Archive for the ‘Sarah Palin’ Tag

Palin a drag on McCain, going rogue & planning for 2012

This blog’s criticisms of Sarah Palin as a Vice Presidential candidate are well-known to its readers,so I won’t swell the record here with those points again.  For them, see here, here, and here.  Suffice it to say, her selection by McCain played a role in the decisions of a number of conservatives who have endorsed Obama, myself included—and add Reagan advisor Ken Adelman to the list too—along with decisions by many other solid Republicans who won’t be supporting the GOP ticket, including my Congressman and Colin Powell.  Her addition to the ticket was pretty clearly a cynically executed political maneuver by John McCain, not one that put country first.

"Wait, what do you mean when you say that you're 'looking out for #1'?  Do you mean me...or yourself?"

McCain: "Wait, what do you mean when you say that you're 'looking out for #1'? Do you mean me...or yourself?"

Now he appears to be paying the price for the decision.  A recent poll shows that voter’s biggest concern with the Republican ticket is Palin’s perceived lack of qualifications.  Another poll indicates that 59% of voters think that she is not qualified to be Vice President.  If accurate, then at most 41% of Americans think that she is qualified (it’s probably lower due to respondants who gave no opinion).  That indicates to me that probably almost everyone who’s not voting for McCain finds her unqualified.

Now, with McCain’s slim chances of pulling off a victory declining each day, one of his campaign aides has said that Palin is “going rogue.”  She has been critisizing McCain’s campaign, saying they should have kept competing in Michigan and should stop using “irritating” robocalls to reach voters, even as the campaign was defending their use.  A second campaign insider said that Palin seemed to be looking out for her own interests more than those of the campaign.

She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone. … She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom.

Possibly the words of displaced insiders on a campaign that’s behind big with just days to go.  There is a history of tension between the #1 and #2 people on a ticket and their respective staffs.

Hopefully, Palin will still be seeing plenty of this flag after January 20th, and not just because it's a pretty good one

Hopefully, Palin will still be seeing plenty of this flag after January 20th, and not just because it's a pretty good one.

But these are also possibly real insights from people who are positioned to know what’s going on behind the scenes.  Palin does appear to be positioning herself for a run in 2012 “if” she and McCain don’t win on Tuesday; when asked if she’d just return to Alaska if Obama wins she said “Absolutely not. I think that if I were to give up and wave a white flag of surrender against some of the political shots that we’ve taken … I’m not doing this for naught.”  She has also publicly broken with McCain over a federal marriage amendment, something that McCain opposes (he wants states to decide) but that Palin’s most likely constituency, social conservatives, absolutely love.  These are not things that garner the type of attention that a guy needing a huge upset, come-from-behind victory needs to have in the week before the election.

She is clearly now a liability, not the asset she seemed to be in the days after her selection.  A number of sources are now speculating about what might have been if McCain had selected another running mate.  The guy that I would have liked to see, Tom Ridge, recently said in an interview that “I think the dynamics would be different in Pennsylvania [if I were the Vice Presidential nominee]. … I think we’d be foolish not to admit it publicly.”  Ridge, the campaign’s national co-chairman, admitted that McCain “had several good choices and I was one of them.”  (He later backpedaled saying he was “taken out of context” and that “Governor Palin will make a great Vice President” and, oh yeah, they’re going to win Pennsylvania too.)

Ridge was a popular Governor of Pennsylvania and has at least twenty times as much experience as Palin, most of it “executive experience.”  McCain would be extremely competetive in Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes) right now if he’d picked Ridge, and would probably be ahead in Florida (27 votes) and Ohio (20 votes) as well. The biggest reason that he wasn’t picked is that social conservatives in the party would probably have objected to someone who is pro-choice being on the ticket.

I hereby propose an amnesty for any and all conservatives and Republicans who have previously endorsed or supported Sarah Palin’s selection as the GOP vice presidential nominee.  Simply admit that she is, after further consideration, not the best possible pick and that you wish that McCain had selected someone else.  Do this by midnight Monday and no questions will be asked.  This doesn’t even require you to vote against McCain, just admit that Palin is not helping the ticket and shouldn’t have been selected.  You can do so in a reply to this post if you’d like.  And, whoever wins on Tuesday, let’s try to pull back together to keep our party from getting screwed up for next time, okay?

My presidential endorsement: Barack Obama

With five days before the election, I have decided to come out and endorse a presidential candidate. During the Republican primaries, I endorsed, voted for, and contributed financially to John McCain—moves that I do not regret, as I think he was the best candidate in the GOP field. However, further developments have convinced me that he is not the best man to lead our country at this point in history. I am crossing party lines and endorsing Barack Obama for the Presidency of the United States.

I hereby endorse this man to be the next President of the United States of America

I hereby endorse this man to be the next President of the United States of America

This move will, undoubtedly, surprise and puzzle a number of my friends, family members, and associates, who, if they know anything of my politics, know me as a life-long Republican and a self-identifying conservative, so I will briefly state the reasons for my decision.

First, Obama is, like Kennedy, a tax-cutting Democrat.  According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, Obama would cut taxes by $2.9 trillion over the 2009-2018 period.

The Obama plan would reduce taxes for low- and moderate-income families, but raise them significantly for high-bracket taxpayers. By 2012, middle-income taxpayers would see their after-tax income rise by about 5 percent, or nearly $2,200 annually. Those in the top 1 percent would face a $19,000 average tax increase—a 1.5 percent reduction in after-tax income.

McCain’s tax cuts would be about 30% larger but are targeted differently, mainly assisting those already wealthy and, undoubtedly, contributing to further economic inequality, which is already approaching all-time highs.

Unfortunately, both of them would lead to bigger deficits, but Obama is the slightly less reckless of the two.   The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the nation’s debt will increase by $2.3 trillion by 2018 under current laws. The Tax Policy Center estimates that Obama’s tax package would add $3.5 trillion to the total, while McCain’s proposals would add $5 trillion. That is, McCain would add 25% more to the national debt than would Obama. That is not conservative.

Arguments that the wealthy will stop working as hard and stop investing in their businesses if their taxes go up need to be addressed.  Those arguments, while they may seem intuitively right to many conservatives, do not hold up. Right now the top marginal tax rate is near its all-time historic low, set in the 1920s—just before the great depression hit. In the 1990s the top right was higher than it is now—and the economy did quite well. It also did just fine from 1950–1963 when the highest rate was a whopping 91% (note: not a typo).  The wealthy will be just fine under Barack Obama, just as they’d be fine under almost any president.  They can pay a bit more in taxes so that lower- and middle-income people don’t need to sacrifice saving for retirement, college, childcare, health care, et cetera. The wealthiest people, however, usually end up sacrificing what can reasonably be called luxuries. Taxing the richest people now will lead to fewer poor people in the future, which is good for everyone—including the rich.

Additionally, I think Obama would be the better man to handle our nation’s foreign policy.  While McCain has more experience in the field, he is fundamentally hawkish, and I tend to be dovish.   In my view, while McCain is not likely to get the country involved in another armed conflict he is considerably more likely to do so than Obama, and less is much less likely to be able to build international support and an international coalition to share the military and financial burdens of any such action.  Many of the great issues of our day—terrorism, climate change, trade—cannot be effectively handled at the level of the individual nation-state; they must be handled at the international level.  And I think Obama would have more clout and could get more done on that front than McCain.

One specific area where I think McCain is wrong is in his refusal to conduct even low-level talks with Iran and North Korea, both dangerous countries. During the Cold War we never broke off relations with the Soviet Union; Kennedy and Reagan, to of the best Cold Warriors, talked with the Russians constantly.  As a side note: people often object here that we’re not going to change Ahmadinejad’s mind about anything. That’s almost certainly correct. However, the point of negotiating is not to show the other guy how right you are and have him admit the error of his ways.We didn’t convince Khrushchev or Gorbachev that our system was better than theirs. But the contact helped to relieve tensions and lead to useful diplomatic breakthroughs which quite possibly helped avert more bloodshed than occurred during the Cold War.

Lastly, like most Americans, I find Sarah Palin to be significantly under-qualified to be Vice President, let alone President of the United States if anything happens to McCain (a 72-year old cancer survivor).  According to actuaries, there is approximately a 10% chance that McCain would not be able to serve out 4 years in the White House.  With Palin as Vice President, that would be disatrous in my view.  That McCain would put the country in such a position for political reasons—and I firmly believe she was selected only to get votes, not for governing ability—gives me great concerns for his approach to the presidency and how he will govern.

See also my blog posts discussing Obama being endorsed by the New York Times and by several notable conservatives.  Check out Republican Congressional candidate Joel Haugen’s endorsement.  And take a look at this blog post which details how the country seems to do better during Democratic presidencies than Republican ones on a number of conservative metrics.

He is not my ideal candidate and I have a number of disagreements with him, but for all of the above reasons and more, this blog is endorsing Barack Obama for president.  God bless America.

New York Times adds Obama to long list of presidential candidates they’ve endorsed

In a move that I’m sure will surprise absolutely no one, the New York Times has endorsed Barack Obama for president.

Mr. Obama has met challenge after challenge, growing as a leader and putting real flesh on his early promises of hope and change. He has shown a cool head and sound judgment. We believe he has the will and the ability to forge the broad political consensus that is essential to finding solutions to this nation’s problems.

The editors also praise Obama for promising to “restore a climate in which workers are able to organize unions if they wish,” a probable reference to the very undemocratic card check system, which I blogged about critically here and here. The measure in question would reduce worker’s ability to decide whether or not to unionize and it has garnered opposition from both conservatives and liberals.

They take McCain to task for wanting to make permanent the tax cuts for higher earners that he previously said were fiscally irresponsible, “and while he talks about keeping taxes low for everyone, his proposed cuts would overwhelmingly benefit the top 1 percent of Americans while digging the country into a deeper fiscal hole.” While they credit McCain, who they said was the best Republican candidate during the primaries, with taking tough positions on climate change and other previous issues, they have some harsh criticism:

Senator John McCain of Arizona has retreated farther and farther to the fringe of American politics, running a campaign on partisan division, class warfare and even hints of racism. His policies and worldview are mired in the past. His choice of a running mate so evidently unfit for the office was a final act of opportunism and bad judgment that eclipsed the accomplishments of 26 years in Congress.

This blog has been a critic of Sarah Palin’s selection and considers it a gimmick by McCain, a decision calculated to secure the votes of social conservatives, not to promote good government. That she could become president if something happens to McCain is troubling; what his willingness to take that risk says about his governing style is more troubling. It is the opinion of this blog that Governor Palin’s inclusion on the ticket is a significant reason to question McCain’s suitability to be president.

The Times provided historical context and information on all of their previous presidential endorsements, back to Abraham Lincoln in 1860; they provide pdf files of the actual editorials. The reason that no one, I trust, was surprised by their endorsement of Obama is that the paper hasn’t supported a Republican candidate since Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956.

The New York Times endorsed this man over FDR.  Had he won, he'd have been the only president besides Millard Fillmore with double Ls in both his first and last name.

The New York Times endorsed this man over FDR. Had he won, he'd have been the only president besides Millard Fillmore with double Ls in both his first and last name.

Interestingly, the New York Times endorsed Thomas Dewey, governor of New York, over Harry Truman in 1948. Fortunately, they didn’t run with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman!” as some other papers did. They also supported Wendell Willkie over Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940, though they endorsed FDR in his other three bids. On account of the Willkie endorsement, Grover Cleveland is the only candidate that the paper has endorsed three consecutive times. Given the term limits which now exist and the difficulty of running again after you’ve lost an election, it is unlikely that the paper will endorse another candidate three consecutive times.

Since supporting Woodrow Wilson in 1912, the paper has supported the Democratic candidate 21 out of 25 times, though their first six endorsements all went to Republicans (who all subsequently won).

Conservatives for… Barack Obama?

Some notable conservatives are endorsing this guy

Some notable conservatives are endorsing this guy

A story in the October 20th issue of Time Magazine (“You. A Voter’s Guide” by Jackson Dykman. pp. 61-69) it is revealed that 20% of conservatives are supporting Barack Obama for president. One out of five. Only 6% of liberals are supporting John McCain (one out of 17). Just who are these conservatives?

One of them is Wick Allison, the former publisher of National Review, the premier conservative political magazine in the country. Allison was a Barry Goldwater supporter in 1964 and was a invited to serve on the board of National Review by its founder William F. Buckley. In a recent endorsement, “A Conservative for Obama,” he says “the more I listen to and read about ‘the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate,’ the more I like him. Barack Obama strikes a chord with me like no political figure since Ronald Reagan.” He writes:

Conservatism to me is less a political philosophy than a stance, a recognition of the fallibility of man and of man’s institutions. Conservatives respect the past not for its antiquity but because it represents, as G.K. Chesterton said, the democracy of the dead; it gives the benefit of the doubt to customs and laws tried and tested in the crucible of time. Conservatives are skeptical of abstract theories and utopian schemes, doubtful that government is wiser than its citizens, and always ready to test any political program against actual results.

But today it is so-called conservatives who are cemented to political programs when they clearly don’t work. The Bush tax cuts—a solution for which there was no real problem and which he refused to end even when the nation went to war—led to huge deficit spending and a $3 trillion growth in the federal debt. Facing this, John McCain pumps his “conservative” credentials by proposing even bigger tax cuts. Meanwhile, a movement that once fought for limited government has presided over the greatest growth of government in our history. That is not conservatism; it is profligacy using conservatism as a mask.

He finds Obama “a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man,” someone who will “be a realist” and who has “actually read the Federalist Papers.”

I think it says something that a conservative Republican who was William F. Buckley’s protégé is supporting Obama in this contest. If this is so, then a fortiori it says something that William F. Buckley’s son is also endorsing Barack Obama. Christopher Buckley, who is a successful writer and commentator in his own right, says “for the first time in my life, I’ll be pulling the Democratic lever in November.” In his endorsement, “Sorry Dad, I’m Voting for Obama,” he describes how he’s known McCain since 1982 and supported himi in the primaries.

But that was—sigh—then. John McCain has changed. He said, famously, apropos the Republican debacle post-1994, “We came to Washington to change it, and Washington changed us.” This campaign has changed John McCain. It has made him inauthentic. A once-first class temperament has become irascible and snarly; his positions change, and lack coherence; he makes unrealistic promises, such as balancing the federal budget “by the end of my first term.” Who, really, believes that? Then there was the self-dramatizing and feckless suspension of his campaign over the financial crisis. His ninth-inning attack ads are mean-spirited and pointless. And finally, not to belabor it, there was the Palin nomination. What on earth can he have been thinking?

Buckley opines that Obama, contra McCain, has a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect.  He has, however, several criticisms of the Democratic candidate and is far from thinking he’ll be a perfect president.

Though Buckley’s endorsement did not come in the pages of National Review, he decided to resign from the publication, for which he was writing a regular column, after it received a significant, albeit not enormous, number of protests from readers.  I highly commend both his article and Wick Allison’s to my fellow conservatives.

John Cleese on Sarah Palin

He may be primarily known as a comedian, but Cambridge-educated actor and producer John Cleese makes, I think, good points on Sarah Palin, John McCain’s running mate.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think there is much depth to Sarah Palin’s answers to tough questions.  She’s good at giving a teleprompted speech, and at giving a good sounding first response to a question.  But since the understanding isn’t really there, she can’t answer unanticipated questions or follow ups.  That’s not a good sign.

Mr. Cleese, a British citizen, is a resident of California and a supporter of Barack Obama.

Monday Miscellany: data mining, monarchs, and Mercury

False color image of Mercury, courtesy of MESSENGER

False color image of Mercury, courtesy of MESSENGER

Today NASA’s space probe MESSENGER made a flyby of the closest planet to the Sun, Mercury.  The probe, whose name is both an acronym for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging and a reference to Mercury’s role as the messenger of the Roman gods, took photographs of previously unseen areas of the planet’s surface and numerous other readings that scientists are now eagerly studying.  This is the second of three flybys of Mercury, each of them serves to slow down the spacecraft to the point that it can enter orbit in 2011; it also got such gravity assists from Venus and from the Earth itself.  Somewhat counter intuitively to a layman, going to Mercury is a lot harder than going to Mars, due to the very large change in velocity needed to enter orbit (or land on the planet, which no spacecraft has ever done and which is not part of MESSENGER’s mission).  For more information on the mission, including many more photos, check out their official site.

The Economist has an excellent series of articles covering all aspects of the American presidential election. They also have a non-scientific online poll of their readers to see who would win the election if the electoral college were global and each country allocated its electors on a winner-take-all basis. Currently, Barack Obama is ahead 8375–15. McCain is ahead only in Georgia (the country, not the state), Macedonia, and Andorra. He is probably glad that this is just a poll of Economist.com visitors and not a real poll of public opinion in those countries, but, given that he’d probably still lose a worldwide popularity contest, he is probably very glad that this has no constitutional standing.

Speaking of the Economist, they have a thought-provoking article on “Data mining and the state.”  It discusses how all the information that the government collects about us and processes can be used both to increase security and safety and to decrease our privacy and liberties.  They discuss the future of such data mining and don’t pretend to offer clear answers as to when and how such technology should be used.

And speaking of the presidential race, linguists have analyzed the candidates’ remarks at the vice presidential debate (which I blogged about at some length here). They found that Palin spoke at the level of a 9.5th grader and Biden at that of a 7.8th grader. Palin, who spoke 5235 words, used the passive voice in 8% of her sentences; Biden spoke 5492 words and used the passive voice only 5% of the time. They both averaged 4.4 letters per word and were statistically tied on the length of their paragraphs; Biden’s averaged 2.7 sentences and Palin’s each had about 2.6 sentences. In his 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln spoke at an 11th grade level, they report—quite interesting, when you consider how much less education people had back then—though the level on which a person speaks doesn’t necessarily make what they say any better or clearer.

Thanks to the aptly-named Virgin Galactic, no one will be having sex here anytime soon

Thanks to the aptly-named Virgin Galactic, no one will be having sex up here anytime soon

In wackier news, Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s company that will take paying customers into space, has rejected an offer of $1 million to use their spacecraft for filming two people having sex in space. “That was money we had to refuse, I’m afraid,” said company president Will Whitehorn (which, now that I’ve written it, sounds kind of like a male porn star’s name). If not for the fact that the company making the offer was unidentified, I would say that this was simply a publicity stunt. Virgin Galactic will probably begin flights in 2009 or 2010 and their spacecraft will carry six passengers in addition to two pilots. Tickets will cost $200,000. Even assuming that the $1 million was in addition to the $1.2 million that Virgin Galactic would pull in on a full flight it wouldn’t be worth the likely bad publicity that they would get. Besides, I’m sure a porn company could make much more than $1 million if they were the first to release a porn film of people having sex in zero gravity. Wait… maybe this is a publicity stunt, for Virgin Galactic. If so, it’s worked: I’m blogging about it.

These people, murdered by Communists in 90 years ago, have just been declared victims of Communism.

These people, murdered by Communists in 90 years ago, have just been declared victims of Communism.

The Russian Supreme Court has declared that Tsar Nicholas II and his family were killed illegally and are entitled to rehabilitation by the state. This involves formally exonerating them and declaring them victims of communist repression; over four million Russians have been rehabilitated since the collapse of the Soviet Union; The Tsar’s descendants have been trying for years to have him exonerated and were surprised at the ruling. Hopefully this will help Russia’s process of coming to terms with its past. However, I somehow don’t think that knowing he would be declared a victim of communist repression 90 years later would have been much comfort to Nicholas as he and his family were gunned down and bayoneted.

My thoughts on Biden-Palin debate

The Vice Presidential Seal.  Who will get to use it post January 20th, Biden or Palin?

The Vice Presidential Seal. Who will get to use it starting on January 20th, Biden or Palin?

Like many Americans, I was very eager to see Joe Biden and Sarah Palin go head-to-head in the first and only Vice Presidential debate. Though the two are the Number Twos on their respective tickets, I have found the veep debate has been very much worth watching in both of the past two election cycles (I thought Cheney scored clear victories in both 2000 and 2004).

This time, to use a boxing analogy, there clearly wasn’t a knockout, nor even a knockdown; but I think that there were several solid blows landed, all of them by Biden, who I’d say won on points. He didn’t commit any gaffes, nor did Palin say anything really dumb. Without repeating things that the pundits have already gone over to death, here are some disparate observations of mine that haven’t been talked about (much) in the media. Please forgive the meandering format.

The first thing that struck me during the debate came when the candidates came out and shook hands. Palin asked her Democratic counterpart “Can I call you Joe?”, a request to which he apparently assented, though his mike didn’t pick up his response. I guarantee you that this was carefully planned and done for the audience at home, to play up the governor’s friendliness and make her seem down to earth. Do I have evidence? Yes: the transcript. The word “Joe” crossed Palin’s lips exactly two (2) times: once a reference to the average American “Joe Six Pack” and the other at the end of “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” which was probably her best line of the night.

Palin tried to paint Obama as a big tax hiker, a claim that I think Biden countered effectively, stressing that 95% of taxpayers will get a tax cut and that no taxpayer making under $250,000 would see an increase under Obama’s plan. He stressed the importance of helping the middle class and their importance to our economy and painted McCain’s tax plan as simply tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations. He repeated the point—effectively, I think—and parried the Palin attempt to paint the Democratic ticket as big tax hikers. His line that McCain’s health plan is “the ultimate bridge to nowhere” was pretty lifeless, though I guess he had to get that in there somehow to remind voters of Palin’s flip-flop on the bridge.

I think that Biden also effectively defended his ticket from the charges that they want to cut-and-run from Iraq or, as Palin put it, hoist “the white flag of surrender.” Delaware’s sernior senator pointed out that Obama’s plan for withdrawing from Iraq is pretty much the same as that of its Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and will draw down U.S. troops over about a year and a half. Biden’s best line of the night came after Palin talked about McCain’s exit strategy, or, as Biden put it, the lack thereof: “With all due respect, I didn’t hear a plan.” Personally, I think the plan is just to keep repeating the words “victory,” “Iraq,” and “McCain” together in the same sentence a whole bunch of times until voters simply feel that McCain will win the war while Obama will surrender somehow.

Throughout the night, Biden tried to tie McCain’s positions to those of George W. Bush, on both domestic issues and foreign policy and; he wanted to show that there was no difference between them the nominee and the, very unpopular, incumbent. One effective moment for Biden was when he brought up each of the globe’s current hot spots seriatim and asked how McCain’s views differ from Bush’s, with the clear implication that they don’t. [Note: FireFox’s spell checker doesn’t recognize “seriatim” as a word.]

Additionally, I was surprised to learn that we spend as much every three weeks on combat operations in Iraq as we have in the past 7.5 years in rebuilding Afghanistan. If this is true, that’s almost a good sign: it won’t cost that much to significantly increase our efforts to get that poor country on it’s feet. C’mon, guys, cough up the dough.

Did you know that the Vice President of the United States has his (or her) own flag?  Too bad it's nothing special.

Did you know that the Vice President of the United States has his (or her) own flag? Too bad it's nothing special.

On climate change, an area where there is some disagreement between McCain and his running mate, Palin admitted that it’s real and that there’s “something to be said for man’s activity” in causing it, but she didn’t want to argue about the causes, just the solutions. Biden voiced what I was thinking at that point: without knowing the causes you can’t solve the problem! He pointed out that McCain has voted against alternative energy frequently and tried to make Obama look friendlier to renewables, though I don’t think he was as effective on the point as he could have been. “Drill we must,” he said, but it’ll take 10 years for that oil to hit the markets. Unfortunately, Obama’s plans—and any plans—for new technology will also probably have a time horizon of about a decade.

Joe Biden went toe-to-toe with Palin over how their family lives put them in touch with regular Americans, a possible strength for the truly and obviously middle class Governor of Alaska. Biden got genuinely choked up when talking about the death of his first wife and young daughter in a car accident that also critically injured his two sons. For a guy who has spent over a third of a century in the United States Senate, he doesn’t do too bad on the “seems like a normal guy” test.

Anyway, Palin beat expectations in the debate, but I don’t think by enough to make any real difference; vice presidential debates rarely do. To the surprise of no one, Biden’s answers on foreign policy were much more nuanced and contained more specifics and details. I didn’t get the impression that Palin’s on foreign policy questions had any depth to them, though she seems to have done a good job of studying her briefing books. I think she’s fortunate that the debate format didn’t allow for questions from the other candidate or for serious follow up questions from the moderator, either of which I think would have exposed her shallow grasp of the various issues.

She came off as being on message and my assesment of her political skills has accordingly gone up; she avoided a possible disaster and a bad performance from her in this debate could have been a mortal blow to McCain’s chances. But I still don’t think that Sarah Palin will make a good vice president at this point in time—she should have been groomed for higher office longer before being thrust onto the national stage. One thing they definitely should have worked on is her pronunciation of nuclear; she says noo-cu-lar, like George W. Bush does. That’s not a good sign.

The political futures markets have given a good sign to Barack Obama and his supporters, however. Following the debate, Intrade contracts on an Obama victory have risen to 67.0 and those for a McCain victory have fallen to 33.0, movement of about 4 points or so up and down, respectively. The chances that Palin will be withdrawn as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee fell in post-debate trading from 10.5% to just 4.1%. The chances that Biden will be withdrawn from his ticket only fell from 5.7% to 4.9%.

Anyway, the race goes on. The next presidential debate, which will be town hall format, will be held Tuesday night starting at 9:00 pm EST. The election itself will be held one month from today, on November 4th.

Veep debate moderator may not be impartial

With the first and only Vice Presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin just over 24 hours away there is now concern about the neutrality of the moderator, PBS journalist Gwen Ifill.  The McCain campaign is saying that they think she’ll do a good job; nonetheless they’re calling into question her impartiality, largely over her upcoming book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, which is scheduled to be released January 20, 2009—Inauguaration Day.

Doubleday, the publisher says the book “surveys the American political landscape, shedding new light on the impact of Barack Obama’s stunning presidential campaign and introducing the emerging young African American politicians forging a bold new path to political power.”  In addition to Obama, the book also deals with former Secretary of State Colin Powell.  Ifill says she has yet to even write the chapter on Obama and that her reputation as a journalist indicates that she can and will be impartial during the debate.

Some conservatives are playing this up.  In an article for National Review Online columnist Michelle Malkin says that “She’s so far in the tank for the Democratic presidential candidate, her oxygen delivery line is running out.”  Ouch.

Dick Morris, on Bill O’Reilly’s program pointed out another possible conflict of interest that I hadn’t considered.  Morris says that her book will sell much better if Obama wins the election than if he doesn’t and that she stands to make $300,000 or more in additional royalties if the ticket that Palin is on loses. 

I recall that Ifill did a very good job moderating the Cheney-Edwards vice presidential debate in 2004 and I think she is a professional journalist who shouldn’t intentionally make any decisions that would favor Biden unfairly; good reporters are used to keeping their personal views out of their work.  However, there could still be unconscious bias, which woul be just as bad.  And even if there is no bias, the perception that there could be would be bad.  Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.

Given the circumstances, Ifill probably should have recused herself, and probably shouldn’t have been asked to host the debate to begin with once it was known that Obama was the nominee.  But McCain could have vetoed her selection; it wouldn’t have been a big deal and could have been done politely and in a low key manner.  So why didn’t he?  One possibility is that his campaign wants the story after the debate to be on the media and how unfair they are to Palin and stacked the deck against her.  That this issue over Ifill is coming up the day before the debate, when it is impractical to get a new moderator or reschedule, lends credence to this possibility.

Expectations are that Biden should win, given his much greater experience and knowledge.  I think that much of the talk on this issue is being orchestrated to further lower expectations for Palin, making it easier for her to exceed them.  We’ll have to see how it goes.  The debate begins at 9:00 pm EST Thursday.

Sarah Palin, the press, and proximity to Russia

The 0.22% of Americans who live in Alaska are (probably) all closer to this than you are. Are they all more qualified to be Vice President?

The 0.22% of Americans who live in Alaska are (probably) all closer to this than you are. Are they all more qualified to be Vice President?

The Obama campaign reports that Joe Biden has given approximately 89 local and national interviews since his selection as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate. Sarah Palin has given just three meaningful interviews. Apparently to quiet media criticism about this secrecy, today she met with a few of the media who travel with her—after informing them just 20 minutes in advance; she took just four (4) questions in that brief session (read transcript).

Howard Kurtz, a Washington Post and CNN media critic, said “I have never seen a presidential or vice presidential nominee, in my lifetime, be so inaccessible to the national media.” The protection from the press that she’s getting is incredible, as I blogged yesterday. But it’s easy to see why this is: she’s not doing very well in real interviews with well-prepared journalists and needs to be shielded from them. Sarah Palin is not ready for prime time, let alone the Vice Presidency of the United States of America.

I thought that Palin had given up on claiming that Alaska’s proximity to Russia gave her foreign policy experience, but when Katie Couric brought it up in an interview Palin didn’t back down (see video, read transcript). Couric asked what Palin meant when she cited the nearness of Russia as part of her foreign policy experience.

PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land-boundary that we have with Canada. It’s funny that a comment like that was kinda made to … I don’t know, you know … reporters.

COURIC: Mocked?

PALIN: Yeah, mocked, I guess that’s the word, yeah.

COURIC: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials.

PALIN: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of.

Though she couldn’t give any specifics concerning how she’s interacted with Russia (saying something vague about trade missions was the closest she came) Palin still claims that living near a foreign country is somehow a qualification to be the second highest ranking person in our government. Yes, governors do interact with other countries; but Palin needs to build her case on the specifics of those interactions, not by pointing to a map and saying “see how close we are?”

The nominee didn’t do much better on the economic questions that Couric asked. I don’t get the sense that there is a real deep understanding of the issues under Palin’s answers; she sounds like she’s just regurgitating the talking points. Here’s a short clip:

I feel sorry for Joe Biden. How do you prepare to debate someone like this without looking patronizing or like a bully? Especially given that she’s a woman and he’s quite prone to gaffes, as I blogged previously.

On viewing those interview clips, one Slate blogger said “She cannot possibly be this uninformed. You absolutely have to see these for yourself to believe them. These are self-mocking; they could be SNL appearances. Tina Fey couldn’t possibly improve on this. This is why they’ve been keeping her under wraps.” Yep.

Joe Biden is still Mr. Gaffe

If elected Vice President, this guy will still be gaffe prone

If elected Vice President, this guy will still be gaffe prone

Delaware’s senior U.S. Senator Joe Biden has been for years well known for being prone to embarrassing gaffes and this has not changed since Barack Obama selected him to be the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee.  Now he has an even bigger stage on which to misspeak.

In the past few days he said that President Franklin Roosevelt went on television after the stock market crash of 1929. But Roosevelt was not president in 1929, and it’d be years before any presidential address was televised.  He’s also made misstatements about the political positions that Barack Obama has taken, saying that the Illinois Senator opposes clean coal technology, but he does.  He’s also criticized an ad that the Obama campaign has aired and said that Hillary Clinton would have been a better Veep choice.

Everyone misspeaks, and politicians talk on the record a lot more than most of us.  But Biden is definitely more prone to it than most; if elected, he’d probably produce more humorous quotes than any Vice President since Dan Quayle.  No doubt much of it will end up on YouTube, like this clip:

Chuck Graham, a Missouri State Senator, is paralyzed from the waste down and confined to a wheelchair; he is incapable of “standing up.”

Many of his other gaffes, going back decades, are also well-known, such as his characterization of Barack Obama as “a clean guy” during the primaries.  However, these misstatements don’t appear to be hurting the Obama-Biden ticket, or even getting that much media attention–compared to how they’d be covered if Sarah Palin had made them.  Slate.com has an interesting take: he makes so many gaffes that they aren’t notable anymore.  writes:

Biden’s blunder couldn’t matter less. Not because gaffes never matter—they can, if they play into public perceptions of the candidate’s character—but because Joe Biden is gaffe-proof. Whatever traps he sets for himself, however many minorities he offends, he always seems to wriggle out. It’s almost as if, by committing so many gaffes, he has become immune to their effects. “Joe Biden Makes Gaffe” is the new “Dog Bites Man.”

In some ways, the one Vice Presidential debate may be more interesting than either of the three Presidential debates.  Not just because we’ll all be watching to see if Biden makes another gaffe, but to see if Palin can hold her own.  Maybe we’ll get another “You’re no Jack Kennedy.”