Work intrudes, so blogging will be light today.
Here’s David Edelstein’s lovely Paul Newman remembrance.
Populism can be a necessary corrective, but it also has a tendency to amplify our worst instincts. Here, for example, is Sarah Palin on conservative talk radio, reaching heretofore unknown levels of sheer vacuousness:
It’s time that normal Joe six-pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency, and I think that that’s kind of taken some people off guard, and they’re out of sorts, and they’re ticked off about it, but it’s motivation for John McCain and I to work that much harder to make sure that our ticket is victorious, and we put government back on the side of the people of Joe six-pack like me, and we start doing those things that are expected of our government, and we get rid of corruption, and we commit to the reform that is not only desired, but is deserved by Americans.
What’s this, you say? That excerpt isn’t from InterviewPalin.com? Nope – here’s Palin on the economy:
Todd and I, heck, we’re going through that right now even as we speak, which may put me again kind of on the outs of those Washington elite who don’t like the idea of just an everyday working class American running for such an office.
I’m thinking geez, the rest of America, they’re facing the exact same thing that we are. We understand what the problems are. It’s why I have all the faith in the world that John McCain is the right top of any ticket at this point to get us through these challenges. It’s a good balanced ticket where he’s got the experience, and he’s got the bipartisan approach that it’s going to take to get us through these challenges. And I have the acknowledgement and the experience of going through what America is going through.
It gets better. Here’s the “question” on foreign affairs:
HH: Governor, let’s close with some foreign affairs. It is reported that you had an Israeli flag in your governor’s office. You wore an Israeli flag pin occasionally. One, is that true? And two, why your support for Israel?
SP: Well, it is true, and I ran into Shimon Peres recently at a meeting, and he even pointed that out. He said I saw a picture of you on the internet, and you had an Israeli flag in your state government office, and I said I sure do. You know, my heart is with you. And all of those trials and tribulations throughout history that Israel has gone through, not only does that allow me to want to support that country, but Israel is our strongest and most important ally in the Middle East. And they are a democratic country who I believe deserves our support, and I know that John McCain believes as I do that Israel is our friend, and we need to be there to support them. They are there for us, and I do love that country.
To be fair to Palin, the segment on abortion did touch on some specifics (a cynic might call it cultural signaling). The interview was also intended for a friendly audience, so I certainly wasn’t expecting a harsh interrogation. But the emptiness of it all continues to astound. Here is a woman who has perfected the art of saying nothing.
On the economy, she wants to “[put] government back on the side of Joe Sixpack.” On foreign affairs, Israel is our “friend” and “deserves our support.” Hardly controversial statements – but are voters supposed to draw conclusions from this nonsense?
As an agnostic, I’m rarely incited by the culture war, but I try to respect disagreements over abortion, gay marriage and other social issues. I dislike the notion – popularized by Thomas Frank – that social conservatives are somehow duped into voting their consciences.
With Palin, however, there’s nothing more than cultural signaling. There isn’t even an attempt to put forward coherent positions on the economy or foreign affairs. Her entire political gambit is premised on the idea that voters will buy into her phony populism – issues be damned! – because of some vague assurance that she’s like you and me. Voters frequently support politicians who embody their moral convictions, but they also expect their representatives to ably defend those values in the public square.
Nominating a more accomplished social conservative – Sam Brownback comes to mind – would have offered values voters a real incentive to come out for McCain. Palin’s candidacy, on the other hand, can only be described as political trickery. You’re expected to vote Republican because you like and identify with her, not because she’s prepared for office or because she’ll be an effective spokeswoman for your values. She may be a fine governor, but Sarah Palin as Vice President is an empty pantsuit.
UPDATE II: This is also quite good.
If Sarah Palin is nothing more than an attractive vessel for John McCain’s tired talking points, shouldn’t socially conservative voters desert the ticket en masse? To me, the Palin pick says that John McCain doesn’t give a damn about his base. He thinks social conservatives can be bought off with a pretty face, a neat biography, and empty platitudes about smearing lipstick on a polar bear (or something). Does anyone honestly think that Palin will exert real influence within a McCain Administration? I’m sure she’ll be trotted out periodically to appease the base, but after this debacle, no one of consequence is going to take her seriously.
Rod Dreher writes an honest post on the probable consequences of another Great Depression. Read the whole thing, but here’s a taste:
I keep going back on forth on whether or not I support the proposed bailout. But I’m thinking a lot these days about my children, and how they would fare if they spent their childhoods in a Depression, as my father did (my mom was born in 1943, so she missed it). I think the lasting damage the Depression did to my dad was the absence of his father, who was away for years, working construction jobs where he could get them, sending money home to feed his family. My grandfather was robbed of much of his two boys’ childhoods, because he had no choice but to travel for work. That could happen to me. That could happen to you. Conservatives should ask ourselves whether risking a collapse of the currrent economic and civil order is worth holding fast to principles. Phrased that way, the answer would likely be no, and I don’t mean to beg the question. It could be that we’ve gotten so strung out that only crash therapy can return us to reality. I honestly don’t know. I wish the way ahead were clear, and that we had leaders we could trust to get us there.
Although I view the crisis through a different ideological lens, I certainly sympathize with many of these concerns. But an attachment to principle provides an equally pragmatic reason for voting against the bailout. Forcing the market to absorb a necessary financial corrective may be harsh, but it’s a hell of a lot better than creating a massive moral hazard that could exponentially magnify the problem ten or twenty years down the road. Unfortunately, I have no idea if this is the correct decision-making calculus, and while I’m reluctant to defer to our establishment’s hysterical plea for more money faster, I have little to offer in the way of plausible alternatives.
David Brooks is angry:
And let us recognize above all the 228 who voted no — the authors of this revolt of the nihilists. They showed the world how much they detest their own leaders and the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed. They did the momentarily popular thing, and if the country slides into a deep recession, they will have the time and leisure to watch public opinion shift against them.
I have my own doubts about the opposition’s nobility of purpose, but is Brooks really prepared to argue that people like Marcy Kaptur didn’t have serious concerns about the bailout’s feasibility? Or do we now equate nihilism with a suspicion of hastily-conceived billion-dollar giveaways? With that in mind, here are a couple of useful tips for reducing the establishment’s credibility gap the next time we’re faced with a crisis:
1.) Per Daniel Larison, don’t repeatedly cry wolf and then expect us to take you seriously. After nearly eight years of fruitless warfare, amber alerts, indefinite detention, and incompetent management, we’re all a lot less likely to give any administration the benefit of the doubt (see also Andrew Sullivan’s latest column):
Even if the warnings of disaster were exaggerated, as I think they were and are, it can only further sap confidence in government that the nation’s political leadership and top technocrats bungled their handling of another vital issue. Populist backlash can stop poor legislation, but populists are still in no position to replace failed authorities, which suggests such a deep rift between the government and the public that the government cannot expect consent for anything controversial and the public has no faith in government promises.
For much of the time this rift goes unnoticed, but when the government needs to tap into a reserve of public trust — and wield moral authority for what it claims is necessary action in a crisis — it finds itself burdened instead by the toxic assets of all its past abuses of trust and power.
2.) Make the process more accountable and transparent. I’ll outsource this one to Thoreau at Unqualified Offerings (emphasis mine):
However strong the arguments for some sort of economic intervention might be, Greenwald nails all the problems with the way this has unfolded in the past few weeks. There may very well be some Ideal Platonic Bailout Bill that is right and proper and produces rainbows and puppies and punishes the wicked while protecting the innocent but deceived. The process we’ve seen over the past few weeks seems exceedingly unlikely to deliver anything remotely close to that.
UPDATE: But wait – this time the government’s diagnosis of the problem was absolutely correct the sky still hasn’t fallen! And to think some of us blithely assumed the administration couldn’t possibly do more to undermine its own credibility . . .
UPDATE II: In fairness, I should also note that economic hysteria is a bipartisan affair.
TNR’s Eve Fairbanks:
That shows what a political vote this was, but it also highlights an increasingly dominant House dynamic: the rise of the conservatives, what a friend calls the proponents of “free trade, libertarianism, true free markets, freedom from government intervention in a wide range of sectors, true, rock-ribbed, hard core conservatism,” led by younger Reps. Jeb Hensarling and Mike Pence. Hensarling and Pence flexed their muscles and showed their power by opposing this bill. Most of this year’s retirements are from the more moderate wing of the party, which is feeling less and less comfortable in the House these days.