, as reflective of her campaign skills instead of her governing skills. But she's not at the beginning of her term, she's midway through it — and she still has those sky-high ratings. Is everyone in Alaska who's thrilled with Gov. Palin's performance just stupid? Or do they perhaps know things that Paul Mirengoff hasn't yet bothered to look into, or short-sightedly discounts?

Paul, I implore you to re-think. Not just to argue back at me in another post, because I'm sure you're a plenty-capable advocate, and my rebuke in this post might sting a lesser man into a reflexive counterattack. But look, or look again, at her actual accomplishments, starting with her terms as mayor and then moving forward to the present. And then give us your better-informed opinion of Gov. Palin's record as an executive. If you conclude that all the voters who've elected and re-elected her have somehow been duped, you can explain how and why. Perhaps then you'll end up persuading me.

Or perhaps we'll find ourselves in agreement after all.

Posted by Beldar at 12:59 AM in 2008 Election, McCain, Obama, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Glib dismissals of Gov. Palin's executive record are unfair and unpersuasive: A further response to Paul Mirengoff and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) craig mclaughlin made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 2:04:08 AM | Permalink

Mirengoff re Palin is like Obame re surge. He knows he's wrong but he can't admit it. I don't know if McCain and Palin can win or not, but they have a chance. Pawlenty is a sure loser. Landslide.

But to be honest Mirengoff has never wowed me with his analysis. I don't think he knows what the hell he's
talking about. Ever. About anything.

Scott Johnson is the man over there.

(2) vitalis made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 3:17:12 AM | Permalink

As a long time visitor to Powerline and a recent convert to Beldarblog, I find myself in agreement, and appreciate your respectful tone as well. After a long primary where no candidate was deemed a "true conservative", I am not surprised we don't have unanaminity on the veep selection. I find it telling though that Paul does not suggest the VP candidate that would not have Sarah's shortcomings, and no other weaknesses as well. Other than Dick Cheney or Bush 41, what Republican has the "foreign policy" chops Paul insists on? The Dems and the media have been encouraging us to reject the imperfect in the hope we will never agree on accepting the good. Let's just thank God we don't have Lieberman and concentrate on all the blessings we got with Palin. McCain wasn't my first (or second, or third...) choice, but in retrospect he probably was the only one who had a chance to win. I wasn't familiar enough with Palin to have her on my short list of favorites, but the more I learn, the better she looks at fitting the bill for this election cycle. Paul and Charles K. need to rediscover their conservative optimism.

(3) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 3:35:27 AM | Permalink

Vitalis, the answer to your question as to "what Republican has the 'foreign policy' chops Paul insists on" is obviously Condi Rice — if one is going on job titles and tenure in office. I happen to be among Secretary Rice's fans, but I know that there are many in the GOP base who don't share that view, and she would certainly not have had the effect of unifying and energizing the party the way the selection of Gov. Palin has done.

As for my tone, the respect is unfeigned. The Power Line guys have earned respect from me and others. They have many, many times the number of regular readers that I have, and I respect those readers' implied views (in exactly the way I'm gently criticizing Paul for failing to respect Alaskans' approval ratings for Gov. Palin). All three of Power Lines co-authors have been generous and cordial to me in the past (especially when we were joined in a hive consciousness with other bloggers in revealing the Rathergate forgeries), and I certainly don't want to burn any bridges with them. As men of goodwill, we can disagree, I hope, without being disagreeable.

In this, I try to take as my model Hugh Hewitt, who's consistently polite and respectful, both to allies and those of opposing views, even while offering up powerful advocacy. And in the bigger picture, I agree with the Power Line guys on far, far more than I've ever disagreed with them on.

And I'm even willing to be persuaded, or at least influenced, as I hope are they. But on this issue, in my judgment, Paul's been conclusory, not persuasive, in his analysis of Gov. Palin so far. (I've emailed him with links to these two posts, by the way, since they no longer take trackbacks.)

(4) Dan S made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 7:58:34 AM | Permalink

It will be interesting to see if Paul takes another look at Gov. Palin's record, and how that affects his thinking.

I've been a longtime Powerline reader too. As with Captain Ed (for whom I also have tremendous respect), I think format changes have affected the "product." I prefer Beldar's more in depth analysis (even when I don't agree!) than the shorter punditry that is the norm at PL and has become more Capt Ed's style with his move into the Hot Air format.

Beldar has more in common with Belmont Club in that respect. I suspect shorter writing discourages longer research and/or thinking.

And as far as Condi goes, I believe the State culture has captured her thinking. She's drifted since she took the position, with the wind; she hasn't tacked against it. To be effective at the head of State I believe you need to be combative, stubborn, and willing to make entrenched bureaucrats follow or get out. Dissent up to the point of decision is great; active resistance to decisions in place is not.

Not sure things there will improve under a McCain pick though. I could see a Bolton or Gingrich perhaps winning against that culture, not many others.

(5) Charles Harkins made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 8:03:42 AM | Permalink

I finally gave up writing to Paul and John at Power Line about my disappointment in their commentary about Sarah Palin. They have both been uniformly negative since the announcement of her pick by McCain. Scott seems more balanced.

(6) stan made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 8:04:50 AM | Permalink

This is difficult. Mirengoff and Beldar are my two favorite bloggers. In their early days, Paul quoted some of my e-mails in his posts.

I was really disappointed in the surprising criticism of Palin from Will, Krauthammer, Frum and the Powerline three. I didn't like Noonan's slam, but wasn't surprised.

I think there is probably an interesting blog post for someone with the talent to analyze why these particular pundits missed. I suspect an explanation can be found in some combination of location of residence, educational elitism, acceptance of conventional thinking about "experience" as time served, etc. [With Frum, factoring in his antipathy for Miers, I wonder if there might be a whiff of sexism involved.]

It seems that those who really appreciate Palin most and were quickest to see what a strength she would be for McCain all have a mindset that is clearly "outside the beltway". We saw something similar in the furor over Miers. Some folks, even conservatives, are too in love with resumes (perhaps their own) to see beyond the conventional wisdom on what constitutes "qualified".

For example, inside the beltway types see Joe Biden's years in the Senate as good experience. I see a fool who happens to have spent a long time in the same place without ever learning anything.

One example would be Krauthammer's contention that the Palin pick means McCain forfeited the inexperience argument as to Obama. He has that exactly backward. Palin highlights the argument and drives it home forcefully -- especially as it focuses on the difference between a doer and a talker (Obama's even bigger weakness).

There are similar type mistakes thoughout the arguments made by the naysayers from the right. I want to point out one critical factor that seems to be ignored too often -- conservative Republicans are always in danger of being captured by Washington. It clearly happened to the GOP now in Congress. This is what really has the base most distressed. McCain had to go with a genuine outsider. Palin has the best credentials imaginable to establish herself as a true outsider.

Finally, I get a sense from some of the naysayers on the right that they really don't care that much about whether McCain wins so long as he meets their expectations of proper credentials in his VP pick. It brings to mind Professor Higgins' line in My Fair Lady regarding the French -- "they don't really care what they do as long as they pronounce it properly."

(7) Dan S made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 9:01:08 AM | Permalink

John is singing a different tune than Paul.

(8) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 10:03:28 AM | Permalink

How Beatles-esque! But yes, Dan S., the three of them don't always sing in harmony, and that's another thing I respect about them and their blog. Thanks for the link!

(9) Dai Alanye made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 10:07:40 AM | Permalink

I'm as enthusiastic about Palin as anyone, but I think we should all be aware that we are pouring our hopes into her much as the naive portion of the Left earlier poured theirs into Obama.

Palin has a MUCH better record than Obama, but we still ought to be just a little cautious. Caution, however is not the same as skepticism. I've noticed a significant degree of envy on the part of certain female pundits and politicians, and wonder if the same isn't true, to some extent, on the part of certain male skeptics.

At present the McCain campaign is protecting Palin from close scrutiny by the press. I consider this a mistake from more than one point of view.

First, she will be forced to do it eventually, so why not start with some friendly interviews now? I suggest Megyn Kelly to begin with.

Second, using her only as an attack dog and McCain lead-in will diminish the brand. She is, of and by herself, a viable candidate for higher office, and it's a waste to use her in a wholly subsidiary role.

Third, once she proves herself in the question-and-answer game, Republican doubters won't have any ammunition left.

(10) rd made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 1:21:37 PM | Permalink

I'm dissappointed with Mr. Mirengoff's position. Paul was supportive of Harriet Miers. http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2005/10/011715.php

But he won't support a state governor from outside DC for VP? I do not think he understands, "Lack of DC Experience" is not a bug, it is a feature. It is why Gov. Palin is so popular.

"Maverick" McCain, has cut the legs out from under Obama's campaign slogans by demonstrating real "Hope and Change" with Palin.

Republicans in the midwest understand this and want change. We want Palin and McCain to refom DC. Throw Stevens(R) out and Reid(D) out both. Convict Cunningham(R) and Jefferson(D). We are sick of "Go along and get along." "Vote for my pork and I'll vote for yours."

I think that if McCain wins, we might have a chance to really clean up both parties, not just empty slogans like the Democrats promised in 2006.

Country Club and Establishment Republicans might not like it? Too bad!

(11) Antimedia made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 4:22:25 PM | Permalink

Krauthammer's lead argument, linked approvingly by Paul, is that the selection of Palin diminishes the value of the "no experience" argument wrt Obama.

But that ignores reality. Palin's supposed lack of experience highlights Obama's lack of experience and, as a bonus, forces the Obama campaign to argue that he has more experience than McCain's VP choice.

If that isn't a losing argument, I don't know what is. That Krauthammer (and Paul by extension) can't see that is stunning. Neither is unintelligent nor is either lacking insight. How do you explain the blind spot?

I think it's surprise and disappointment (not necessarily in that order.)

(12) AN made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 7:41:56 PM | Permalink

Beldar-great post and comments. Paul said Condi Rice is an excellent choice but I feel Tim Pawlenty, his governor, was his first choice and he got crushed. Antimedia is so right, "surprise and disappointment". I also feel Paul has a direct line to the governor. PL/Beldar - great blogs.

(13) Milhouse made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 7:58:15 PM | Permalink

Beldar, four years ago I too was a huge fan of Condi Rice. But she was sent into the jungle of the State Department with orders to tame it and bring it to heel, and instead she went native, as has nearly every Secretary of State since at least the '50s. I don't blame her for failing, since it's a tough job and many have failed before her, but fail she has. State continues to run its own foreign policy without regard to the president of the day, it continues to suck up to our enemies and stab our allies in the back. We still await someone who will go in with earplugs firmly in place, refusing to listen to the sirens, and fire everybody who shows signs of believing that the department has its own goals rather than those of the president.

Had she succeeded, she would in my opinion have waltzed into the GOP nomination, and the presidency. There might not even have been a primary. But she didn't, and now she's damaged goods. I don't think she'll get another chance.

(14) PrestoPundit made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 10:49:23 PM | Permalink

Let's remember that Thatcher had the Education portfolio in Great Britain, i.e. "no foreign policy experience." Seems like what these people want in the Naval Observatory is some sort of professor, maybe Henry Kissinger. I say nuts to that.

(15) kat-missouri made the following comment | Sep 8, 2008 12:12:08 AM | Permalink

You know what I'm disappointed in? That more bloggers haven't just gone and looked at the Alaska.gov site and fetched out some of the really interesting stuff that has been going on or looked for online news sources or blogs.

If found alaska blogs that were for and against Gov. Palin. I saw this report/opinion from 2006, two days before Palin actually took office, she came out swinging at corruption. That is why they like her up there.


(16) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Sep 8, 2008 1:09:09 AM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: I think Antimedia has it right, but I have a notion why Krauthammer, Mirengoff & Co, are disappointed. They think McC is going to kick the bucket while Prez, vaulting Sarah into the top job. So they are judging her as a #1 going in, not as #1-in-waiting. I think this is much too pessimistic. To be sure, the chances McC will kick the bucket are higher than normal, but much the same whisperings were made about Franklin Roosevelt in 1931 (though, not, characteristically, in 1943-44.) In my view, Robert Townsend had it right in his book UP THE ORGANIZATION:

"Try to find somebody in the company with a record of success (in any area) and with an appetite for the job. If he looks like 50 percent of what you need, give him the job. In six months he'll have grown the other 50 percent and everybody will be satisified."

This describes Palin. Trouble is, it describes a host of others. For me, it's Mitt Romney (who has a stronger resume than Palin.) For Mirengoff, it's Pawlenty. I don't know who Krauthammer had in mind. But they think the Veep will soon replace McC, and don't think enough of Palin. They might be right. But their real objection, given this notion, is to the head of the ticket. Here I agree with them. But the primary season is done, and McC has made his decision in picking Palin. The moving finger has writ. Time to march on---or sulk. Sulking has much appeal to me, who doesn't care much for McC, and for whom Palin was not my first pick. But all the points Mirengoff & Krauthammer raise, apply with even more force to the Democrats. The foreign situation is far too perilous to be entrusted to The One. The country can't afford the tuition for him. The experience issue for Palin is bothersome to me at least, but it's done. Those who want more experience in the Veep oughta bawl for a McC-Bush41 and an Obama-Carter ticket. That will solve the experience proble for M & K and give mass attacks of indigestion to the rest of us.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(17) Glenn made the following comment | Sep 8, 2008 5:46:16 PM | Permalink

Reference those on the right who really dislike the Palin pick, I think a major factor is that we are at war, along with the fact that McCain is old. They feel we need someone who can by C-in-C right now, and arguably, she doesn't seem to fit the bill. For someone whose first and last issue in this campaign is the GWOT, I can understand their opposition to Palin. However, she was my pick going in, and I am confident she has the right instincts and will quickly learn the issues.

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