Wednesday, November 04, 2009


It’s a good time for a bit of retrospective. It’s one year after the election, and two biographies have come out. The force of nature which descended upon the American consciousness in August 2008 has had some opportunity to find, or make, her niche in the political landscape.

Some parts are easy, and have been said loudly and repeatedly over the last 14 months: the evidence usually cited for her lack of intelligence has been tribal and social rather than intellectual; the obsession with her sexuality from some parts of the left has been creepy, and the commonness of milder creepiness from progressives suggests some adult sexual issues of their own. Demands for obstetrical records, rape and humiliation fantasies, urban legends about rape kits and her children’s sex education – even the new collection of critical essays about her is called Going Rouge, in parody of her own biography’s title – and this is from the supposedly respectable sources. This insanity has generally been defended with some version of “She brings this on herself because she’s the sort of woman we’ve been making fun of for years. Women who side with oppressors deserve to be oppressed.”

Yet being unfairly criticised is not in itself a skill one puts forward on a resume. Dealing with unfair criticism, sure. That’s worth noting. But her selling points have been two things she will do, plus two things she promises not to. She claims to be a good manager, savvy in all real-world aspects of running things. Her short stint as governor tended to bear this out, but as she has resigned, we will have little further information. There will now be no evidence whether she’s a great manager. She’s good: she delegates, she’s strong but not doctrinaire, she watches the budget, she eschews corruption and the culture of favors. That’s a real positive, but it’s a modest one.

Next, she claims that her instincts are common-sense conservative middle American, and we can count on her to tend that way. Grand utopian visions, even of the conservative or libertarian sort, are not her style. Her conservatism is not the sort that wants to create, or even return to, a particular American Dream. Hers is the sort that wants to yank the culture out of the hands of visionaries on the other side; it is more reactive than imposing. Those other utopians aren’t even going to understand the distinction, but the rest of us should keep it in mind. This claim of Palin’s also seems to be generally true, but not dramatically so. She may not be a libertarian dreamer herself, but she does hang with some people who are. Folks who claim to be strict constitutionalists but obscure contradictions. Folks who think a few simple interventions (gold standard, flat tax, Tenth Amendment) will right the ship pretty quickly. As the oversimplifiers of the left have had a few sympathetic ears in Washington for decades, it is perhaps nice that the oversimplifiers of the right get some too. If Sarah could move us 10% in that direction, that would be nice.

The things she promises not to do or be are related, and include one extremely powerful qualification: she resists the urge to leap in and fix things just because loud people say it’s a crisis. That may sound like a modest ability, but it is actually rare and enormous. People who go into government, especially Washington, like to tinker with things and try to prove how much better off everyone is with them in charge. That was the rap against McCain and Bush on domestic issues. Campaign Finance Reform. No Child Left Behind. Even general small-government types seem unable to resist this drug. In the current context, with an administration chock-a-block full of people who want to fix things by making everyone else smarten up and fly right, a Palin-style bailout (vetoing the congressional bailout down to about 40%), a Palin-style stimulus (ditto: 30%), and a Palin-style health care reform (try it on Medicare first) would be great. That’s still her strongest point – what she won’t be.

The second won’t-do is more intriguing. She promises to be a straight shooter who will stick to her principles, by jiminy. That is easy to do in the movies, hard in real life. Her record here is more mixed. It’s no good saying that it’s an impossible tightrope to walk, and all governing involves compromise. If it’s an impossible tightrope, don’t get on it. If what you really mean is that you will stay as close to principle as possible, and some principles will be absolute, then say that. It doesn’t wow the crowds as much, but that’s the price you pay. Sarah Palin did sorta kinda take Bridge to Nowhere money before she gave it back. Sarah Palin did sorta kinda stop mentioning some principles because they weren’t McCain’s. That’s okay, nothing wrong with that. Joe Lieberman certainly did, and everyone recognises him as generally following principle. But then you can’t have quite so much of the fresh-wind-blowing aura about you. Sarah Palin can legitimately brand herself as “Look, I’m a practical woman – I appointed a pro-choice judge because she was qualified,” or legitimately brand herself as “Take America Back.” She can even try to have as much of each as possible. But if any of us chooses that last road, we must do so with full knowledge that there’s not only political risk from the instability, but personal risk to one’s principles because of the constant dissonance.

As to her intelligence, that oft-debated item, my suspicions against her have grown, though I believe the book is still out. The health insurance reform debate provided intriguing evidence on this. The Obamites went moonbat crazy at her Death Panels accusation, citing it as proof she is either stupid or deceitful. As usual, their own comments were far more stupid (or deceitful). One aspect of the end-of-life discussion question was the Democratic proposal to reimburse such discussions with your physician. It was, in effect, encouraging you to have a major voice in your own death panel. That’s a good thing, but they didn’t want to mention that end-of-life decisions necessarily involve a DP of some collection of uh, stakeholders – yourself, your family, your doctor, your insurer, government regulations, hospital ethics committees. Absent those discussions, someone other than you will be on your death panel – and the health care reform bill proposed to change the composition of that panel, elbowing out the insurers, elbowing in the government. So there was a reasonable defense of Palin’s statement. Here’s the problem: Palin didn’t make that defense, other people made it for her. She had a chance to make exactly the sort of uncomfortably honest but reasonable argument her supporters expect from her, and she didn’t use it. She doesn’t get too many more of those chances before I am forced to conclude that she’s not up to it. I’m pretty good at disregarding the unfair criticism of her, but she has to put more on the menu.


terri said...

Palin, Palin Palin.....

I used to defend her when all those "liberal" feminists tore her apart and made all sorts of sexually derogative remarks. Considering myself a mild feminist, it horrified me to read and hear the things people were saying.

The more I listened to Palin, the more I began to mildly dislike her. She feeds into the "rah rah Republicans rule" mentality. My personal preference is for people I perceive as being "reasonable".'s quite possible that's my own personal bias.

I would say, though, that the most damaging thing in my eyes was Palin's resignation. She was elected and had responsibilities to perform as governor. Giving up and quitting, especially to write a book and become a public speaker, will forever make me write her off.

I value hard work and loyalty to one's commitments, even when things are difficult and not going one's way.

She failed that test in my mind. I don't know how people can continue to see her as having leadership potential after her "cut and run" tactic with Alaska.

Der Hahn said...

Sarah Palin was not the only person uncomfortable with the possibility of reimbursing doctors for counseling patients on end-of-life issues. Charles Lane raised similar objections to section 1233 in an op-ed in the Washington Post that I think predates Palin’s Facebook post.

Palin used the example of section 1233 in a broader discussion of potential health-care rationing that included what might affect her Downs Syndrome son Trig. I don’t think anyone expects to have an end-of-life counseling session with a toddler. In this case, she was refering to comparative-effectiveness studies (some which have already been funded in the Stimulus Bill) generating lists of what treatments would be provided in a government run healthcare system, removing at least some treatment choices from the doctor and the patient.

To me, this is a more logical use of the expression ‘death panels’ and it’s what I think Sarah Palin meant. The Democrats and the news media jumped on the specific reference to section 1233 and conflated it with the pungent ‘death panel’ moniker, ignoring the more complex (and accurate, IMO) discussion of who should decide how medical resources would be distributed.

Even if you limit discussion to section 1233 specifically , I’m not sure how you get to a conclusion of ‘Palin didn’t defend herself’. She has the same defense as Obama, i.e. ‘I won.’ The Senate Finance Committee dropped the end-of-life counseling provision from the bill it was considering after she spurred the debate. (I don’t know if the language is still part of the other health care reform bills yet to be reconciled to a single bill.)

She did herself no favors by resigning from office, and because of that, I tend to be unsympathetic to the charge that she cut and ran to get rich. I doubt that any of us would be willing to withstand the scruitiny that she was getting from people willing to say practically anything damaging about her.

Der Hahn said...

Blogger ate the links, I see...

Charles Lane is here

WSJ article on comparative-effectiveness studies is here

terri said...

Der Hahn....I'm not bothered by her resignation because I think she wanted to "get rich".

I'm bothered because the people of ALaska elected her and gave her an important job to do. A governorship is a privilege. Resigning for anything other than terrible scandal, personal misfortune, or serious illness is simply ridiculous.

If Mark Sanford can keep his governorship and have everything blow over in the media...than surely Sarah Palin could have.

As far as not wanting to be scrutinized....I fail to see how becoming a public figure and making public appearances will lessen the scrutiny.

Count Grecula said...

Very good analysis. You give voice to the rising discomfort I have with her- especially here lack of counter-argument to those who questioned the "death panels" language. If she ever wants to have mass appeal, she needs to show that she can continue and manage a real argument and/or discussion. Talk radio/Fox bomb throwing won't cut it for a critical number of people. As they say, some of my best friends are bomb throwers, but there has to be more. All of our effort can't be expended defending her. Or can it? Wasn't Regan widley mocked? I don't see her as a Regan though- not yet.

Gringo said...

One point about her remaining in office is that she had to deal with IIRC 15-18 spurious ethics charges, none of which she lost, but for all of which she had to pay legal expenses out of her own pocket.

I doubt that Governor Sanford had to deal with all that.

That is reason enough to get out.

Correct me it I am wrong.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Gringo, I agree. But it leaves us with no further info available.

Der Hahn, thank you for the links. I will reconsider my position.

Anonymous said...

"As to her intelligence..."

Looking at the records of FDR's brain trust, JFK's & LBJ's best and the brightest, and Obama's Czars, please, please let us be governed by the modest, regardless of intelligence. They are proof that intelligence is least valuable trait in officials.

"Resigning for anything other than terrible scandal, personal misfortune, or serious illness is simply ridiculous."

Wow. You must really hate Obama.

terri said...


Maybe I'm more modest than intelligent....because I can't make any sense of your comment to me.

J.L. said...


I was immediately intrigued by the topic of this posting, and read with interest your comments. As usual, you were very articulate and presented some interesting points. I was drawn to this posting because I really think the issue of Sarah Palin, both her pros and cons, should be looked at by those on the right. (I consider myself in that group.)

I previosuly wrote a longer post on the subject of Palin over at Neo-Neocon's blog, which can be found here:

The post at neo's site goes more deeply into my thoughts, but my basic point is that I have mixed feeling about her. I found her to be quite exciting when she first came out, and I still find a lot to like about her. But, I continue to be preplexed that those on the right, like myself, seen to be passing over the question of what appear to me to be some clear shortcomings. Indeed, some on the right seem to right treat some of these as being positives rather than negatives. And, believe me I say this with great respect... I have no idea why such are being treated that way.

For example, the reaction that the meainstream media have had, and those on the left as well, that Palin seemed unprepared for certain interviews and seemed caught off guard. Now, I understand the desire to defend a fellow conservative against the slings and arrows of liberal journalists and pundits, but . . isnt the ability to articulate an agenda and to respond to propr questions regarding such an important component for someone seeking to be vice-president (or, in the futur, president)? Is it really a "tribal" reaction to be concerned that someone who appears to be either not well informed, or at least not able to summon up the data she has obtained, may be a heartbeat away from the leadership of the free world?

I cannot agree with Anonymous that:

"Looking at the records of FDR's brain trust, JFK's & LBJ's best and the brightest, and Obama's Czars, please, please let us be governed by the modest, regardless of intelligence. They are proof that intelligence is least valuable trait in officials."

Intelligence, not important? Thats like saying that, because one doesnt like where a previous pilot flew this jumbo jet called America, that we should just let any non-pilot have a go at it. Although I agree with the need for modesty, intelligence does matter. More importantly, competence and stability matter (and resigning so shortly into a term of office doesnt recommend her for either trait).

In any case, Im not trying to be harsh. I'm writing this with great respect for your thinking and writing, AVI. But, I guess because I have so much respect for you, I'm hoping you will give me a good well-reasoned response to my concerns, as a fellow righty. As I noted in my comment at Neo's blog, I am very willing to give her a chance. I think she may well grow into the job. But, I am also concerned that she is not yet ready, and that the right is falling into a trap by supporting someone who is appealing because she is so clearly not of the left, and because we have sympathy for her because she was attacked by the left.

Am I wrong? Am I not seeing something? If so, please tell me. I appreciate your thinking on this.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

J.L. - As you can see, I have been tending toward your POV on this. However, I have great respect for Der Hahn's observations. He has been a more independent thinker than most folks I encounter, and seems to back up his views with data. I encourage you to check out his links.

If it makes any difference, I am really, really hoping that Judd Gregg leaving the Senate in 2010 means he is running for president in the NH primary. He would absolutely have my vote over anyone else I could name.

J.L. said...


I appreciate your response. I hope I didnt come accross as harsh or excessively critical. Once my mind gets on a roll about something, I can go on and on about it.

I will look at Der Hahn's links. I'm interested in any info I can get regarding politics in these difficult times.

monica said...

I agree. She was trusted with an important job of governorship..she was trusted by people that she will deliver results..but she resigned!disappointing!