You are currently browsing the daily archive for November 9, 2008.

Zakaria was one of the first ones to point out that Sarah Palin, was unsuitable for the position as VP – as her inability to answer questions on important issues – was not down to the fact that she simply made a mistake – as this could happen to anyone ~ more troubling, it was that she did not understand the questions.

Can we now admit the obvious? Sarah Palin is utterly unqualified to be vice president. She is a feisty, charismatic politician who has done some good things in Alaska. But she has never spent a day thinking about any important national or international issue, and this is a hell of a time to start. The next administration is going to face a set of challenges unlike any in recent memory. There is an ongoing military operation in Iraq that still costs $10 billion a month, a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan that is not going well and is not easily fixed. Iran, Russia and Venezuela present tough strategic challenges.

Sarah once told a political opponent she debated more than 20 times in Alaska – that while she admired his ability to reel of so many facts without cue cards or notes ~ when they were debating ~ she would look out into the audience and wonder ~ do those facts really matter, and time after time he would lose the debate, because she would break out into a folksy tale and the audience loved it – they thought she was like one of them.

But when she tried to use this same game – of winking and nodding – and acting folksy to become VP, her reluctance to review the facts on the issues in the past ~ came back to bite her.



Sarah Palin was picked by John McCain as his vice presidential nominee because he saw her as the quintessential Everywoman — a person who soccer moms throughout America could relate to. Palin’s all-American qualities included a large family, a love of hunting and a taste for moose burgers. The national press began to immediately lap up all of Palin’s quirks and interests, while also pointing out that she had a rather thin résumé for a vice presidential candidate.

In time, Palin made enough mistakes to draw press attention away from her compelling narrative and toward her lack of experience. The disastrous Katie Couric interviews sealed the image of Palin as clearly out of her depth. Yet few in the media challenged the notion that Palin still possessed personal qualities that made her at least culturally similar to the typical suburban voter. But a closer look reveals that Palin may have been a bit more outside the mainstream than imagined.

The great historian Frederick Jackson Turner — famous for the “frontier thesis” — differentiated places in America based on the degree to which they were settled or, in the parlance of the day, “civilized.” In Turner’s thesis, the U.S. contained both a “heartland” and a frontier of settlement. Turner presented his thesis in 1893 — timed to coincide with a census bulletin that noted the frontier’s passing. Three years later, Turner applied his frontier thesis the hotly contested 1896 election between Democrat William Jennings Bryan and Republican William McKinley. Specifically, Turner described Bryan, who hailed from the then-barely settled Nebraska, as representing the frontier. By contrast, McKinley came from the heartland state of Ohio. McKinley of course won the election, as did a string of fellow Ohioans in the late 19th century.


As governor of America’s “last frontier,” Palin is certainly the 2008 campaign’s frontier candidate. Many of her life experiences and her basic frame of reference are a bit exotic to those living in the Lower 48 — down in civilization. Many of these traits are cute in an offbeat, “Northern Exposure” sort of way, but there is also the flip side of the frontier, or the Jack London, “Call of the Wild” dimension. Nature in the frontier needs subduing, and Palin seems eager to get at that task. Most notably, Palin is openly hostile to the popular furry animals, such as polar bears and wolves, that populate Alaska’s wilderness.

This part of Palin’s record as governor became a problem when a 527 group picked up on the fact that she supports aerial hunting of wolves. A heavily rotated commercial from this group was devastating, showing defenseless wolves being picked off from the sky as they bite their backs in agony. Wolves are a costly problem to ranchers in Alaska because they prey on their livestock, but the problem for Palin is that they also strongly resemble Huskies. This image probably did not sit well with a dog-loving suburban mom whose idea of nature is a large-lot subdivision in the exurbs, where Huskies are always the stars of the dog park. In this one commercial, Palin goes from a goofy, fun-loving mom to a brutalizer of man’s best friend. The focus groups on this ad must have been off the charts.


As the campaign dragged on, Palin’s frequent hunting references wore a bit thin. Alec MacGillis of The Washington Post reported on a Palin rally in New Hampshire where an attempt to bond with the local moose hunters in the crowd fell flat. He noted that only 500 permits to hunt moose are issued in the state every year. Again, this notion that a typical mom bags big game in her spare time is a frontier worldview and may not play in Peoria, Ill., or even in the now more populous Peoria, Ariz. It’s a good bet that even John McCain’s working-class hero, Joe the Plummer, never shot a moose.

The message to candidates picking a running mate based on his or her Everyman appeal — stick with the heartland. Several years back, New York Times columnist David Brooks coined the term “Patio Man” as a descriptor for residents of emerging suburbs. Were Palin a Patio Woman, the only hunting she would likely be experienced with would be tracking down parking spaces in a mall. That’s the kind of hunting that most Americans — or the 83 percent of us living in metropolitan areas — can easily relate to.

Robert E. Lang is co-director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech University, in Alexandria, Va., and an associate professor in urban affairs and planning in Virginia Tech’s School of Planning and International Affairs.

The Truth About Aerial Hunting of Wolves in Alaska



Two former White House chiefs of staff praised President-elect Barack Obama’s choice of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) to assume that job during a Brookings Institution panel on Friday.

Ken Duberstein, the former chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan, and Leon Panetta, the former California congressman who held the post in the Clinton White House, said Emanuel’s appointment suggested that Obama was serious about getting results from his administration.

“Rahm is exceptionally well-qualified for that job,” Duberstein said, lauding Obama for choosing a chief of staff so early in the transition process. “It sends a message here and abroad that this president-elect is all about governing and not campaigning.”

Panetta, who worked closely with Emanuel in the Clinton administration, shared that assessment, saying Emanuel “knows the White House inside out, and obviously now knows Capitol Hill.”

Panetta recognized Emanuel’s reputation for abrasiveness, but presented it as a potential asset to the nascent Obama administration.

“As I told the president-elect — and have told others — part of the job description is that you have to be an SOB as chief of staff. You’ve got to have somebody who makes the tough decisions,” Panetta said. “He’s the guy to do that in the administration.”

Emanuel’s appointment drew fire from Republicans Thursday, with some of the Chicago congressman’s GOP colleagues painting him as a partisan gunslinger.

“This is an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil and govern from the center,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.


Panetta dismissed the suggestion that Emanuel was too partisan to serve effectively in the White House.

“Of course he’s going to be partisan on Capitol Hill,” Panetta said. But he argued that “Rahm Emanuel is basically a centrist.”

Duberstein even suggested Emanuel’s toughest task might be restraining fellow Democrats, rather than fighting with Republicans.

“His challenge will be, with the president, reaching out and building coalitions on the Hill, saying no to some of the president-elect’s most important constituencies,” Duberstein said. “As partisan as Rahm may have been on the Hill, he’s all about governing.”

“There was at least one TV ad during the primaries about, ‘Who do you trust more to answer the phone at 3 o’clock in the morning?’” Duberstein said. “The reality is, the president doesn’t answer the phone at 3 o’clock in the morning. It’s the chief of staff. So the question is, Do you trust Rahm to answer the phone at 3 o’clock in the morning?”

Both men reflected on their White House experiences to offer advice to the president-elect, emphasizing the importance of focusing his agenda and not trying to accomplish too much at once.

Duberstein, for instance, said the mentality of the Reagan’s 1980 transition — “Everything we do is going to be about economic recovery” — was focused on the country’s most immediate challenge.

“You can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said. “But you have to walk first.”

Panetta, too, suggested that Obama’s first task should be addressing the economic crisis, though he offered the war in Iraq and energy legislation as other top issues. And he foreshadowed the competition for space on Obama’s agenda.

“Health care, a lot of other issues, immigration, et cetera, those kind of have to line up out there,” he said.


One of the few notable losses for the left on Tuesday came in California, where Proposition 8, which “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry,” passed by a bit more than three percentage points, even as — or perhaps because — Barack Obama won the state by a whopping 24 points.

Much of that margin came from a surge of about half a million new black voters turning out to cast ballots for Obama in the safely blue state. Exit polls showed black voters favored the ban by a whopping 70-30 percent, while whites were slightly opposed and Hispanics evenly split.

Fallout over the apparent black-gay split within the Democratic coalition has been fierce, with Dan Savage claiming black homophobia, reports of racial slurs and abuse directed at blacks at a marriage equality rally on Thursday, and Andrew Sullivan, among others, calling for calm.

It’s one early sign of the diverse and sometimes divergent interests of members of the party base Obama will have to choose amongst and navigate between as president.


So long as Palin is in Alaska ~ then I’m okay with that! Go Todd!!

The last public event at which Gov. Sarah Palin was accompanied by Secret Service agents during the 2008 campaign was on the day after the election, when she arrived home in Alaska on the McCain-Palin campaign plane. As the governor greeted supporters on the tarmac outside a charter jet hangar, agents formed the usual protective wall around the former vice-presidential candidate.

But that was not, apparently, the last the Palins saw of at least some of the agents.

On Thursday, according to the governor, her husband Todd, a four time champion of the Iron Dog snow machine race, took some of the agents out for a taste of his favorite subarctic sport.

“They were dying to know, ‘Well, what is that all about up there in Alaska?’” Ms. Palin said at the end of a brief interview in her office on Friday. “Well, they escorted us up to Alaska, so Todd took them out on machines. That was a blast.”

Could there have been more to it than just fun? Was the Secret Service thinking ahead, preparing for a possible future administration? Had Ms. Palin become vice president, questions loomed over whether agents would have had to accompany Mr. Palin the next time he competes in the Iron Dog, a 2,000 mile race across the tundra each February. The race is unforgiving, to say the least. This year, Mr. Palin broke his arm when he was thrown from his machine with 400 miles to go, though he got patched up and still came in fourth.

Then again, maybe the Palins just befriended some of the agents. The governor often joked on the campaign trail that her husband, an oil production supervisor on Alaska’s North Slope, “looks like one of the Secret Service guys”


Gov. Sarah Palin, who returned to work at the governor’s office in Anchorage Friday, called her critics “jerks” and said it was “immature” and “cowardly” for McCain staff members to be making anonymous allegations about her.

Ms. Palin spoke to reporters from several news organizations, including the Anchorage Daily News, defending herself from a slew of criticisms that have been aimed at her from unnamed McCain aides ever since the McCain-Palin ticket was defeated Tuesday.

She responded to a recent Fox News report that quoted anonymous McCain campaign staffers who said she did not know Africa was a continent, not a country, and could not name the three countries in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“If there are allegations based on questions or comments I made in debate prep about Nafta — about the continent versus the country when we talk about Africa there — then those were taken out of context. And that’s cruel, it’s mean-spirited, it’s immature, it’s unprofessional and those guys are jerks if they came away with it taking things out of context, then tried to spread something on national news,” Ms. Palin said.

Asked whether she was sad about the way she was treated by the media, Ms. Palin said she wasn’t “sad at all,” but she was “disappointed in the change that I’ve seen in the national media compared to, you know, a couple of decades ago when I received my journalism degree.”

Ms. Palin indicated her role now would be to help Americans sort through the media. “I want to be able to help also Americans to know that they can trust their media.”

She said for the most part the media is good but “one bad apple sometimes does kind of spoil the whole bunch” and went on to say that during the campaign there had been some “stinkers that have kind of made the whole basket full of apples there once in a while smell kind of bad.”



That whole anti-American, friend-to-the-terrorists thing about President-elect Barack Obama? Never mind.

Just a few weeks ago, at the height of the campaign, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota told Chris Matthews of MSNBC that, when it came to Mr. Obama, “I’m very concerned that he may have anti-American views.”

But there she was on Wednesday, after narrowly escaping defeat because of those comments, saying she was “extremely grateful that we have an African-American who has won this year.” Ms. Bachmann, a Republican, called Mr. Obama’s victory, which included her state, “a tremendous signal we sent.”

And it was not too long ago that Senator John McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, accused Mr. Obama of “palling around with terrorists.”

But she took an entirely different tone on Thursday, when she chastised reporters for asking her questions about her war with some staff members in the McCain campaign at such a heady time. “Barack Obama has been elected president,” Ms. Palin said. “Let us, let us — let him — be able to kind of savor this moment, one, and not let the pettiness of maybe internal workings of the campaign erode any of the recognition of this historic moment that we’re in. And God bless Barack Obama and his beautiful family.”

There is a great tradition of paint-peeling political hyperbole during presidential campaign years. And there is an equally great tradition of backing off from it all afterward, though with varying degrees of deftness.

But given the intensity of some of the charges that have been made in the past few months, and the historic nature of Mr. Obama’s election, the exercise this year has been particularly whiplash-inducing, with its extreme before-and-after contrasts.


The shift in tone follows the magnanimous concession speech from Mr. McCain, of Arizona, who referred to Mr. Obama’s victory Tuesday night as “a historic election” and hailed the “special pride” it held for African-Americans. That led the vice president-elect, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., to get into the act. During the campaign, Mr. Biden said he no longer recognized Mr. McCain, an old friend. Now, he says, “We’re still friends.” President Bush, in turn, also hailed Mr. Obama’s victory, saying his arrival at the White House would be “a stirring sight.”

Whether it all heralds a new era of cooperation in Washington remains to be seen, and it may be downright doubtful. But for now, at least, it would seem to be part of an apparent rush to join what has emerged as a real moment in American history.

The presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said she was hard-pressed to find a similar moment when the tone had changed so drastically, and so quickly, among so many people of such prominence.

“I don’t think that’s happened very often,” Ms. Goodwin said. “The best answer I can give you is they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history, and they recognize how the country saw this election, and how people feel that they’re living in a time of great historic moment.”

Others in the professional political class were not so sure. Some wondered whether simple pragmatism was the explanation.

“My experience is, it’s less an epiphany and more a political reality,” said Chris Lehane, a former Democratic strategist who worked on the presidential campaign of Al Gore. “I’m thinking they will continue in this direction so long as the polls indicate it’s a smart place to be.”

There are notable exceptions: Rush Limbaugh has given no quarter. And while his fellow conservative radio hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have noted the significance of his victory — on Wednesday, Ms. Ingraham said “Obama did make history” and “It’s not the time to vilify him” — they seem to be in line with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. Relishing his new role in the opposition camp, Mr. O’Reilly said, “The guy is still a mystery, so our oversight will be intense.”

Some lawmakers also do not appear inclined to give up the fight. Representative John A. Boehner, the House minority leader, has already criticized Mr. Obama’s choice of Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, as his chief of staff.

But other people who opposed Mr. Obama, like Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, have good reason to try to make up with the winning ticket. As an ardent backer of Mr. McCain, Mr. Lieberman angered the Democrats, who in 2000 nominated him as their vice-presidential candidate. After losing a Democratic primary challenge in 2006 and then winning as an independent, he still continued to caucus with the Democrats.

Attending an event with Mr. McCain in York, Pa., in August, Mr. Lieberman said the race was “between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not.”

As a speaker at the Republican National Convention, Mr. Lieberman went further than Democrats expected by criticizing Mr. Obama for “voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground.” (Mr. Obama voted for bills that included plans for withdrawal from Iraq and against others that did not.)

This week Mr. Lieberman, who has been asked by the Democratic Senate leadership to consider giving up his position as the chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, released a statement congratulating Mr. Obama for “his historic and impressive victory.” It continued, “The American people are a people of extraordinary fairness.”

Marshall Wittmann, a spokesman for Mr. Lieberman, said that as far as the senator was concerned, “It’s over, and it’s genuinely time to find unity and move forward behind the new president.”

And what about that whole bit about Mr. Obama not always putting his country first? “He believes that President-elect Obama — and, then, Senator Obama — is a genuine patriot and loves his country,” Mr. Wittmann said. “The only point he was making in his campaign was about partisanship.”

Mr. Obama is apparently ready to bury the hatchet with his new fans. “President-elect Obama has made it clear that he wants to put partisanship behind and work together to solve the many challenges confronting the country,” said Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman for the Obama transition team. “We’re pleased that others do as well.”

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who will help decide Mr. Lieberman’s committee assignment, sounded less ready to forgive, at least when it came Mr. Lieberman’s support for Mr. McCain. “Joe Lieberman has done something that I think was improper, wrong, and I’d like — if we weren’t on television, I’d use a stronger word of describing what he did,” he said on CNN Friday.