For The Prosecution

That said, I still think Palin is monumentally unqualified for the Vice Presidency. For the defense, Joe Carter argues that Palin’s gaffes have been unfairly magnified by the media, obscuring her real qualifications:

This seems to me to be the crux of the problem: Palin, like Stockdale, is mockable on Saturday Night Live. Ergo, her “brand” is not hip and cool as is Obama’s. Like most Americans over the past several decades, younger conservatives have been raised to believe that being good on television is a virtue–perhaps even the highest virtue for a politician.

Naturally they want a candidate that looks good on TV and that won’t embarrass them as the “doddering and slow-witted” Ronald Reagan embarrassed their Gen X forebears. This is a natural inclination, but those of us raised in the first era of MTV eventually learned how wrong we were about the Gipper. Hopefully, the MySpace generation will also learn to look past the superficial impressions provided by broadcast media.

Say what? Even liberals acknowledge that Reagan was a superb political communicator. Chris Matthews, for example, devoted untold paragraphs in Hardball to praising Reagan’s skills at “wholesale politics.” Moreover, his success is a testament to the need for effective communication skills in politics. If Palin becomes irrevocably tarnished by her absurd gaffes, she won’t be taken seriously by the public as a spokeswoman for conservative values. The fact that she’s being made fun of on SNL isn’t bad because it hurts her feelings – it’s bad because it undermines her credibility on the national statge.

Carter continues:

But for most conservatives, “policy” is not a mere abstraction [. . .] Whether Palin could make the opposite case as smoothly remains to be seen. She has, however, revealed she has the character to make the right decision on such issues, even at great personal cost. This, in my view, is the core of leadership and the primary reason she is more qualified to be the chief executive than anyone on the Democratic ticket.

This formulation drives me up the wall. Character may be an important indicator of presidential performance, but it’s hardly dispositive (see, for example, FDR’s predilection for philandering; Lincoln’s racism etc). Placing character above judgment is also eerily reminiscent of movement conservatives’ love affair with George W. Bush.

If nothing else, two terms of Bush should remind us that virtue can be downright counterproductive when it’s de-coupled from sound judgment. Let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that Bush was morally correct to invade Iraq. I think most reasonable observers (read: people not writing for National Review or The Weekly Standard) would concede that any merit to the original decision was subsequently compromised by inept implementation. In other words, there’s nothing virtuous about doing the right thing if you’re unable to follow through.

So yes, Palin may have some good instincts. But those instincts are worse than useless without a nuanced understanding of the issues. Eight years of Bush are an eloquent testament to the fact that nebulous character assessments are not reliable indicators of successful leadership.


Filed under Conservatism, Foreign Policy, Presidential Politics, The Media

2 responses to “For The Prosecution

  1. Pingback: What’s that you say? «

  2. Pingback: “Plugging one’s ears and plugging one’s eyes is no way to behave in the blogosphere . . .” «

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