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September 04, 2008



The danger of Palin being so negative is that she's 1)relatively high profile within the McCain campaign and 2)she's relatively undefined to the electorate - she can't get away with gaffes the way, for example, McCain can. McCain can refer to the Czech Republic as Czechoslovakia a couple times, confuse Shia and Sunni from time to time, refer to the Iraq-Pakistan border, and it gets a few laughs and a couple slams from the left but mostly the narrative of him as a strong foreign policy man withstands it because it's an indelible part of his public persona. Some gaffes are probably inevitable even if the McCain campaign tries to minimize her interviews, so her strongest defense (other than repeatedly demonstrating a grasp of the facts) is to be too likable for people to tolerate aspersions on her competence. If Palin makes those kinds of mistakes while being seen as an attack dog, she'll quickly cement as Dan Quayle for the 21st century.

Joyless Moralist

We watched the speech (on TV, not in person, though we're actually only a few miles away.) I can see the complaint about substance, though it wasn't totally devoid of issue-talk, and anyway she legitimately had other things to address. I did think the speech was quite funny and clever. But of course, you couldn't very well judge *her* on the content of the speech, since she didn't write it; what you might judge her on is delivery, and on that score I thought she was fantastic. She has poise, no question about it. She's down-to-earth without seeming stupid or demure, and she's got a sort of spunky vibe that allows her to be forceful without just seeming bitter and mean. She laughs a lot, and it's a natural-sounding laugh. That may come in handy in her debate with Biden -- it would be nice if she could make him look like a stiff.

So many politicians come across in these speeches as wooden and insincere-sounding, like third-rate TV actors (Al Gore personified this almost perfectly -- I half think that's why Clinton picked him, because it made him look so good in comparison.) Palin looked totally natural, like she was in her element. We'll have to see how she does in the debates etc., but last night she was definitely on.


There's also the small problem that many of her actual claims and attacks were untrue. The tax item is true in an average sense because of the reversion to 1990s top-line rates, but for incomes less than 250k the Obama tax break is bigger than the McCain tax break. Of course, the actual burdens of those taxes are murkier, but them's the facts - which are in fact pretty easy to discover if you wish to look rather than just assume that Obama hasn't described his tax plans.

More silly were claims like "this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or even a reform, not even in the state senate." I guess one could try to say that this is arguably true because of the insertion of the word "major" - if one can just define major as one pleases, then I suppose that there's no danger of definitive contradiction. But really, was the 2007 ethics reform not a major reform? Obama wrote part of it, and ethics reform is one of the major citations Palin makes on her own behalf. And anyway, there's another several hundred other items to dismiss as too minor to count:

Also, Obama has only written one memoir - two fewer than McCain. Really, it's just so much sneering.

Then she repeated the whole Bridge to Nowhere thing *again*. Sorry, but there's ample record that she supported the BtN until 2007. She also said she opposed earmarks, but her history is strewn with them. I mean, I did a calculation and the federal earmarks she requested as mayor works out to almost $4000 per resident, and her state retains the crown for highest per-capita special federal funding.

I can only presume that they're waiting for the media to pick apart these ridiculous claims so that they can support their "the media is persecuting us" narrative. I don't think it will work. It sounded great inside the no-questions-asked convention hall but somehow I doubt it will convince those who haven't already decided to vote for McCain, unless it's those on the evangelical right.

Nathan Smith

Didn't Obama write two memoirs-- *Dreams of My Father* and *The Audacity of Hope*? Maybe the latter is more than a memoir, but also the expression of a political philosophy, but I think the same would go for McCain's books. Of course, McCain is one of those rare individuals whose life is inherently interesting enough to be worth writing about (whereas Obama's, from what I hear, might be justified by his writing ability-- like Marcel Proust). The bottom line, though, is that Obama's writing about himself seems like a sign of narcissism. Nobody gets a narcissism vibe from McCain.

As for the Bridge to Nowhere thing... I took her at her word when I first heard her say it, because she sounded like too much of a hick to lie about it. Not that she lied; she did eventually say "thanks but no thanks," if you want to put it that way, and "Don't misleadingly omit things" is not an actionable rule for life, the way "Don't lie" is. So I'd say it's not, quite, illegitimate for her to take credit for it on the stump, but it's... dicey. It makes her look smarter, in a way, than I thought at first, which is reassuring-- she's enough of a politician to repackage events and spin, which is sometimes a helpful skill-- but it makes her look slippery, too.

On fiscal policy, neither campaign looks very good. As far as I can tell, both are guilty of fuzzier math than Bush ever was. Clinton promised a middle class tax cut, won the election, and immediately reversed himself. If voters-- or Palin-- think Obama's middle class tax cut is not credible, I think they're probably right. One question is: will Republican attacks on Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal stick? And if so, why? Is it that Republican unscrupulousness will pay off? Or is it that Obama's... let's not say "lying," but... permitting of a certain gap to open between his rhetoric and the predictable policy evolution under an Obama administration... and voters see through it, with a little civic-minded Republican assistance?

But enough hemming and hawing. There's a good, simple reason that people are likely to believe Palin's charge that Obama's tax cuts are a bluff and he's really a tax-and-spend liberal. Bush was a tax cutter. Obama and the Democrats are constantly attacking Bush. If Obama and the Democrats are against Bush, it's logical, whatever they say, that they're against tax cuts. If they were really for tax cuts, they should say, "Bush cut taxes! That's good! We wouldn't cut taxes in quite the same way as Bush did, but a lot of his tax cuts were good ideas. We'll match his offer and raise him!"

Being credibly pegged as tax-and-spend liberals is the price the Democrats legitimately pay for trying to capitalize on misguided public disillusionment with Bush.


Bush likes broccoli. The Democrats are against Bush. Therefore, the Democrats are against broccoli. That's rock solid reasoning right there. I also hear the Democrats want to lose wars, kill children, support terrorists, and destroy Christmas. Thank God for inherently interesting, un-narcissistic, slippery-ly smart, scrupulous, civic-minded Republicans!

Nathan Smith

Uh, broccoli is not a political issue. (And that was the other Bush.) But I know Tom's just mouthing off here.

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