Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Palin’

The Exaggerated Victimhood of Sarah Palin

December 10, 2009

In criticizing various Matthew Continetti articles pegged to his book The Persecution of Sarah Palin, I’ve focused on two objections:

1) The arguments in the pieces themselves are weak.

2) It is imprudent for an intelligent writer who acknowledges that his subject is unprepared for the presidency to fashion a political strategy to help her win that office!

Today I’d like to raise a final objection.

Shortly after Gov. Palin appeared on the national political scene, I wrote a piece warning Americans against the politics of schadenfreude — the strategy of deliberately drawing political support from the perception that you’re being treated unfairly. It is perfectly fair for Mr. Continetti to flag instances when Gov. Palin is being wrongly abused. What vexes me is when he overstates or exaggerates the supposed persecution of Ms. Palin, because I think it feeds the politics of schadenfreude, and an unhealthy trend on the right toward casting ourselves as victims.

So where is the evidence that he overstates his case? I submit this blog post as an egregious instance.

As you read, please refrain for a moment from clicking through to any of the links Mr. Continetti provides:

Sarah Palin’s Washington Post op-ed today, calling on President Obama to boycott the Copenhagen climate summit, has elicited a predictable response from the left. Foreign Policy’s Annie Lowrey blogs: “I wouldn’t recommend reading it.” Joe Klein seems worried that “The Washington Post devotes valuable op-ed space today to Sarah Palin.” Noted climate expert Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic has penned a long “Fisking” of the op-ed, in which he concludes, “It is virtually certain that humans are causing a significant amount of climate (not weather!) change over time.” Gotta love the “virtually” part.

Like Charles Krauthammer, I’m a global-warming agnostic. Like Freeman Dyson, I happen to think that the trade-offs involved in fighting climate change are too burdensome to support at the moment. And the piece to read on the East Anglia scandal is Steven F. Hayward’s cover piece in the new STANDARD.

But that’s not the point of this post. The point is that Palin continues to be held to a ridiculous standard by the scribblers and bloggers who are outraged that she’s still around and opines from time to time on the issues of the day. This is America, folks. Best-selling authors write op-eds. That’s what they do. Moreover, Palin happens to have an extensive background in energy issues, from her time on the Alaska Oil and Natural Gas Conservation Commission, to her stint as governor of Alaska. Her opinions on the subject of energy are considered.

The reaction to her is not, however. As Palin critic Megan McArdle memorably put it: “I really wish the media wouldn’t act like, well, a bunch of elitist hooligans who are out to get her. I’ve coined a new phrase to cover the situation: Palinoia. It’s when you think people are out to get you, and then they do their best to justify your erroneous belief.”

Okay, having absorbed Mr. Continetti’s characterizations — imagine what you’ll find at those links based on what he said — let’s look one by one at the critics who are supposedly acting like “elitist hooligans” and holding Ms. Palin to “ridiculous standards.”

Example one: Annie Lowery at Foreign Policy. It’s to long to excerpt in full, but see for yourself: it is a straightforward, perfectly respectful blog post that critiques the op-ed in the most standard, straightforward manner imaginable.

Example two: Joe Klein:

The Washington Post devotes valuable op-ed space today to Sarah Palin, who uses it to denounce “politicized science”:

I’ve always believed that policy should be based on sound science, not politics.

Okay. But she’s not denouncing the politicized, oil-drenched policies of the Bush Administration. She’s joining the right-wing hysteria chorus, which has launched a new attack on the science of climate change based on some embarrassing and disgraceful emails written by scientists at the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit. For a more accurate account of the import of those emails, check out Tom Friedman’s column in the NY Times.

The post goes on, but Ms. Palin isn’t mentioned again. Reading it in full — again, go check for yourself — one cannot help but ask, “Where’s the beef?” How can Mr. Continetti cite that blog post as an instance of Ms. Palin being “held to a ridiculous standard.”

And the final example? This Marc Ambinder post. It is a point by point refutation of Ms. Palin’s op-ed. A “Fisking” as it is called in the blogosphere — because it is a style of rebuttal you see often enough to give it a widely known name.

By the standards of Internet political discourse, all three of these critiques are notable for their civility and substantive counterarguments. Contra Mr. Continetti’s implication, none suggest “outrage” at the mere fact that she is opining. The disagreement is with the substance of her argument. Put another way, Mr. Continetti has shown us examples of three people disagreeing with Sarah Palin about the argument she makes in an op-ed, and he has written a blog post asserting that this is an outrage. This does a disservice to everyone who bought his characterization without clicking through to the linked pieces.

Before closing, let’s return to that last part of Mr. Continetti’s post:

This is America, folks. Best-selling authors write op-eds. That’s what they do. Moreover, Palin happens to have an extensive background in energy issues, from her time on the Alaska Oil and Natural Gas Conservation Commission, to her stint as governor of Alaska. Her opinions on the subject of energy are considered.

What a curiously written paragraph. It manages to elide the fact that “energy issues” encompasses a whole bunch of different stuff. So one can have “an extensive background in energy issues” like building oil pipelines, extracting fossil fuels from the earth, and protecting local water supplies in the process, and know absolutely nothing about other issues, like how to produce battery cells that maximize duration of charge while minimizing waste, or the best way to dispose of nuclear waste, or… climate change!

So does Gov. Palin know enough about climate change to pontificate on it? Mr. Continetti cites as affirmative evidence the fact that she served on the Alaska Oil and Natural Gas Conservation Commission. Why does he cite that body? Its mission is to extract as much petroleum from the ground as possible while protecting the local water supply. Am I unaware of some aspect of its mission that would afford someone involved knowledge about climate issues? Obscure Alaskan agencies aren’t my expertise. I’ll happily post an update if pointed to anything suggesting the contrary. But I’m not seeing it.

In any case, I wish Mr. Continetti and others would stop exaggerating “the persecution of Sarah Palin.” It is difficult to see who benefits from these exercises in supposed victim-hood.

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Publishing Industry

December 8, 2009

When I heard that Jonah Goldberg inked a $1 million book deal, I naturally wanted to read the column that apparently inspired it. Having done so, I see that Mr. Goldberg is primed to write a jeremiad against “the tyranny of cliches” such as “better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be punished,” “unless you’ve walked in a man’s shoes… you have no right to judge,” and “when one person loses his freedom we’re all a little less free.”

I share a distaste for cliches, and I can’t fault Mr. Goldberg for taking a million dollar advance to tilt against them. Unlike most of the nonsense that passes as “a conservative book” these days, it is difficult to see what harm it could cause. It isn’t as if his wrongheaded premise make him complicit in bringing Sarah Palin closer to the presidency!

But the premise of the article is surely wrongheaded, so it’s only natural to wonder if the book is going to share its flaws. How does it go astray? By asserting, as though it requires no proof, that cliches are some sort of deciding factor in America’s debates — so much so that we’re under their tyranny!

Let me give you the example that made me want to write this column in the first place. Because I’m skeptical about slippery-slope arguments, because I’ve argued that America is largely immune to becoming a totalitarian state, and because I don’t particularly care if Jose Padilla, John Walker Lindh, or Richard Reid ever get a lawyer, a lot of people keep telling me that when one person loses his freedom we’re all a little less free.

You wouldn’t believe how many famous people have offered or repeated this observation. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Eli Wiesel, Captain Jean Luc Picard, as well as countless politicians have said something to the effect of “we are only as free as the least free among us.”

Yes, people are so bowled over by the cliche about only being as free of the least free among us that Gandhi and Martin Luther King had merely to utter it, never fleshing out the sentiment with any sophistication, and as a result the Indians and black Americans respectively were free from injustice, so powerful, even tyrannical, was the faulty reasoning.

The column goes on:

It sounds nice, of course. Unfortunately, it’s also a crock, factually, logically, and morally.

First, facts and logic: Remember how we all agreed at the beginning of this column that there’s undoubtedly an innocent person in prison right now? Well, he’s not free. Are you only as free as him?

There are undoubtedly innocent men in prison?! And we’re not all obsessed with identifying them? In fact, almost none of us are? Why it’s almost as if literally no one in America behaves as if they believe that we’re only as free as the least among us… which is sorta what Mr. Goldberg is arguing, weirdly, because his larger point is supposed to be that cliches — specifically, the “only as free” cliche that inspired his column — are so tyrannically powerful.

It is going to be quite a trick to earn a seven figure advance by extending this argument in a way that doesn’t cause every halfway conscious reader to realize that they can hardly think of a single instance when someone offered a cliche as their main argument, and it won the day. Wait a moment, hasn’t every English teacher I’ve ever studied under in fact commanded that I strike cliches from my writing? And wasn’t the most shameless purveyor of cliches in recent American politics, Sarah Palin, just defeated in her bid for the vice-presidency, despite such marvelous cliches as “America must not waive the white flag of surrender ” and “You can’t blink”?

I’ll leave you with a parting sample of the column that an actual American publishing company is paying a million dollars to get at book length:

The same moral logic powers clichés like “first they came for the Jews” or “we’re only as free as the least free among us.” It is not an appeal to conscience but an appeal to the self-interest of those who fear they might be next.

Indeed, the adage “first they came for the Jews” is often used as part of an argument for the state to never “come” for anybody. I can’t tell you how many fools write me to say that the government cracking down on terrorists is akin to the government cracking down on Jews (or blacks, or gays, etc). In effect, not only does this logic hold that the government is so inept and immoral that it will be forced to “come” for other people once it’s through with the terrorists, it also implies that Jews and terrorists are somehow similar. After all, if cracking down on the Jews first is indistinguishable from cracking down on terrorists, what’s the difference between Jews and terrorists?

Admittedly, this book might actually be worth $1 million dollars if Mr. Goldberg is compelled to persuade the partisan book buying audience that we should in fact judge some books by their cover.

Why I Write About Sarah Palin, and Other Critics Should Too

November 20, 2009

Damon Linker:

No one who cares about the health of American political culture can be pleased about the emptiness of the whole Palin phenomenon, let alone the prospect of such a cipher running for president. But how to respond? Most Palin critics (from the casual to the obsessive) have done what one would expect: they have hit back, pointing out her lies and deceptions, mocking her mediocrity and unsuitability for high office.

Criticism has its place, of course. And yet, on Palin I’ve come to favor a different approach—one that refuses to collude with the media-driven farce. To respond to an opponent, even harshly, even rudely, is to accord her a certain respect—to treat her as worthy of a response. But Palin is worthy of no such thing. She stands for nothing beyond her own self-promotion. She craves attention, and negative attention is a form of attention. Even ridicule can be a form of flattery. Better to bow out, to decline the provocation, since responding to her perpetuates and legitimates the illusion that she’s a serious player in our nation’s politics. I, for one, refuse to play that silly little game. And I wish more of her critics felt the same way. Instead of wasting their analytical and polemical talents on the topic, they could work to change the subject to something more substantive and deny Palin what she most greedily craves: the spotlight.

Sarah Palin exits her tour bus in Grand Rapids, Michigan on November 18 (Bill Pugliano/Getty)

Sarah Palin exits her tour bus in Grand Rapids, Michigan on November 18 (Bill Pugliano/Getty)

Though I find myself wanting to be persuaded by this argument — and despite wanting to read Damon Linker on 6 dozen topics before I’d even suggest that he write about Sarah Palin — I think the arguments he presents here are flawed. Many of Ms. Palin’s critics aren’t “responding” to her, they are making arguments about how fellow citizens judge her. Political discourse overflows with examples of responding to folks who deserve no respect. Were critics of Joseph McCarthy saying anything by criticizing him except that he had power and abused it? Ms. Palin isn’t a sitting senator, or a despicable McCarthyite, but whether critics write about her or not, she will remain a force in present political debates. Her words, disseminated through right-leaning media and her 1 million Facebook followers, are as influential as anyone on the right. And she is a possible presidential nominee for the Republicans in 2012, something that might not bother a liberal like Mr. Linker, since she’d almost surely lose, but that does bother someone like me, who’d love to back a viable, responsible Republican alternative to Barack Obama, a president with whom I have substantial disagreements.

Ms. Palin’s political critics can no more deny her the spotlight than they can stop her appearances on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, or demand that Oprah’s producers ignore her, or remove the book displays at Barnes and Noble. Insofar as unfair criticisms of Ms. Palin cause Americans who’d otherwise tune her out to rally around, critics can diminish her influence by refraining from wrongheaded attacks and unfair arguments. But denying her the spotlight wouldn’t be within our power even if we could all coordinate our actions, which we can’t.

Do I think that we should obsess over Ms. Palin? I do not. Mr. Linker alludes to her staunchest critic, my former colleague Andrew Sullivan. When he decided that The Daily Dish would go silent for a day to delve into Going Rogue, I wished that he hadn’t — I admire the impulse to pull back from immediately publishing on complicated matters where you’ve got a deep emotional investment, in favor of gathering and analyzing facts and hashing things out with colleagues who dissent from your own viewpoints, but I want to read The Dish’s take on Iran, see reader accounts of their health care experiences, get links to exceptional arguments elsewhere in the blogosphere, etc. There are all sorts of issues that matter more than a former Alaska governor’s quixotic attempt to… well, what she’s doing is a subject for a different post.

As one of the opinion journalists who has written about Ms. Palin in the past, and plans to do so again in the future, I do want to make a case for my approach, and explain why I don’t merely ignore her. The column I’ve filed this last go ’round is a piece at The Daily Beast that is written partly in response to Matthew Continetti’s stream of recent articles about how Ms. Palin might actually turn things around and win the presidency in 2012. His advice — to sum up two lengthy articles in a few words — is that she adopt a free market friendly populism, and do various things to burnish her image as a serious voice on various issues of domestic policy.

Though I object to political books that tell people presently unqualified for higher office how they might achieve it, I recognize that Mr. Continetti is an elegant writer whose intelligence and persuasive abilities aren’t to be underestimated. He is the leading intellect offering his advice to Ms. Palin. What I found striking, both in his articles and general discussion about Ms. Palin’s chances in 2012, is that the former Alaska governor’s defenders aren’t troubled by her utter lack of foreign policy experience — or to be precise, they aren’t sufficiently concerned to advise that boning up on foreign policy be included in her preparation for a 2012 run. This seems to me unusual as a matter of political advice. Would Americans be comfortable with Ms. Palin as Commander in Chief given her current dearth of experience or serious thought on foreign policy? It also reflects a peculiar irresponsibility among her backers, who are touting the political future of a woman who is utterly unprepared to shape our foreign policy, guard our homeland security, or lead our military.

As a voter, I tend to privilege foreign policy above all other matters in presidential elections. It just strikes me as the most important thing. Certainly it is a major responsibility of the office. So as I watched the debate over Sarah Palin’s political future take place, with neither side (and no one I saw in the media) pointing out what I regard as her biggest failing as a potential candidate, or even acknowledging that foreign policy preparedness is a relevant metric — I thought, hey, Ms. Palin’s supporters and journalists like Mr. Continetti who are offering her advice should be called out on this apparent failure to grapple with foreign policy. Hence this column.

It did pretty good traffic judging by the number of comments.

Hopefully, its impact on public discourse is to persuade some readers, “Wow, Ms. Palin’s foreign policy problem really is being ignored here.” I hope it undermines the case being made by her defenders by pointing out a glaring weakness, and makes it marginally less likely — obviously the effect of any one piece like this will be quite small — that she, or future politicians bereft of foreign policy bonifides, will be successful candidates for national office.