Friday, August 29, 2008

John McCain and the Novice


Wow, she makes him look OLD!

McCain just gave away the election, me thinks, so thank you, Big Guy, for wanting to win a few female voters (in picking Sarah Palin) more than wanting to win an election. We -- those of us who want anyone but you to be our next president -- are very thrilled with your choice.

Here are some other views, not all of them (see Matt Springer) as disparaging as my own.

Michael Seitzman (Huffington Post):
But most importantly, what does that say about John McCain? He has now destroyed his two favorite arguments against Obama. Experience was a pretty good argument. Yesterday. But the more offensive and controversial argument is the one that inspired the McCain campaign's clumsy, communist-era slogan - "Country First." Aside from sounding like the name of a midwestern savings-and-loan, the phrase is an obvious reference to McCain's mantra that Obama "would rather win an election than win a war. " He has repeatedly challenged Obama's motives, his character, his judgment and his patriotism. Sarah Palin is the glass house inside of which McCain will now have to throw those stones. Because, what does it say about a man who chooses someone so grossly unqualified as his running mate for the highest office in the land simply because she might - might - get the Hillary vote? What does it say for his opinion of those very women he hopes to enlist?
Andrew Sullivan - Palin Appointed A Sexual Harasser:
When hiring people, doesn’t one generally ask about such things? Don’t you do a background check? Don’t you want to know if you’re going to have egg on your face, and risk public humiliation and scandal? If the media managed to pry it out of him using the strongarm tactic of…asking…wouldn’t it have worked for the Governor? The mind reels.

At first I was worried, when a friend wrote me that John McCain's VP choice Sarah Palin was a conservative anti-choice Christian, with a union member husband, a son going to Iraq, and membership in the NRA. "A deeply cynical choice," I wrote back. "Sure," he agreed, but "she is going to appeal to a lot of working-class women and Hillary supporters."

Then I got a call from my friend Wendy Strothman, an accomplished businesswoman who ran a publishing house for a decade, and worked as VP of Houghton Mifflin before opening her own literary agency (full disclosure: she's my agent). Wendy just retired after 17 years on the Corporation of Brown University, the last ten as Secretary.

She was furious. "Appeal to Hillary supporters? Choosing Sarah Palin is an insult to Hillary supporters," she said. And I think she's right on target. Sarah Palin's qualifications to be President of the United States--that's right, President. The Vice-President has to be qualified to step into the Oval Office--are simply that she happens to be a woman. We can hardly be expected to take seriously her track record: being mayor of a town of 9,000, and less than a year of being governor of a state with fewer residents than 19 American cities (if it were a city, Alaska would rank just above Baltimore, just below Charlotte).

And the Republicans have had the nerve to suggest that Barack Obama lacks experience! In what universe does Sarah Palin's experience qualify her to be Vice-President--or President--of the United States of America? The choice is not only cynical--it's insulting to women, and insulting to the entire American electorate.

Christopher Hayes (The Nation):
Very quickly. Remember when Pat Buchanan ran a number of hard-right, fringe campaigns for president in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000? Well, guess who was supporting him:

From an AP report in 1999:

"Pat Buchanan brought his conservative message of a smaller government and an America First foreign policy to Fairbanks and Wasilla on Friday as he continued a campaign swing through Alaska. Buchanan's strong message championing states rights resonated with the roughly 85 people gathered for an Interior Republican luncheon in Fairbanks. … Among those sporting Buchanan buttons were Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin and state Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage."

In fact, a very committed Buchananite Buchanan himself told me he was thrilled by the choice, saying as soon as I mentioned it: "It's great for the base. I'm pretty sure she's a Buchananite!"

People seem to be missing the fact that this is a classic, Rovian appease-the-base choice.

Here are the views of a few science bloggers, which are quite interesting on issues of concern to many of us.

James Hrynyshyn (Island of Doubt):
Sarah Palin. Huh. Who would have thunk it? On the upside, I had but a few waking hours of moping over Barack Obama's failure to do more than give climate change a single passing reference and again champion the delusional notion of "clean coal" in his otherwise impressive acceptance speech last night before the Republican nominee reminded me just how little he really cares about the subject.

Now, I know vice-presidential choices never make a measurable difference in the election. But let's face it, the probability that McCain will not be able to complete one term in office is considerably higher than usual. Does anyone really think it appropriate to run with a backup whose c.v. — less than two years as governor and a stint as mayor of a suburb of 9,000 — is as weak as Palin's?

But that's not the most troubling aspect of McCain's latest demonstration of his brand of judgment. At least, not from a scientist's point of view. Thanks to Grist's rapid rundown on Palin's record, we know that she:

  • Believes intelligent design should be taught along with evolution in science classes
  • Does not attribute global warming human forces
  • Sued the Interior Department over its decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species
  • Has pushed to open Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling
  • Opposed a statewide ballot initiative to prohibit or restrict new mining operations that could affect salmon in the state's streams and rivers
  • Believes we can "drill our way out of our problem"

The only bright spot, and it can only be called "bright" in a relative sense, is that

On September 14, 2007, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin signed Administrative Order 238, establishing the Climate Change Sub-Cabinet.
Matt Springer (Built on Facts):

I really loathe politics, and have mostly tried to avoid writing about it. But finally something interesting has happened, and it's worth a brief comment.

In physics we like to talk about symmetry. Conservation laws and symmetry are intimately related, and you can learn a lot about one by studying the other. One of the more interesting examples of this is parity. Parity basically means reversing left and right - if you do an experiment and then rebuild the entire thing backwards, everything happens as you'd expect. If you take a picture of a physical process and flip the picture in Photoshop, the resulting picture is still a picture of a perfectly valid physical situation. But it wasn't too long ago that it was discovered that certain subatomic interactions in fact are not symmetric under parity. This was a huge deal, and resulted in a small revolution in our understanding of particle physics.

There's sort of an equivalent symmetry breaking in politics. Take two otherwise precisely identical candidates, except make one a man and one a woman. Their political fortunes will not be the same - politics is not inviariant under sex-reversal symmetry. And the consequences of this symmetry breaking are why McCain chose Sarah Palin.

Here's my reasining on why it will probably help him much more than any of the standard choices like Romney, Pawlenty, Ridge, etc.

1. It will appeal to women - especially to the all-important undecided/moderate women who supported Hillary out of solidarity.
2. It will appeal to men - let's face it, being attractive doesn't hurt. Could a man shaped like Taft ever be nominated today regardless of his political views? I doubt it and it's a shame. But political reality is political reality.
3. It will appeal to disaffected conservatives - McCain was never popular with the conservative base. Sarah Palin is considerably more popular among movement conservatives.
4. It reduces the "Let's make history" appeal of Obama - now electing the Republican ticket will produce a demographic first as well.

Does she have disadvantages, like lack of experience? Absolutely. Do those disadvantages outweigh the above? Not a chance. We have to face the facts: everyone who cares about issues and qualifications has already made up their minds one way or another. VP picks are about pulling in the rest, and Palin will do that in spades.

In running for Governor of Alaska in 2006, GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin said she supported teaching alternatives to evolution. When asked during an election debate, she said:

"Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."

She later attempted to clarify her statement by saying in an interview:

"I don't think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn't have to be part of the curriculum."

She added that, if elected, she would not push the state Board of Education to add such creation-based alternatives to the state's required curriculum

The daughter of a science teacher, Palin has said that she personally believes in creationism.

"My dad did talk a lot about his theories of evolution," she said. "He would show us fossils and say, 'How old do you think these are?' "

Asked for her personal views on evolution, Palin said, "I believe we have a creator."

She would not say whether her belief also allowed her to accept the theory of evolution as fact.

"I'm not going to pretend I know how all this came to be," she said.

It is a time for seriousness, for that overused word gravitas. And hasn’t McCain’s entire campaign been built around gravitas and the contrast with Obama’s youth and rawness? It’s the experience, but experience full of gravitas, from the military to the Senate. It’s the alleged character, but one that is allegedly serious. McCain’s very argument for himself is that he is up to task of being president, that he can step right in and lead. Obama, true, doesn’t have extensive experience, but he has obviously emerged over the past couple of years as a big-name, national-celebrity (in a good way) figure. And, of course, he has proven that he has both the judgement and many of the necessary skills to lead — and he now has the full endorsement of the likes of Bill and Hillary, John Kerry, and Al Gore.

But what now of Palin? She pales in comparison to Biden. She was mayor of a small town, Wasilla, before winning the governorship in 2006. She is something of a reformer, yes, but her experience is minimal — and certainly not national. So why her? To balance the ticket in terms of age and sex? Sure. To appeal to Hillary supporters, those still disaffected even after the convention? Sure. Because she’s an outsider with no ties to Washington, and because she can make a “change” argument of her own? Sure. Because she knows a thing or two about energy? Sure. Because she’s relatively attractive? Sure.

But so what? Does anyone really think she’s ready — with just two years in Juneau — for the national stage, let alone to step up and be president, if necessary? It’s like she’s another Dan Quayle (or Geraldine Ferraro) — less awkward, perhaps, but with even less experience. Obama, Biden, and the Democrats will have to be careful not to seem condescending — Biden in particular when they debate — but what she brings to the ticket is outweighed overwhelmingly by what she lacks.

This pick utterly destroys McCain’s experience argument. And it also destroys his gravitas argument. Sure, it’ll be pointed out that he’s the presidential candidate, not her, but she’s on the ticket now as his first “presidential” decision, and, if they win elected, she’ll be right there, next in line for the top job.

With all due respect to Gov. Palin, this is a terrible and pathetic pick. (Which gives us reason to rejoice.)

I could go on and on, but that pretty much sums all the other responses, including some conservatives who feel McCain has taken a huge risk.

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