Tag Archives: Palin

Preemptive Strikes



Via the Girlfriend.

UPDATE: Oh goodness, they’re not alone – 64% of Republicans want Palin in 2012.


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Answer the Question

At the American Spectator, Jay Homnick defends Palin’s inability to name a single Supreme Court case other than Roe:

In a pre-debate forum on CNN, a number of participants were jabbing Palin for being unable to tell Katie Couric of a single Supreme Court decision other that Roe v. Wade that she disliked. At this point Klein jumped in to trump them with a much more substantive critique. What was so embarrassing, he said, was that she disagreed with Roe but stated that she believed there is a right to privacy in the Constitution. This despite the fact that the decision in Roe v. Wade was based on the premise that there is a Constitutional right to privacy! None of the other panelists challenged Klein on this point. The viewer was left to conclude that only a neophyte or an airhead could think both those things were true.

In truth, Klein is unmasked as an idiot, as behind the times, behind the learning curve and completely out of touch. (I don’t include “boorish,” because he needs no unmasking in that area: simply read any of his columns at random.) The sitting Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, believes that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided but that a right to privacy does exist.

This trite “right back at you” formulation doesn’t do a thing to enhance Palin’s credibility. Incidentally, I agree completely with Homnick on the privacy issue, but of course Joe Klein’s views on constitutional jurisprudence are completely irrelevant to the election. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, may become Vice President in just over a month. As John McCain’s second, I imagine she’ll have some input on possible Supreme Court appointees. If – God forbid – she takes over as President, she’ll be the one making Supreme Court appointments. All this suggests she should have some familiarity with our constitutional history.

The Palin pick has forced conservatives to go to absurd lengths to defend the governor’s qualifications, no matter how foolish her public statements may be. The flubbed Bush Doctrine response, for example, provoked howls of outrage from the Right, who rushed to assure us that the issue was simply too complex (I thought Bush didn’t do nuance?) to explain in such a short Q&A segment. Never mind the fact that anyone reasonably acquainted with our nation’s foreign policy should be able to at least summarize the controversy. Never mind the fact that Palin’s deer-in-the-headlights look and incoherent response revealed all you need to know about her own ignorance.

Now that we’ve finished applauding Palin for “clearing” the bar (small hurdle? slight incline? bump in the road?) during last night’s debate, perhaps we should go back to the question of her fitness for the Vice Presidency. No one doubts her talent for political theater, but – doggone it! – her substantive responses were like a parody of GOP talking points. “Wave the white flag of surrender?” Really? Perhaps she scribbled that one on her palms with magic marker right before the thing started.

Granted, Biden doesn’t have much to recommend either, but at least he projects a sense of minimal competency. Having never been president (you don’t say?), I can’t speak to the demands of office, but I get the sense that the day-to-day administrative stuff is pretty far-removed from our ideological dogfights. I don’t mean to imply that ideology is unimportant. However, Bush’s response to Katrina suggests that crisis management can sometimes be evaluated on its own merits rather than through some absurd ideological prism. In other words, if Palin is incompetent, the right instincts won’t matter on a whole host of issues that rarely get talked about during our intensely partisan election season.

Political considerations dictate Palin stay in the race – anyone who thinks McCain would risk an Eagleton ’72 scenario is kidding themselves – but her ability to govern is still lacking in any category except political theatrics. Mainstream conservatives have fallen for her head over heals so I’m sure Palin will have a bright future on the talk radio circuit, but that does little to reassure me she’s prepared for the Vice Presidency.

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Sarah Palin may have completely flubbed her latest interview, but I like to think the Israeli flag in her office is a secret homage to Michael Chabon fans.

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Well Said

I have a frustrating relationship with the Corner: I can’t stop reading them entirely, but NRO’s authors have a tendency to drive me up the wall. Kathryn Jean Lopez is one their worst offenders, but I’ll be damned if she isn’t right on the money here:

Anyway, I guess I’ve heard the script and would like to see her [Palin] tell a little more of her story — of why she’s a conservative and how she’ll influence the ticket from that perspective. I’d love to hear more about what she did in Alaska and why she believes that makes her the perfect addition to the ticket. I’m curious what kind of influence she’d like to have on the Republican party’s future.

Hot damn, girl! As someone who is tentatively encouraged by Palin’s reformist tendencies, I couldn’t agree more. Even by our attenuated standards, the vacuousness of the Hannity interview is astounding. Here, for example, is Palin on the economy:

“Through reform, absolutely. Look at the oversight that has been lack, I believe, here at the 1930s type of regulatory regime overseeing some of these corporations. And we’ve got to get a more coordinated and a much more stringent oversight regime…government can play a very, very appropriate role in the oversight as people are trusting these companies with their life savings, with their investments, with their insurance policies, and construction bonds, and everything else.

Palin on the roots of our current crisis:

I think the corruption on Wall Street. That’s to blame. And that violation of the public trust. And that contract that should be inherent in corporations who are spending, investing other people’s money, the abuse of that is what has go to stop.”

On reforming the system:

“Yes it is gridlock and that’s ridiculous. That’s why we don’t have an energy policy, that’s why there hasn’t been the reform of the abuse of the earmark process. And real reform is tough, and you do ruffle feathers along the way. But John McCain has that streak of independence in him that I think is very, very important in America today in our leadership. I have that within me also. And that’s why John McCain tapped me to be a team of mavericks, of independents coming in there without the allegiances to that cronyism, to that good ole’ boy system. I’m certainly a Washington outsider and I’m proud of that because I think that that is what we need also.”

Hannity’s no scholar, so perhaps Palin was constrained by the venue’s limitations (I can imagine her handler’s pre-interview brief now: “Try to keep your word choice at three syllables or less, repeat variations of “maverick” and “independent” whenever possible, praise “Main Street” etc. etc.). But I’m still left in awe of the sheer meaninglessness of it all. What does “1930s type regulatory structure” even mean, and how do you propose to fix it? Are bad investments really “a violation of the public trust?” To me, at least, that suggests a pretty broad conception of corporate responsibility. What exactly does that entail?

But this line takes the cake: “John McCain has that streak of independence in him that I think is very, very important in America today in our leadership. I have that within me also. And that’s why John McCain tapped me to be a team of mavericks, of independents coming in there without the allegiances to that cronyism, to that good ole’ boy system.”

Growing up, one of my favorite science fiction novels was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. The book follows the efforts of a small group of scientists to preserve civilization amidst the decline and fall of the Galactic Empire. When the outer provinces lapse into barbarism and declare independence, the scientists (who live on the fringe of the Milky Way) are abruptly cut off from Imperial protection. They seek assurances from a foppish Imperial envoy, Lord Dorwin, that the Empire will continue to defend their planet. Dorwin, who turns out to be a preternaturally skilled diplomat, proceeds to allay their fears of Imperial abandonment. After he departs, the scientists review Lord Dorwin’s comments and belatedly realize that the canny envoy avoided making any firm commitment to their defense. Lord Dorwin, in short, was a master of saying nothing.

After reading the Hannity transcript, I can only wonder if Palin is a closet Asimov fan.

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The Last Gasp?

Over the past few months, I’ve occasionally read The Next Right, the group blog of several young Republican strategists intent on revitalizing the conservative movement’s tired infrastructure. Because I’m not a mainstream conservative, I can’t say I’m terribly sympathetic to their goals, but I do enjoy the occasional wonky post on Republican electoral strategy.

On the other hand, the site rarely (if ever) discusses the core tenets of the movement’s governing philosophy (an oversight that prompted John Schwenkler to dub the project “The Last Gasp”). This has always struck me as rather short-sighted, and not just because I’m frustrated by the conservative movement’s ideological uniformity. Here, for example, is John Henke on why Republican activists should emulate the Left’s new infrastructure:

These outside groups have long existed, but the rise of the new media has accelerated the Left’s political machine. The organic elements, such as Moveon.org, Daily Kos, MyDD, Atrios, Talking Points Memo, etc, arose between 1998-2003, and they have been reinforced since then by very savvy, cultivated elements, such as the Center for American Progress, Media Matters, the Center for Independent Media and many more.

The Left has taken their existing coalition and grassroots-based infrastructure, and combined it with this new internet-based Progressive Infrastructure to move messaging, mobilization and money into more effective channels.

Now, I don’t mean to romanticize (or exaggerate) the Left’s ideological vigor. The websites and organizations Henke mentions are all undoubtedly partisan, and their output reflects a distinctly liberal political bent. But the failure of the Bush years, the Iraq War, and any number of other policy disputes have provoked an ongoing dialog on the Left that encouraged the development of ideological institutions like DailyKos, the Center for American Progress, and the Center for Independent Media. Had you mentioned the term “progressive infrastructure” to a knowledgeable political observer circa 1999 or even 2001, you probably would have been met with a blank stare. Now, however, even conservatives grudgingly concede that liberals are ahead of the curve when it comes to cutting edge political organization.

The competing diarists at Kos, the open threads hosted by Atrios, and organs like the Center for Independent Media’s Washington Independent are all part of a broader political environment that helps foment not just electoral strategy, but actual policy. I doubt the Democratic Party’s current progressive incarnation would have developed had liberal activists not received both ideological and tactical ammunition from a nascent progressive infrastructure.

For the purposes of this post, the empirical validity of progressive policies is irrelevant. My point is simply that the Democratic Party’s ideological shift has allowed it to develop more effective political messaging to react to changing circumstances (a prolonged economic downturn, the Iraq quagmire etc.). The Right’s own political infrastructure, on the other hand, can barely survive without a compelling central message. The Republican Party has been riven by serious ideological divisions, from the libertarian revivalism of Ron Paul to the economic populism of Mike Huckabee. McCain’s nomination (and Palin’s subsequent emergence) may have papered over these differences, but their campaign has quickly degenerated a referendum on Barack Obama’s cultural “otherness,” not a serious debate on the merits of limited government. What’s worse, this was obviously the only plausible strategy for a Republican victory. If the Democrats had nominated a less objectionable candidate, would any of these tired cultural appeals have resonated with the general public?

So by all means, argue over campaign organization, “micro-targeting,” and “selection bias.” But remember that your competitor’s gleaming infrastructure emerged in the wake of real ideological turmoil, a process that resulted in both strategic and policy shifts within the Democratic Party. Until Republicans re-examine their approach to governance in the wake of Bush, I fear that The Next Right is little more than a rearguard action.


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The Future of NATO, continued

In response to my earlier post, a friend writes (via g-chat):

you realize the nato charter commits us to nothing, right?

it allows collective self-defense

“as we deem necessary” – we get to choose

i say let russia in too

it is a non-binding and irrelevant organization that does not, in just about any real way, limit our sovereignty
not to mention
that Putin said the exact same thing about every eastern/baltic state
and so did yeltsin
and so did gorbachev
and yet NATO and the EU have expanded
Again, I find it extremely difficult to imagine the United States refusing to extend military aid to a NATO ally under Russian attack. Invoking Article 5 after the September 11th attacks sets a clear precedent that treats an attack on one member as an attack against the alliance. Here’s how NATO Secretary-General George Robertson explained the treaty’s collective security arrangement after September 11:
The secretary-general added: “The (NATO) Council agreed that if it is determined that this was an attack directed from abroad against the United States, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article V of the Washington Treaty, which states that an attack against one ally is an attack against them all.”
Would that interpretation get thrown out the window if Georgia joins the alliance and Russia attacks? Are we implicitly conceding that there are two tiers of NATO membership – one for Very Important Countries who merit defending and another for peripheral members in Eastern Europe and the Caucuses? Treating collective security as optional anywhere east of Berlin is an effective way of ruining NATO’s military credibility, but I’m not sure what it does to actually deter Russia.
One also has to imagine the political context of a McCain presidency. McCain’s aggressive pose has been greeted with rapt approval by the political right, who evidently regard any diplomatic concession as tantamount to appeasement. If McCain lets Georgia (or Ukraine) into NATO to deter Russian aggression, would he really have the political wherewithal to back down from a confrontation with Putin, even if Article 5 doesn’t explicitly require a military response? Given his absurd posturing on the subject, I doubt it.
Granted, my friend is correct to point out that political doomsayers have long predicted NATO expansion will provoke Russian retaliation. A couple of things have changed since the 1990s, however:
  1. We’re not talking about NATO membership for Poland or even the Baltics anymore – we’re talking about the Ukraine and Georgia. Whether we like it or not, Putin seems to consider both countries within Russia’s informal sphere of influence. Georgia and Ukraine have deep cultural and ethnic ties to Russia that pre-date Soviet imperialism. Their close geographic proximity is another factor to consider.
  2. 2008 is quite different from 1998. Sky-rocketing oil revenues, more military spending, cyber-attacks on Estonia, and the recent Georgia incursion all suggest that Russia is much more assertive than it was a decade ago.

If you think NATO should become a non-binding organization that enhances civil-military relations and meets to discuss counter-terrorism and collective security, that’s fine. But that’s not how John McCain (and evidently Sarah Palin) see things. They view it as a military alliance intended to deter Soviet Russian aggression. And that’s a really bad idea.

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Not Ready For Prime Time

Via TPM and The Corner, I see that Sarah Palin favors granting Georgia and Ukraine NATO membership:

GIBSON: Would you favor putting Georgia and Ukraine in NATO?

PALIN: Ukraine, definitely, yes. Yes, and Georgia.

GIBSON: Because Putin has said he would not tolerate NATO incursion into the Caucasus.

PALIN: Well, you know, the Rose Revolution, the Orange Revolution, those actions have showed us that those democratic nations, I believe, deserve to be in NATO.

Putin thinks otherwise. Obviously, he thinks otherwise, but…

GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn’t we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

PALIN: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you’re going to be expected to be called upon and help.

National Review’s Mark Hemingway explains her position thusly:

Once they’re in NATO and if they’re attacked, we might — stress might — have to defend them. But obviously a major part of the reasoning in letting them join NATO is that it might make Russia less likely to attack, no?

I hate to piss in Hemingway’s cheerios, but if a NATO member is attacked, we’re obligated to provide military assistance. From the text of the North Atlantic Treaty:

Article 5

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force . . .

Incidentally, this very clause was invoked after September 11th to justify NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan. If Article 5 authorizes a NATO military response to a stateless terrorist group operating outside of the North Atlantic region, I find it difficult to imagine the United States wiggling out of providing direct military assistance to a NATO member under Russian attack.

Hemingway’s second point is slightly more plausible. After all, NATO’s collective military strength is impressive (although if we’re not obligated to provide military assistance, NATO membership isn’t as valuable a deterrent as Hemingway assumes). But I’m sure I’m not the first person to suggest that adding several far-flung members undermines the credibility of NATO’s Article 5 security guarantees. If Russia perceives the United States as unwilling or unable to effectively defend Georgia and the Ukraine, NATO’s deterrent is functionally irrelevant. Would the public really support a war against a former superpower armed with nuclear weapons over Georgia? I doubt it, and I don’t fancy fighting the Russians in South Ossetia to preserve the credibility of the United States’ security guarantees. Bismark’s famous maxim about the Balkans not being worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier comes to mind.

Extending NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine puts the United States in a strategic vice: if we respond forcefully, we risk a wider war with Russia. If we fail to respond at all, other NATO members will quickly take note and cease to rely on the U.S. alliance. Ironically enough, this outcome would probably encourage further Russian aggression in Eastern and Central Europe, as the United States’ security guarantees would cease to pose a credible deterrent.

UPDATE: It’s also worth noting that Hemingway is wrong about Obama and Biden’s positions on expanding NATO membership. The statement he reproduces only states that Biden favors “. . . MAPs [Membership Action Plans] to Georgia and Ukraine at the next NATO meeting in December.” A Membership Action Plan, of course, is not the same as full NATO membership. It’s a precursor to joining the alliance that provides a set of political, legal, and military criteria that must be met by the aspirant country before the alliance considers extending full membership. I hate to accuse Joe Biden of nuance, but allowing Georgia and Ukraine to pursue Membership Action Plans gives the United States a lot more flexibility that unconditionally offering NATO membership. Similarly, Obama’s statement on NATO expansion offers no firm commitment:

I welcome the desire and actions of these countries to seek closer ties with NATO and hope that NATO responds favorably to their request, consistent with its criteria for membership. Whether Ukraine and Georgia ultimately join NATO will be a decision for the members of the alliance and the citizens of those countries, after a period of open and democratic debate.

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