Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reading the Palin/Couric Interview

TWR ENDED ITS PREVIOUS post with a claim that it had no interest in telling people who to vote for. In the days since Alaska governor Sarah Palin's interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric, TWR has changed its mind.

Before the interviews, we here at TWR headquarters were willing to entertain the notion that Governor Palin was capable and intelligent, if inexperienced and misguided. But after watching both segments of her interview with Couric, it's clear that the Alaska governor's dominoes are missing some dots.

As a semiotic text, the interview was a study in the politics of scrambling. Believing she was bolstered by her bump in the polls, her affiliation with McCain, and her righteousness, Governor Palin was no doubt convinced was fitted with a kind of protective armor a fellow cute female couldn't pierce. No Seymour Hirsch, no Sam Donaldson, Couric is about as far from a bulldog as one can get, and yet, even she found herself stifling growls and howls at some of Palin's remarks.

David Brooks, George Will and other conservative columnists have intimated that Palin should drop out of the race for the good of the GOP. And, most recently, the National Review's Kathleen Parker argues that even issues of gender have to take back seat in this regard:

Only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.

On one hand, it's easy to understand why conservatives--even middle of the road Americans--might "like" Ms. Palin. They see themselves in her, and in so doing, believe that she will represent their interests. But, that's what congress is for. The president and vice-president must lead. They must articulate, and they must envision. Knee-deep in a disastrous war and on the brink of the most cataclysmic financial shock wave in nearly a century, it's obvious what the toll can be when one's leaders are neither articulate nor visionary.

When one reads the interview, one sees not guile, nor even, really, scary conservatism. One sees an amateur. One sees fear, and one sees a narrowness of scope. Capable neither of thinking through an issue or constructing a persona that would command respect in the face of uncertainty, Ms. Palin made thousands of hearts sink as viewers imagined her in high-level talks with foreign leaders or, even worse, in the chambers of the senate. Folksy affability should not be a criterion for president. The stakes are too high.

In the debate on Friday, John McCain claimed he does not need on the job training. Good thing, because his running mate does.


  1. Palin sucks. Perhaps Katie Couric might be a better pick--she certainly schooled Sarah in this interview. Or, seeing as PTA experience seems to be enough to please many Republicans, maybe my Mom might be willing to step in. I'll have to ask if she's available.

  2. Hi Dean--

    I'm sure you're right. I'm sure all my friends and respected colleagues are right. I'm sure my Mom's right. Palin is a terrible, terrible idea. Right.

    But ok, I'm still not sure. Shouldn't a v.p. pretty much be responsible for going around, shaking people's hands, providing a bit of entertainment for the masses (medias)? Are we so used to Cheney's hands on the reins of power that we expect future v.p.'s to wield the same demonic control?

    Remember the great days of Dan Quayle? Now there's an idiot worth being v.p., and my gosh, we survived 4 heady years of it! And truth to tell, it was wonderful and not terribly damaging. (George Bush was another story altogether.) After all, what did Quayle do? Acc. to Wikiped., President Bush named Quayle head of the Council on Competitiveness and the first chairman of the National Space Council. Whoa, now that's a job for a v.p.! As head of the NSC "he called for greater efforts to protect the earth against the danger of potential asteroid impacts." Excellent! I'm all for it. After four years of that, he still couldn't win an elementary school spelling bee. And I'm not sure he ever figured out that Murphy Brown was a tee-vee character.

    So, maybe everyone else is wrong, and I'm right that we should not get so upset about Palin's incompetence. I far prefer incompetence to genuine maliciousness. To tell you my most secret wish (which is what Palin seems to bring out in so many), I wish Palin was on Obama's ticket, instead, so I could actually vote for her (and get a t-shirt, too!).

  3. Paris may have a point, but for some of us, we have witnessed incompetence in the white house for too long. She may be a nice person and not malevolent, but that does not qualify her to be VP; can't we find someone not evil who is also good?

  4. Dear anon-- Thanks for the response; I expected more abuse. Do you not, however, beg the question, what counts as a "qualification" for a v.p.? I tend to think that anything that would "qualify" someone to be a "leader" is a pretty much automatic disqualification to their actually being one. Thus speaks the anarchist in me.

    Put more plainly, I have never thought that power works incompetently, only more or less efficiently. Bush II is actually a good example of this. It is a mistake to think of him as incompetent or even foolish. But he has been a very inefficient president. His remarkably successful transfers of wealth and resources to a tiny and already well-heeled percent of the world's population has been magnificent if depressing to watch, and has left wasteful trails, not only of the increasingly pauperized world population, but even among his cronies, many of whom have been deeply discredited and others of whom have lost ill-gotten fortunes. (That's a late-night sentence, grammatically correct but hell to read, sorry.) Clinton, to the contrary, was a very efficient president, effecting similar transfers (structural adjustment under favorable economic conditions) without the wide destructive swaths. Similar results, though the latter is obviously far preferable. Does this make Clinton more or less "competent" than Bush?

    Dan Quayle, on the other hand, never really hurt anyone, did he? Except Murphy?

  5. Paris,
    I agree with your comment, as long as someone can guarantee me that John McCain won't die.

  6. I keep agreeing with Anonymous. I wonder if that is a metaphor for something . . .

  7. "David Brooks, George Will and other conservative columnists have called for Palin to drop out of the race for the good of the GOP." I know Brooks and Will have been very critical of Palin, but I can't find where they have called for her to withdraw. Citation?

  8. Liz, there's no guarantees, but people did worry the same thing when Quayle was selected as v.p. As reported in the paper of record, Quayle answered the succession question with the following (from the October 11, 1988 NYT): "The way you lead this nation," Senator Quayle said, "is not only working with your Cabinet. You work with the Congress, you work with the American people, and obviously in any kind of situation you would have not only a - make a request to talk to the nation - but you'd have a press conference early on to show that things were going forward. You'd consult with your allies."

    Maybe that's the most sensible thing Quayle ever said. Can you imagine a President today considering consultation with allies. (Do we have any?) Sounds refreshing! Unfortunately, Palin probably wouldn't read from the same script on the succession question.

    So probably Dean is sensible to stick with Anon, for what it's worth. Everybody else is, anyway.

  9. I am an independent. What the anti-Palins seem to forget is that she is a governor. Gov. Palin has more experience than Obama & Biden combined. Governor Sarah Palin is Alaska's Commander in Chief. The funny thing is if Gov. Palin were a Democrat, the Democrats and the far leftists would have used her to lure the conservative votes.

  10. The only thing I'd say about your experience comment, anon, is that she only has more experience running a state government. She doesn't have experience in Washington; she doesn't have experience overseas, and she doesn't have experience forging and crafting national plans, visions, or initiatives. She hasn't really spent a great deal of time working with democrats or consulting with top-level experts on terrorism, the war in Iraq, the economy, or housing. I would say that many under-estimate how much executive experience running a campaign is for as long as Obama has run that campaign. Being in the spotlight every day, having to be up on a myriad of issues, and controlling your message is its own kind of executive experience. It makes you nimble.

  11. She does have snow-mobilling(sp)skills to compete with the Biden near-mullet.

  12. Okay, now TWR has amended the Brooks/Will sentence as follows: "David Brooks, George Will and other conservative columnists have intimated that Palin should drop out of the race for the good of the GOP." I suppose that's closer to the truth, but again, without citations, I can only take the author's word for this that the analysis of what Brooks or Will actually said is correct. And no matter how much one trusts the source, that's a dangerous way to read. What sort of grade would a student get if he tried to pass off a statement like that without a citation? Or am I expecting too much from the genre of the blog? I really care about how these particular guys (Brooks & Will) are reacting to the Republican situation, and if either one of them takes the next step of actually calling for Palin to withdraw, then I think that will be more significant than, for example, me saying that to one of my friends. I want to take this blog seriously, but I guess I'm not sure how seriously it wants me to take it.

  13. From the Christian Science Monitor:
    "One by one, conservative columnists such as David Frum, David Brooks, and Kathleen Parker have come out against Palin, calling her in effect not ready for prime time."

    From alt.politics:
    "Parker's comments follow those by prominent conservatives David Brooks, George Will, and David Frum who have all publicly questioned
    Palin's readiness to be vice president. "

    From Brooks in the Herald Tribune:
    "Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she'd be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness."

    From the Huffington Post:
    "Famed conservative columnist George Will told a gathering of Senate aides on Monday that Gov. Sarah Palin is "obviously" not prepared to assume the presidency if necessary, two event attendees told the Huffington Post.

    "Appearing at a Senate Press Secretaries Association reception at the Cornerstone Government Affairs office, Will offered a harsh assessment of John McCain's running mate.

    Palin is "obviously not qualified to be President," he remarked, describing her interview on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric as a "disaster.""

    chaven is correct that Will and Brooks have not, officially or literally, called for Palin to drop out. So, I'm grateful to him for his close reading of my text. But, in the world of political discourse, close readings involve reading between the lines. It is unlikely either Will or Brooks will denotatively risk upending their base by urging, in print, for Palin to step down, but it would be hard to argue that the connotative subtext of their recent comments suggest anything but that.

    In the world of pragmatic Republican politics, there is no way that Will's assertion "Palin is "obviously not qualified to be President" is code for "keep her on the ticket."

  14. Thanks for the citations. Now that we have the primary sources to go from, we can quibble over the interpretation of these assessments, and look to other sources. Check out this video where Chris Matthews talks with David Brooks on Sept. 28, 2008: At the end of the interview he says in predicting her performance before the VP debate: "She's not stupid. So I think she'll be mediocre. She'll rise to the level of mediocrity." I was surprised when I saw this, that someone could come out so harshly against a candidate and stop short of calling for her withdrawal. In some ways I think it's more interesting that he has not called for her withdrawal than to say it looks like he might indirectly be calling for it. Ditto Will. It tells me that they haven't reached their tipping point on this yet, and to me that's a politically interesting position to take. Check out what Will says about not Palin but McCain in the Washington Post Sept. 23, 2008, A21: "It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?" (link: ) I think that one doesn't have to read between the lines too much to see that at this point, Will might be more comfortable with Palin than he is McCain, and I think that's significant. I'm wondering if there are some circles of Republicans who have already conceded 2008 and are circling the wagons for 2010.