Kevin Drum

The Problem with Sarah

| Sun Nov. 9, 2008 3:17 PM EST

THE PROBLEM WITH SARAH....James Joyner explains why he soured on Sarah Palin even if she probably does know that Africa is a continent:

Bill's right that it's inconceivable that she got elected and re-elected to so many offices over the years, culminating with a state governorship, by being an airhead....I saw little evidence, though, that she's very interested in foreign policy or most issues of American domestic policy. That doesn't make her a bad person — she's in the same boat as most Americans on that score — but it made her a bad choice for the vice presidency.

This is what Palinophiles — and, to be fair, some Palinophobes too — don't seem to get. Palin's problem isn't that she's a social conservative, or that she's an airhead, or that she's inexperienced. Her big problem is that prior to August 29, 2008, she quite plainly didn't have the slightest interest in national or international policy issues of any sort. And no matter how much prepping she gets over the next four years, no matter how much better she gets at dealing with the press, no matter how much she does or doesn't smooth off the rough edges of her social views, conservatives have to ask themselves this question: do we really want our standard bearer to be someone who didn't become seriously interested in either domestic policy or foreign affairs until the age of 44? What does that say about how seriously we ourselves take this stuff?

In the end, I don't imagine many of them will ask that question. But they should.

UPDATE: Well, Mark Lilla is asking, at least. In the Wall Street Journal this weekend he wonders how conservative intellectuals could "promote a candidate like Sarah Palin, whose ignorance, provinciality and populist demagoguery represent everything older conservative thinkers once stood against?" It all began in the 80s, he says, when the same conservative intellectuals who had powered the movement for three decades decided to throw in their lot with know-nothingism:

Over the next 25 years there grew up a new generation of conservative writers who cultivated none of their elders' intellectual virtues — indeed, who saw themselves as counter-intellectuals. Most are well-educated and many have attended Ivy League universities; in fact, one of the masterminds of the Palin nomination was once a Harvard professor. But their function within the conservative movement is no longer to educate and ennoble a populist political tendency, it is to defend that tendency against the supposedly monolithic and uniformly hostile educated classes. They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them.

For a movement that decided long ago that slogans and shibboleths mattered while serious policy discourse was merely a distraction, a candidate who showed no interest in domestic policy before the age of 44 is the perfect public face. But is that really the face they want to adopt permanently?

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Full Speed Ahead

| Sun Nov. 9, 2008 2:48 PM EST

FULL SPEED AHEAD....As regular readers know, I consider Fareed Zakaria an extremely reliable indicator of trends in mainstream Beltway thinking. So if he says Barack Obama should damn the fiscal torpedoes and move full speed ahead with his legislative agenda, that probably means most of Washington is starting to come around to that idea too.

Well, guess what? That's what Zakaria says. It's yet another piece of evidence that the battleship of state is turning before our eyes.

Big Spender

| Sun Nov. 9, 2008 2:21 PM EST

BIG SPENDER....National Review editor Rich Lowry addresses the party faithful today about the reason Republicans got trounced so badly this year:

One temptation will be to say that if only Republicans had stayed truer to the faith, especially on fiscal discipline, none of this would have happened. Earmarks unquestionably contributed to the culture of corruption that has so bedeviled Republicans in recent years. But fighting them became an overriding obsession of some conservatives and of McCain, as if opposing earmarks alone — 1 percent of federal spending — would constitute a winning economic agenda.

As for Bush, he didn't run as a strict fiscal conservative when he was elected in 2000, and he wasn't any more profligate in his second term, when he was roundly rejected by the public, than in his first term, when he was on his way to reelection.

Lowry is right, but it's actually even worse than that. Bush's big spending ways have been overdramatized by the right, but it's true that domestic spending went up during his first three years in office. So did earmarks. And his big Medicare bill was passed in 2003. Did conservatives revolt over this? It sure doesn't look like it. The next year Bush rode a triumphant conservative coalition to reelection and Republicans picked up four seats in the Senate.

But then, starting in 2004, Bush got fairly stingy with his domestic budgets. Result: Republicans took a shellacking in 2006, and two years later took yet another shellacking. This is not exactly great evidence for a nationwide rebellion over profligate spending. In fact, you might even conclude that Americans like profligate spending. Conservatives don't seem to mind it that much either: their rebellion against Bush mostly started after 2005, three years after the 2003 budget was put in place and lower spending had become the order of the day in the Bush White House.

As for earmarks, can we get real here? Lowry is right that they represent a tiny portion of federal spending, but even at that he doesn't tell the whole story. Earmarks merely redirect spending, they don't add spending to the budget. If we got rid of earmarks completely, we'd still spend the same amount of money. It would just get allocated a little differently.

Bottom line (so to speak): Reining in spending and cutting back earmarks might be good things to do from a conservative perspective. But was it spending and earmarks that turned the American public against the Republican Party? Not a chance. My guess is that the answer is pretty much the obvious one: a combination of policy incompetence, an unpopular war, economic dogma that didn't even pretend to take middle class wage stagnation seriously, and an increasingly hard-edged social conservatism that turned off Latinos, seculars, and the young. But big spending? Not so much.

Religion Watch

| Sun Nov. 9, 2008 1:21 PM EST

RELIGION WATCH....In the LA Times today, Cathleen Decker repeats the claim that Barack Obama kicked ass among religious voters this year. Let's deconstruct her argument. The first problem is that she has her facts wrong:

Exit polls showed the dramatic effect: Obama won 43% of voters who said they attend church weekly, eight percentage points higher than 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry.

That's not true. Kerry won 39% of weekly churchgoers in 2004. Obama did four percentage points better than Kerry, not eight.

The second problem is that it's irrelevant. Check this out:

"Obama did better than Kerry among pretty much every religious group," said Greg Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life who analyzed the poll results.

Even among voters who describe themselves as born-again Christians or evangelicals, a group that tends to vote Republican, Obama improved on Kerry's standing....Yet there is no doubt that secular voters were more supportive of Obama than religious ones, according to the exit poll.

So Obama did better among every religious group and he did better among seculars. Hmmm. It's almost as if Obama did better among everyone!

Which he did. He beat Kerry's overall 2004 total by 4.3 percentage points, which means that doing four points better among weekly churchgoers doesn't mean a thing. What's more, the reason he did even that much better is pretty obvious: blacks and Latinos, who are heavy churchgoers, voted strongly for Obama this year — and needless to say, that had nothing to do with Obama's outreach to the religious community. (In fact, Obama underperformed with white evangelicals.) Decker mentions this, but then plows right through to provide nearly a thousand additional words of anecdotal explanation for Obama's nonexistent surge of support among churchgoers.

Please. Can we stop this? I know we all need stories, and liberals are hungry for evidence that we're making inroads among religious voters. But we aren't. In fact, Obama made up more ground among the nonreligious than he did among the religious. For some reason, though, no one seems interested in writing a story about that.

Obama's Priorities

| Sun Nov. 9, 2008 2:07 AM EST

OBAMA'S PRIORITIES....Peter Baker of the New York Times writes today about Barack Obama's plans once he's in office, which start with financial stimulus, an energy plan, healthcare reform, and several other items:

During the campaign, Mr. Obama identified many other priorities — withdrawing from Iraq and talks with Iran, tackling immigration and the issue of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and trade negotiations with the country's North American neighbors.

At the same time, his team is tamping down expectations of instant action by discouraging talk of a 100-day program.

That's music to my ears. Allowing the press to implicitly compare everything you do with FDR's first months in office is a guaranteed way to look like a failure. Besides, while it's true that honeymoons don't last forever, there's no reason they can't last longer than a hundred days, especially when you have substantial congressional majorities working with you. Luckily, Obama seems to understand this:

Mr. Obama's transition advisers studied how Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan and Clinton used their first months. The lesson many drew was that even if various agencies moved forward in many directions, a new president must husband his time, energy and political capital for three dominant priorities at most. Several Obama advisers cited Reagan, who concentrated his early efforts on pushing through major tax cuts and increased military spending.

....In an interview on CNN days before the election, he explicitly ranked his priorities, starting with an economic recovery package that would include middle-class tax relief. His second priority, he said, would be energy; third, health care; fourth, tax restructuring; and fifth, education.

Those priorities sound about right to me. Obviously dealing with the economy is Job 1, but energy and healthcare were the main domestic policy items Obama campaigned on and he has a pretty clear mandate to act on them. (Unlike, say, 2004, when Bush barely mentioned Social Security during the campaign and then pretended he had a mandate to privatize the system. Didn't work out so well for him.) Add Iraq to the mix on the foreign policy side and Obama has a pretty full plate of major policy initiatives for his first year. Add in the usual slew of more modest measures, and we could be in pretty good shape by the end of 2009.

Assuming, of course, that congressional Dems have learned their lesson from 1993 and can put their egos in check enough to actually take some guidance from the guy in the White House. Here's hoping.

Lock and Load

| Sat Nov. 8, 2008 2:40 PM EST

LOCK AND LOAD....Turns out that Barack Obama's victory on Tuesday has already stimulated the economy in North Carolina:

Starting in the days before the election, gun shops across the state have been mobbed by buyers who fear that Obama and a larger Democratic majority in Congress will restrict firearm sales.

...."It's been an absolute madhouse," said Trey Pugh, a manager at Jim's Pawn Shop in Fayetteville, which is selling 15 to 20 AR-15 assault rifles a day. "I'm getting guys come in and say I always wanted that gun, and give me that one too and that one and, oh, I need a gun safe, too." Distributors are running out of assault rifles, he said, and prices are rising.

On the stump, Obama didn't discuss sweeping changes to gun laws. But his stance that local authorities should be able to make "sensible" laws has worried some.

I hope the Colt people are grateful. You can't buy a marketing bonanza like this.

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The Fairness Doctrine

| Sat Nov. 8, 2008 1:33 PM EST

THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE....It's true, as Matt says, that the gang at The Corner has been kind of obsessed lately with the idea that Democrats plan to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine after Obama takes office. Bye bye Rush Limbaugh! I started noticing this chit chat a couple of weeks ago and did a bit of desultory googling to try to figure out what they were talking about, but I couldn't find much. It turns out that a few senators over the years have made occasional ritual calls to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, but the bulk of the conservative hyperventilating always eventually linked back to a single sentence in The American Spectator:

According to two members of the House Democrat Caucus, Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer have informed them that they will "aggressively pursue" reinstatement of the so-called Fairness Doctrine over the next six months.

So the Spectator, not exactly known for its deep sources with the Democratic Party, reports that "two members" of the House Democratic caucus claim that Pelosi and Hoyer are going to aggressively pursue reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine. Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, this was reported in May of 2007, and unless I missed some big news, Pelosi and Hoyer failed to make their big push.

So why are conservatives in such a tizzy about this? It's a mystery. There do appear to be a few members of Congress who think it's a shame we got rid of the Fairness Doctrine, but as near as I can tell, "few" equals four or five in the Senate and maybe a dozen in the House. There are probably more Republicans who believe in a return to the gold standard than there are Democrats who seriously want to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine.

So I'm still in the dark about why this has taken on such currency in conservative circles. Maybe someone can enlighten me. In the meantime, in other radio-related blogging news (nice segue, eh?), Nick Carr compares the blogosphere to the radio industry here:

When "the wireless" was introduced to America around 1900, it set off a surge in amateur broadcasting, as hundreds of thousands of people took to the airwaves. "On every night after dinner," wrote Francis Collins in the 1912 book Wireless Man, "the entire country becomes a vast whispering gallery."

....But it didn't last. Radio soon came to be dominated by a relatively small number of media companies, with the most popular amateur operators being hired on as radio personalities....That's not to say that the amateur radio operators didn't change the mainstream media. They did. And so, too, have bloggers. Allowing readers to post comments on stories has now, thanks to blogging, become commonplace throughout online publishing. But the once popular idea that blogs would prove to be an alternative to, or even a devastating attack on, corporate media has proven naive.

A couple of weeks ago I was on a panel at UC Irvine and said much the same thing, though I compared the professionalization of the blogosphere to modern talk radio, not 1920s amateur radio. Either way, though, I think Carr is essentially right. To a large (though not complete) extent, the blogosphere doesn't really oppose the MSM anymore, it is the MSM — and vice versa. This was probably inevitable, but it's still kind of a shame. Surely this means that there's now a market for yet another new medium, this time dedicated to criticizing the blogosphere?

Friday Cat Blogging - 7 November 2008

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 3:46 PM EST

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....In today's edition of Friday Catblogging, Inkblot and Domino are part of history. As are we all. Have a good weekend, everyone.

Beating the Clock

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 2:46 PM EST

BEATING THE CLOCK....A few days ago I linked to a Washington Post story about all the new regulations and executive orders the Bush administration is rushing to put into effect before they leave office. Their deadline is November 20, because executive orders don't take legal effect for 60 days and they want them on the books before Obama takes over. Froude Reynolds explains how they're getting this done:

In an effort to amend the Endangered Species Act to say it doesn't really apply to big federal projects like power plants or dams, the Bush administration claimed it reviewed 200,000 comments in four days. Not all by themselves. They called in fifteen extra people from around the country to work on it all week! With that kind of manpower, each person only had to read seven comments every minute!

You know, I'd almost be disappointed if they weren't doing stuff like this up to the very end. The good news, Reynolds says, is that this behavior is practically guaranteed to be ruled "arbitrary and capricious" by an administrative law judge in the near future after some environmental group or another takes them to court. That being the case, let's hope the true believers in the Bush administration treat all their last-minute regs with the same care and respect for the law that they've shown for the past eight years.

Out, Damned Spot

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 2:22 PM EST

OUT, DAMNED SPOT....Andrew Tobias isn't quite ready to let go of his bitterness over the Bush years. Me neither! Today he adds yet another chapter to the chronicles of the Mayberry Machiavellis:

I know . . . it's probably not constructive and perhaps not even good sportsmanship to keep piling on....And yet I feel the need to share the story of Skip Orr, whom I met Tuesday night in Grant Park watching President-elect Obama take the stage. A long-time Obama supporter, Skip had flown in from Japan for this....As President of Boeing Japan, he found himself at a Democrats Abroad meeting pitching John Kerry — and then found himself outed as a Democrat in the New York Times. The next day Karl Rove called Boeing headquarters noting his displeasure — and referring to the great deal of business Boeing does with the government. Basically, he wanted Orr fired.

Sweet bunch of guys, aren't they? They can't leave town soon enough for my taste.