2008 - %3, September

City Mice

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 11:39 AM EDT

CITY MICE....Ezra Klein points to a small panel of Detroit voters who commented on Sarah Palin's speech last night and notes that, of all the groups, it was the independents who were least impressed. Here's a sampling:

It appears that once she makes up her mind, that is the end of it....She was a Republican novelty act with a sophomoric script....I still don't know anymore about this young lady tonight than I did last night....Her speech contained few statements about policy or the party platform....I found her barrage of snide remarks and distortions to be a major turn off....I thought she would appear more professional, more stateswomanly. She's no match for Joe Biden.

Obviously this is a tiny group of people and may or may not represent anything larger. We'll have to wait for next week's polls to find out more on that score. But it does suggest that the snide mockery and withering sarcasm that both Palin and Rudy Giuliani delivered last night might be more of a turnoff to apolitical voters than the GOP thinks. (And, conversely, that just as audiences liked Bill Clinton's policy-heavy laundry lists better than the jaded DC press did, it may be that voters prefer a little more substance and gravitas in settings like this too.)

And me? Well, on a purely personal note, the most grating part of Palin's speech (and Giuliani's) was their reliance — yet again — on the trope that the only true Americans are those from small towns in the heartland. As a native Californian, that stuff just drives me up the wall. This smoldering esthetic resentment, eagerly stoked by the GOP every fours years since at least Nixon, relies on the myth that us coastal urbanites spend all our time looking down our patrician noses at anyone who lives outside the city limits, and it's dangerous, divisive, and annoying as hell. What's more, as near as I can tell, it's completely backwards. Far from criticizing small town life, America celebrates it. Liberals celebrate it. Politicians celebrate it. Everyone celebrates it. I can hardly turn on the TV without hearing that, compared with the hardworking everymen and women who populate the prairies and put food on our tables, anyone who lives where I do is degenerate, suspiciously cosmopolitan, and one step away from turning the country over to the UN.

Feh. I know this is hardly new or uniquely American. And it's designed for specifically political reasons. And it works and it wins elections and that's all conservatives care about. And this is exactly the reaction they're trying to sucker me into. But it still annoys me, and for some reason everyone feels like they have to continue playing this game forever. It's time to stop it.

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Clinton v. Palin, Anyone?

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 12:59 AM EDT

Below is a guest blog entry by economist and MoJo author Nomi Prins:

That wasn't Sarah Palin running for Vice President tonight. It was Palin running for President, reaching straight for the hearts of small town America, fists pumping the air, lips blowing kisses.

No matter who wins this year, I predict Palin will be on the ticket in 2012. If Obama/Biden win, Palin has just been groomed to be the GOP pick for 2012. And, if McCain/Palin win, well… she's next in line for the GOP nomination. And who do you think would be the Democrat? A Clinton/Palin fight could present a fascinating and less muddled arena in which the actual views and policies of two women trump their gender.

On the election at hand, progressives should over- rather than underestimate Palin's ability to debate Joe Biden, and concentrate on picking apart the policies she and McCain represent. Palin has shown she is tough enough to stand up to Biden, and that she can figure out what she needs to communicate (probably, even without a prompter). And maybe that's a good thing for all of us. It may bring more attention to the national issues, and less to her personal ones.

Palin's Big Night: A Win for McCain--And a Possible Worry for Democrats

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 12:49 AM EDT

The speech was the easy part. But she did it well.

Delivering the most anticipated vice presidential acceptance speech in modern political history, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin accomplished the mission. She talked family, biography, policy, and John McCain. Especially John McCain the POW. And--Democrats beware--she demonstrated she's handy with a rhetorical stiletto and can slice Barack Obama and Joe Biden while flashing a stylish smile.

The 44-year-old Palin did not wipe out questions about her experience. She did not address allegations she had abused her office while serving as a small-town mayor and as a governor. She did not defend her more extreme social positions, such as her support for teaching creationism. But in politics, performance counts for much. And for a little-known politician who had been hunkered down for days, as negative stories and rumors flew about, she had a helluva opening night. Next, Palin will have to face the media--one of the targets of her speech--fielding presumably tough queries about her actions (and life) in Alaska and her foreign policy experience (or lack thereof). But for the night, she held her own--and showed that she has the potential to be a fierce and effective critic of the Obama-Biden ticket.

The Bridge

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 11:57 PM EDT

THE BRIDGE....Jeff Toobin on CNN: Sarah Palin's speech was better than Joe Biden's, but was also "smug, cutting, and sarcastic." That's better? Maybe, I guess, but does smug and cutting really sell outside the true believer base?

Also, Toobin reminded me of the speech's worst moment: that fact that Palin repeated her lie from Friday about standing up against the Bridge to Nowhere. There have been days and days of coverage thoroughly debunking this, showing beyond doubt that she was an enthusiastic supporter of the bridge and an enthusiastic supporter of the earmark, giving up only after the earmark was rescinded and Alaska was given the same amount of money to spend on other projects. She didn't turn down a thing. And yet she repeated the lie because she knows perfectly well that 30 million people will see the speech and only a couple million will read the fact check tomorrow. That's some straight talk for you.

Sarah Palin's Speech

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 11:10 PM EDT

SARAH PALIN'S SPEECH....As expected, she's doing a very good job. In a way, she's every bit the pit bull Giuliani is, all the way down to the withering scorn and sarcastic asides. But she brings it off better than Rudy: it's more straightforward, more earnest, and yes, more small town. I don't think this speech will stop the questions about her selection, but it's certainly going to have an impact. She's coming off very well in her appointed role, and making a tough, smart, and very appealing first impression.

But holy cow, can this woman pull off the culture war stuff, or what? I gather that she didn't, in fact, ever really support Pat Buchanan, but she's every bit his disciple and successor in spirit. Wow.

And maybe just one more comment: for all that both Giuliani and Palin attacked Obama for being too full of himself, I don't think I've ever heard two more adulatory speeches in my life. You'd think John McCain was the second coming of George Washington the way they sang their nonstop panegyrics to him.

But the crowd is definitely on its feet tonight. Quite a contrast from Tuesday.

UPDATE: From Matt Yglesias: "Give Sarah Palin this much — her understanding of the geopolitics of energy is every bit as daft as that of much more seasoned conservative pseudoexperts. She can spin out outlandish and ultimately nonsensical scenarios about Iran (or Venezuela) deploying the mythical 'oil weapon' and she, too, can ignore the fundamentally global nature of hydrocarbon markets by prattling about 'energy independence.'"

That's actually kind of an interesting point. On a substantive level, I'd say the most preposterous part of her speech was on precisely the one topic she's supposed to be already well versed on: energy. Nothing she said made any sense at all. The amount of new oil we can drill in the United States is tiny, not large. Nothing we do on that front will have the slightest impact on either foreign producers or the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Iran doesn't control a fifth of the world's energy supply. And clean coal doesn't exist. It was just a farrago of nonsense from beginning to end.

Names, Please

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 9:27 PM EDT

NAMES, PLEASE....Some reactions from the right toward criticism of Sarah Palin:

Peggy Noonan: "Pro-woman Democrats are saying she must be a bad mother to be all ambitious with kids in the house."

Victor Davis Hanson: "Sarah Palin—self-made woman, and governor of Alaska—is being reducing by the left to a hickish, white trash mom of five."

Jay Nordlinger: "America has seemed a monumentally insensitive, cloddish, and vulgar nation in recent days. And who knew the Left could be so Puritanical — I mean, about sex?"

I'll pass lightly over the spectacle of a National Review conservative wondering why America is puritanical about sex. It certainly lends itself to parody, but that's not what I have on my mind at the moment. In fact, I even sympathize a little bit with the right's obvious anger toward the media feeding frenzy surrounding Palin. I happen to think their anger is misguided — the choice of Palin was bizarre enough, and her background questionable enough on perfectly legitimate grounds, that a massive media reaction was both inevitable and justified — but still, these kinds of rampages are almost always both scary and sort of inherently unfair in the way they unfold. Eventually Palin's past, for good or ill, will get sorted out, but in the meantime the process of figuring out who she is is bound to be messy.

That said, though, I want to join my fellow liberals in asking: just who are all these lefties who have supposedly criticized Palin on sex or gender grounds? I don't doubt that there are some, mind you. Trawl through enough comment threads or chatrooms or obscure blogs and you're bound to find something. But has there really been any serious thread of liberal conversation along these lines? (And no, Maureen Dowd doesn't count. She does this to everyone, and she's demented in any case.)

I know, of course, that for the most part this is simply a narrative that conservatives are hoping to inject into the media bloodstream. But still: evidence, please. Let's name some names.

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Next Time McCain Says Palin Commanded the Alaska Guard, Laugh

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 9:18 PM EDT

On Wednesday, ABC News' Charlie Gibson interviewed John McCain. An excerpt:

GIBSON: Senator, since I've been following politics, every single presidential nominee has said that the first quality they look for in a vice presidential pick is the capability and the readiness to take over as president. Can you look the country straight in the eye and say Sarah Palin has the qualities and has enough experience to be commander in chief?
MCCAIN: Oh, absolutely. Having been the governor of our largest state, the commander of their National Guard.

Later in the interview, McCain said, "Governor Palin knows the surge has succeeded. She's the commander of the Alaskan National Guard."

We now interrupt the spin for some facts. After interviewing the service commander of the Alaska National Guard, McClatchy newspapers reports, "Palin has never personally ordered the state guard to do anything." Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It appears she has no command experience whatsoever. The news service notes, "The governor has granted [the service commander] the authority to act on his own in most cases, including life-or-death emergencies -- when a quick response is required -- and minor day-to-day operations."

So it's clear: when McCain and his surrogates talk about Palin's experience, the only honorable course is to not mention the Alaska National Guard.

Looking to the GOP's Finale: Too Much McCain?

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 8:50 PM EDT

The McCain campaign has informed broadcast media that they should block off an hour for McCain's acceptance speech on Thursday night. An hour? That's a lot of McCain. Or any politician. Is the campaign expecting his speech to be interrupted by numerous ovations? Does it want to prove to voters that McCain can pull off such a strenuous action?

McCain has never been accused of being a stem-winder. So even when it's time for the most important speech of his long political career, less may be more.

Hello Sarah Palin, Goodbye ANWR

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 8:43 PM EDT

Doublemountain.jpg Republican delegates in St. Paul this week believe Sarah Palin could provide the tipping point on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Washington Wire blog points out that Palin fiercely advocates drilling in ANWR. All the while McCain's been running scared on the issue and the Republican platform has been treating it with caribou-kid gloves.

Palin, talking to CNBC in July about John McCain said: "He's right on war, he's right on with energy independence measures that need to be taken. Wrong on ANWR, but we're still working on that one." Palin's place on the ticket "gives us the opportunity to have a live, walking platform to advocate for the development of our oil and gas resources," said Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich, according to the Wall Street Journal's Henry J. Pulizzi and Siobhan Hughes.

So, Hurricane Bristol aside, Troopergate aside, Policegate aside, this global-warming-doubter-soccer-mom is a menace to the future of life on this planet. McCain's VP choice is 100-proof evidence that he's a really bad decider.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

Elephants & Tigers Get Room To Breathe

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 8:10 PM EDT

487px-Sumatratiger-004.jpg The Indonesian government is set to double the size of Tesso Nilo National Park—one of the last havens for endangered Sumatran elephants and tigers. The park was created in 2004 with about 150 square miles. By year's end that will increase to more than 330 square miles, reports WWF.

Tesso Nilo is the last block of lowland forest in central Sumatra large enough to support a viable elephant population. About 60 to 80 elephants live there, along with 50 tigers. The park also harbors more than 4,000 known plant species—the highest lowland forest plant biodiversity known anywhere on Earth, with many more plants yet to be discovered. Tesso Nilo forest is also a vital watershed for more than 40,000 people living in 22 surrounding villages.

These villages comprise the Tesso Nilo Community Forum, which protects for the forest and acts as a unified community voice in park management. To minimize conflicts between villagers and wildlife, an Elephant Flying Squad of domesticated elephants and mahouts patrols to keep wild elephants inside the park from raiding village crops outside the park. Locals have also planted a perimeter of buffer crops that elephants don't like around the park.