Monday, February 15, 2010

Hick on a High Wire: The Sarah Palin of Game Change

By the time [Governor Palin] went on Saturday Night Live, the definitional war over her had ended. She retained the ardor and loyalty of her fans, who continued to turn out for her, root for her, and defend her. But in the eyes of the broader public—and even more so those of the national media and political establishments—any traces of her image as a maverick reformer had been erased. For them, Palin had been reduced to nothing more than a hick on a high wire.
--Game Change, p. 410-11

Ms. Zsa Zsa Gabor. Given the subject
of this rant, it's only natural that the
photos feature non-hicks on high
wires. Sort of.
Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, Mr. John Heilemann and Mr. Mark Halperin’s book on the 2008 US presidential election descended on the nation by storm. With more than a few (but not quite “many”) juicy tidbits, and a breathless roll out by Mr. Anderson Cooper and 60 Minutesfeaturing a visibly angry Mr. Steve Schmidt,Game Change promised (almost) to be (pretty much) one of the last words on campaign 2008. Maybe not The Making of the President 2008 that Mr. Theodore H. White would have written, were Mr. White still writing those books—but close.

But is it? Well—depends. For anyone who has a decent life and a significant other, Game Changeis good enough. But for the obsessive-compulsive who are entering their second presidential administration sans girlfriend (cough cough), Game Change really could have used another hundred pages or so. Just my personal opinion, based on The Battle for America 2008by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson, Going Rogue by Sarah Palin--and lots of episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

What’s right about Game Change? The Dirt, Baby!

Game Change has more juicy stories than Balz & Johnson’s Battle for America—but not a lot more. For example:

Senator Harry Reid v. Senator Trent Lott

The story that’s gotten the widest ranging press was the racially insensitive quote attributed to Nevada Senator Harry Reid. While Senator Reid publicly insisted he played no role in encouraging Senator Obama to run for the Presidency, Game Change reports “[Senator Reid] was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama—a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,’ as he later put it privately.” (p. 36)

When Governor Palin appeared on Mr. Bill O’Reilly’s program, both of them were 1) rending their garments over the horror of it all, 2) Shocked SHOCKED that Senator Reid appeared to be getting a pass on this, and 3) those statements were “just as bad” as the statements that then Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) said—but Senator Lott was “forced” to resign his leadership positions. Here’s the clip:

Conspicuous by its absence is any specificity of just what it was that got Senator Lott into so much trouble. For those of you who don’t remember so good, did Senator Lott say the word “negro” or mention anything about dialect? To be fair: no, Senator Lott did not. To be more fair, though, the occasion was Senator Strom Thurmond’s 100 birthday, during a quasi-public gala celebration of the milestone. The tributes and praising of the South Carolina scion were flowing freely, and Senator Lott (apparently caught up in the moment) said that it was just a crying shame that Strom Thurmond was not elected President in 1948—because if he HAD been President, we would have not have had all of “these problems” (unspecified). No doubt those of you who have significant others with whom you sleep with on occasion have been able to set aside any residual anger you feel about the 1948 U.S. Presidential election, and aren’t blowing gaskets at Senator Lott’s asinine statement. Let me help you.

Ms. Gina Lollobrigida. If you're going to
be talking about high wire non-hicks,
you KNOW you need to highlight the
best in the business.
The 1948 election was a wild four-way race, featuring incumbent Democratic President Harry Truman, Governor of New York Tom Dewey (with then California Governor Earl Warren as vice president) nominally the GOP candidate (but actually running on the “I’m not Harry Truman” ticket), former FDR Vice President Henry Wallace on the “Progressive Party” ticket, and South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond on the “States Rights Democratic Party” or Dixiecrats. What did the Dixiecrats want? It all started when the mayor of Minneapolis—a trouble maker named Hubert Humphrey--introduced a platform plank at the Democratic convention, supporting civil rights for African Americans: "The time has come for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights!" was how Mayor Hubert put it. Apparently preferring to stay out of all that sunshine, Governor Thurmond led a walk out southern delegates from the Convention. Those delegates created a party dedicated to racial segregation and the Jim Crow laws which preserved the state governments that served as the model for the Nazi’s Nuremberg Laws. While Governor Thurmond did not win the Presidency, he did win 2.4% of the vote and carried four states (South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana).

The question becomes, Senator Lott, what exactly WERE “these problems” that an avowed racist President Thurmond would have guided our nation to avoid? If you guessed the trauma over the civil rights movements of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, culminating in the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, and a battery of other civil rights’ legislation—you’d be wrong! Senator Lott later INSISTED what he MEANT was that a President Thurmond would have guided our great nation in such a way to avoid (also in a manner unspecified) the “problems” of President Clinton’s impeachment, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and pull my finger (Okay. I made up that last one). Sure…Uh huh….Whatever you say, big guy.

Private Citizen Palin: "Pot Calls Kettle
So, in handing out awards for “Open Mouth—Insert Foot,” Senator Reid’s private comments about skin tone and flexible “negro” dialects barely rate a mention—especially compared to Senator Lott’s lavish public praise for Amerika’s champion of South African styled apartheid.

In short, but for all the flapping at Fox News, the Senator Reid story is not even VAGUELY juicy.

So, What are the Juicy Stories from Game Change?

Here’s one:

“FUCK YOU! FUCK, FUCK, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!!!”
McCain let out the stream of sharp epithets, both middle fingers raised and extended, barking in his wife’s face. He was angry; she had interrupted him. Cindy burst into tears, but, really, she should have been used to it by now.
Game Change, p. 279

Like anyone else who pays attention, I had heard references to Senator McCain’s “explosive” temper in general—but nothing specific. Game Change has a fistful of specifics. To be fair, the book mention several exchanges between Senator McCain and his wife Cindy that are sweet enough to make a person say “Awww……” (Well—I did, but I’m a softy), but still—eleven (count ‘em: eleven) shouted fucks in the face with a double one fingered salute to the Mrs.? Especially a Mrs. like Cindy McCain? That is not something that today’s hip hop happening groovy feminist cats from Nowsville would put up with—not even vaguely.

Ms. Betty Hutton. Second only to Ms.
Lollobrigida when it comes to the high
wire. Unfortunately, for reasons I am
unable to fathom, I am unable to find
any pictures where she does not look
slightly silly....
Here’s another one:

“The McCains fought in front of others, during small meetings and before large events, to the amazement and discomfort of the staff. Things could escalate quickly. She cursed him; he cursed her. She cried; he apologized. Cindy fought back, too. I never wanted you to run for this, she said. You ruined my life. It’s all about you. When it came time to film campaign videos of the couple, the camera crews had to roll for hours to capture a few minutes of warmth.” (Game Change, p. 280).

Or how about this one?

“At a scheduling meeting to discuss [daughter] Meghan’s college graduation, McCain learned that the commencement was a multiday affair that would require him to make several round trips to New York. ‘How many fucking times do I have to go to fucking New York this week?’ he yelled. ‘How many fucking times can you fucking graduate from fucking Columbia?’” (Game Change, p. 283).

For example.
All in all, Game Change details three aspects of Senator McCain that really surprised me. First, the many specific instances of crazy temper: “During a rehearsal for the first GOP debate in 2007, [McCain aide Brett] O’Donnell pressed [Senator McCain] on a question to the point where McCain finally snapped. ‘John, what is the difference between a gay marriage and a civil union?’ O’Donnell asked. McCain replied ‘I don’t give a fuck.’” (Game Change, p. 390). Second, I was familiar with the Senator McCain’s “suspension” of his campaign and flying to the Capitol crying “Here I come—To save the day!” (c.f. Underdog), but from the perspective of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and the Wall Street Bankers. At another time, I’ll go into detail (trust me—exhaustive detail) about the Great Economic Meltdown of September 2008. But I had no idea just how spectacularly unhelpful Senator McCain was. Game Change quotes Secretary Paulson’s chief of staff Mr. Jim Wilkinson saying “I’m a pro-life, pro-gun, Texas Republican. I worked all eight years for Bush. I helped sell the Iraq War. I was in the Florida recount. And I wrote a letter to John McCain asking for my five hundred contribution back, when he pulled that stunt and came back to D.C. Because it just wasn’t what a serious person does.” Mr. Wilkinson is then quoted as deciding he would be voting for Senator Obama, to Mr. Wilkinson’s “amazement.” (Game Change, p. 393).

What surprised me the most, though, was Senator McCain’s bizarre disorganization. Much more so than Senator Obama, Senator McCain had the luxury of long deadlines to make crucial decisions—but (according to Game Change) pointedly avoiding making decisions, until forced to do so. For example, Senator Obama didn’t secure the Democratic nomination until June third, when he won the Montana primary (to Senator Clinton’s South Dakota), and enough “superdelegates” decided to commit to Senator Obama. Nevertheless, by the first day of the Democratic National Convention on August 25, the Obama campaign had all their ducks in a row, especially vis-à-vis the vice presidency.

Senator McCain, on the other hand, first squandered his position as front runner prior to the campaign, so that by the end of 2007 was lagging badly behind Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Nevertheless, for a variety of good and bad reasons, on January 4 2008, Governor Romney stumbled badly in the Iowa Caucuses, losing to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Governor Romney never recovered, losing to Senator McCain in the January 8 New Hampshire primary. To the extent there was going to be any question who the 2008 GOP nominee would be, the January 19 South Carolina primary and the January 29 Florida primary would make or break the Romney, Huckabee, Giuliani, and Thompson campaigns. Senator McCain won both primaries, thus facing only nominal opposition in the 24 primaries and caucuses that made Tuesday February 5 “Super.” After Super Tuesday, Senator McCain had won the GOP nomination.

Ms. Debra Paget. Remember her?
Me neither. But that is NOT the
smile of a hick, believe you me.
The point is, Senator McCain had a four month lead on Senator Obama to select a vice presidential candidate. Nevertheless, seven months after Senator McCain had sewed up the nomination, he was still dithering over choosing between Senator Lieberman, Florida Governor Charlie Christ, or Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. With the GOP convention on September 1, on August 27 the McCain campaign flies in a 44 year old Governor with twenty months of experience, from a state whose population is smaller than San Francisco. And a moron says “What?”

In both The Battle for America and Game Change, the sloppiness and rank idiocy behind selecting a vice president was emblematic of the McCain campaign, with the responsibility laying square on Senator McCain’s cranky shoulders.

Any Good Dirt on Sarah Palin?

I thought you’d never ask:

Following the August 27 meeting with Team McCain, where the VP is offered to Governor Palin and she accepts it, Governor Palin and McCain Campaign chief of staff Mr. Steve Schmidt are flying back to Alaska. Governor Palin is described as appearing “perfectly serene:”

“Five days earlier, this woman, for all her success in Alaska, had been living in relative obscurity, without the faintest inkling that she was being seriously considered to be McCain’s running mate. And yet here she was, totally unruffled, utterly unflustered, not even terribly excited.
‘You seem very calm, not nervous,’ Schmidt said to her quizzically.
Palin nodded and replied ‘It’s God’s plan.’
(Game Change, p. 364)

In Going Rogue, Governor Palin also makes numerous references to the hand of “God” reaching out, and how the will of Providence took an active role in bringing the Governor to the national stage. Unfortunately, no one asks what I want to know: Was that also God’s will that Governor Palin look like a moron in her interview with Katie Couric? (God and that wacky sense of humour of His!) Was it also part of “God’s Plan” that Governor Palin be selected as Senator McCain’s running mate, with the two of them go on to be badly spanked in the November election, and then Governor Palin would find herself so unable to govern a one of the smallest states, and then resign in virtual disgrace? Now that’s one Mysterious Way….

Ms. Claudia Cardinale. Not necessarily
known for her high wires, she is by any
measure not a hick.
Here’s another one: Prior to the GOP convention, ABC News’s Charlie Gibson asked Senator McCain about Governor Palin:

“‘Can you look the country straight in the eye and say that Sarah Palin has the qualities and has enough experience to be commander in chief?’
‘Oh absolutely,’ McCain said—and then cited Palin’s largely ceremonial role as commander of the Alaska National Guard, an argument his own campaign had rejected as ludicrous.”
(Game Change, p. 368).

More? On Tuesday, the day before Governor Palin was to make her GOP Convention speech, the scene in Governor Palin’s hotel suite is described as follows:

“Boxes of Manolo Blahniks were piled up four feet high and stretching twenty feet along one wall of the living room. Neiman Marcus bags were everywhere, along with several rolling garment racks loaded with suits and dresses—maybe sixty outfits.”
(Game Change, p. 369).

The beginning of the scandal known as “Clothes-gate” to the cognoscenti (that sounds better than “loser nerds”). But what does Governor Palin say about Clothes-gate?

“The first wardrobe story hit on October 22: ‘RNC Shells Out $150K for Palin Fashion.’ The headline was highly misleading, as was the article itself, which said according to campaign finance disclosures, the McCain Campaign had spent $150,000 ‘to clothe and accessorize vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family.’
“I never asked the New York stylists to purchase clothes, many of the items were intended for the use of other people, and in the end the wardrobe items were all returned.”
(Going Rogue, p. 314).

Ms. Joan Collins. Before Dynasty, she
had to do SOMETHING to bring home
the bacon...I suppose.
(“Returned” where? Back to Neiman Marcus? Doubtful. Game Change also describes how Governor Palin’s suite also included a seamstress, who was working steadily altering and tailoring outfits, specifically for Governor Palin).

Governor Palin continues:

“My family is frugal. We clip coupons. We shop at Costco. We buy diapers in bulk and generic peanut butter. . .So the portrayal of my family wasting other people’s money on clothes was a false one. And many wondered at the same time why no other candidates or their spouses were being asked a thing about their hair, make up, or clothes.
“Elizabeth Hasselbeck had a theory . . . 'Now, with everything going on in the world, this seems a bit odd,' Hasselbeck said from the podium before a crowd of thousands. 'But let me tell you, this is deliberately sexist.'"
(Going Rogue, p. 325).

(And here I thought it was part of Jehovah’s Master Plan that campaign finance disclosures listing expenses of $150K for a vice presidential candidate and her family are newsworthy. Apparently, God’s a bit of fuck up).

“’I’m glad Elizabeth brought it up because it gives me an opportunity without the filter of the media to tell you the whole clothes thing,’ I told the cheering crowd. “Those clothes are not my property. Just like the lighting and staging and like everything else the RNC purchases. I’m not taking them with me. I’m wearing my own clothes from my favorite consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska.’ There, simple, it was over, and it was truthful.
“Word quickly came back from headquarters that I’d done it again—I’d gone rogue. What I had actually done was speak up to defend my ethics and my family, but still, the hammer came down.
“. . . [T]he campaign folks, especially those who had vetted and chosen me, also knew the truth. But as the story grew legs, they didn’t lift a finger to correct the record. I couldn’t understand why until I realized that by the end of the campaign, the wardrobe fairy tale [sic] had become convenient.”
(Going Rogue, p. 317).

What? Don’t all candidates announce that the campaign’s mandatory financial disclosure statements are a pack of lies?

As I write this, MSNBC’s request for e-mails from Governor Palin’s office shows (among other things) that the frugal Palins not only charged Alaska to purchase and set up a tanning bed in the Governor’s mansion, the Palins tried to hide the fact by “disguising” the electric bills for the mansion. Maybe then Governor Palin was billing the State for her tanning bed, so she could afford to buy name brand peanut butter.

Ms. Joan Leslie. What? Who says you
can't swing in four inch heels?
But is Governor Palin that Stupid?

“. . . Schmidt, Wallace, and other members of [Governor Palin’s] traveling party . . . found that, although, she’d made some progress with her memorization and studies, her grasp of rudimentary facts and concepts was minimal. Palin couldn’t explain why North and South Korea were separate nations. She didn’t know what the Fed did. Asked who attacked America on 9/11, she suggested several times that it was Saddam Hussein. Asked to identify the enemy that her son would be fighting in Iraq, she drew a blank.”
(Game Change, p. 397).

Well…..yeah. On 60 Minutes, Steve Schmidt also said (which is not mentioned in Game Change) that Governor Palin did not know Africa was a continent, as opposed to just one nation. In her chats with Bill O’Reilly, Governor Palin hotly denied that she didn’t know about the two Koreas, and insisted she knew all about Africa. However, she did admit that she knew as much as the “average American” knew about Iraq, so conceded that much was true. (Governor Palin also uses the same weaselly language in Going Rogue, about how she knows what “average Americans” know, and countless times brags on her “common sense conservatism” and “common sense solutions.”)

But how ignorant is Governor Palin? In Game Change, McCain chief of staff Steve Schmidt assigns Mr. Steve Biegun (who is not mentioned in Going Rogue) and Randy Scheunemann to tutor Governor Palin. “You guys have got a lot of work to do…She doesn’t know anything,” Schmidt is quoted as saying. Game Change continues:

“Scheunemann and Biegun took Schmidt at his word. They sat Palin down at a table in the suite, spread out a map of the world, and proceeded to give her a potted history of foreign policy. They stated with the Spanish Civil War, then moved on to World War I, World War II, the cold war, and what Scheunemann liked to call the “the [sic] three wars” of today—Iraq, Afghanistan, and the global war on terror.”
(Game Change, p. 370-71)

Brief interjection: Now, weirdos like me honestly DO think the Spanish Civil War was damn important—but to start there? I think the Game Change editors/proofreaders whiffed on that one, with Palin’s tutors beginning with the Spanish-American Warinstead of the 1936 Civil War.

Here's what Sarah Palin said about Mr. Schmidt to Mr. Bill O'Reilly:

Be that as it may, the question remains: is Sarah Palin smarter than the average bear? Probably—but I do know that for someone who aspires to be a political player on the national state, Sarah Palin’s intellectual capacity is abysmal. Here’s why I think so:

Ms. Gina Lollobrigida. I could hear
rumblings from the peanut gallery that
a swing was not a high wire, so I better
slip in another Ms. Lollobrigida. Happy?
First, Sarah Palin has a Bachelors in “communications,” attended five (count ‘em: five) different colleges, and took ONE class in economics (“Macroeconomics,” she says in Going Rogue), where she scored a D. Now, none of those things in themselves spell “idiot,” but that’s a whole lot of “idiot” smoke.

Second, Going Rogue is wall to wall generalities about “common sense” and what the “average American” thinks, and nothing more specific than that. Those are also huge red flags.

Third, looking at the specific allegations of idiocy from Game Change and Mr. Schmidt’s 60 Minutesappearance, the fact Governor Palin doesn’t understand the concepts on that list is not terribly surprising. Beginning with the “two Koreas,” I am sure that Governor Palin knows the name Kim Jong Ill, and that North Korea is “communist” and South Korea is “free”—but not anything more than that. The Korean War, Syngman Rhee, Kim Il Sung, and the 38th Parallel probably mean less than nothing to her—even if she has watched a whole bunch of Alan Alda on MASH.

As for not knowing what the Federal Reserve does—I can see how the vagaries of our nation’s money supply is probably a closed book to most Americans (and probably Governor Palin as well). There’s not one word about the banking system in Going Rogue, and her platitudes regarding the 2008 credit crisis are mealy mouthed and nonsensical in the extreme. Still—I don’t think it’s too much to expect the Governor of Alaska (and the mayors of San Francisco and all cities larger than The City) to know SOMETHING about the banking industry. I mean, doesn’t anyone issue government bonds in Alaska?

Not Saddam Hussein. But also not a
key architect of the 9/11 attacks.
As for the 9/11 terror attacks, despite the best efforts of President Bush, Condeleeza Rice, and Dick Cheney, if you think any of the following were connected to the sky jackings, you are an embarrassment to the genus primate: Saddam Hussein, Iran, North Korea, Vladimir Putin, orBooberella. So, considering that Private Citizen Palin admits she thought Iraq was involved with the 9/11 attacks puts her square in the the “idiot” box. Moreover, the fact Governor Palin’s SON was shipping over to Iraq, the fact she did not know the difference between Shiite and Sunni (and probably Iran and Iraq as well) is disgraceful.

Moving on to the “Africa” story, several of Private Citizen Palin’s defenders insist that the Private Citizen knew all about Africa, from the missionary work her church did, as well as collections to combat AIDS. My personal opinion: most Americans don’t know squat about Africa, and Sarah Palin would have no reason to be any different. On the one hand, I think Mr. Schmidt may be overstating the case when he said that Private Citizen Palin didn’t understand that Africa consisted of several different countries. But on the other, I would bet money that prior to her special tutorials, Private Citizen Palin could not have named five African nations.

Again, is Sarah Palin an idiot? Yes—in the sense that she doesn’t even know the limits of her own ignorance, and views the degree to that she’s uninformed as a strength. That point is stressed in Game Change, The Battle for America, and even in Palin’s own Going Rogue.

But Are Ms. Palin’s Pants Really on Fire?

Big time, as Vice President Cheney would say:

“The first signs of trouble appeared immediately after the convention, when the campaign staff began digging in a systematic way into Palin’s background, and noticed that she had a tendency to shade the truth. Had she really said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to the Bridge to Nowhere? Well, no. Had she really sold the state jet on eBay? Not exactly. Had she and Todd really been without health insurance until he got his union card? Actually, the story was more complicated…The campaign quickly discovered that consulting her about any issue…invariably yielded a sanitized version of reality.”
(Game Change, p. 396)

Battle for America presents almost an identical laundry list of occasions were Private Citizen Palin looked reality square in the eye, and denied it. Regarding the line in her stump speech about how Alaska said “Thanks but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere, and how if Alaska wanted a bridge, they’d build it themselves—what was left unsaid was that Alaska still received the all the money, they were just not required to build a bridge with it. Palin told the campaign that she had “no recollection” of whether the town of Wasilla charged victims of sexual assault for rape kits and examinations. “McCain’s advisors could not believe that” (Battle for America, p. 359).

Ms. Gene Tierney. Just because
someone has you dress like an
idiot, that does not make you a
hick. It does not hurt if you
also happen to look like Ms.
Both Game Change and Battle quote the McCain campaign as surprised and embarrassed when the final report came out regarding “Troopergate” (when then Governor Palin pressured (and ultimately fired) Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan to fire a state trooper who was also Palin’s ex-brother in law. Governor Palin immediately claimed the report wholly vindicated her, when it did nothing of the sort. Even in Going Rogue, Private Citizen Palin fuzzes over what the report actually said: “The ‘independent’ investigator ultimately issued a strained and nonsensical decision in October that actually declared that I had been well within my legal rights to reassign Commissioner Monegan” (Rogue, P. 369).

And then there’s the story about the Alaska Independence Party:

“…Palin got into a fight with Schmidt when she insisted that the campaign put out a statement denying Todd’s involvement in the Alaskan Independence Party. Palin contended that Todd had mistakenly registered with the party and rectified the error; she also claimed that the party had nothing to do with secession. Schmidt curtly informed her that secession was the party’s reason for existence and that, according to the party’s records, Todd had been a member for seven years” (Game Change, p. 410).

Or as Palin puts it in Going Rogue: “My husband, for example, isn’t registered with any party, for sound reasons, having been an eyewitness to the idiosyncrasies of party machines” (Rogue, p. 384). Sure. And how about this one? “Piper Indi Grace was born March 19 [2001], a Monday. Todd flies a Piper plane, but I just liked the name. ‘Indi’ for ‘Independence’ (though the Indy 500 is pretty cool too)…” (Rogue, p. 76). Right—Your daughter is named “Indi” because of a motor race in Indiana, and not because Todd was active in the Alaska Independence Party at that time.

But Private Citizen Palin gets right to the heart of the problem: "It was one lie after another--from rape kits to Bridges to Nowhere. All easy enough to disprove if the press had done its job" (Rogue, p. 237). See? The problem was not Ms. Palin; the problem was the mainstream media's bad habit of pointing out discrepancies. It's a running theme in Going Rogue that it's the media's job to make Ms. Palin look good--not that it's Ms. Palin's job to make herself look competent in front of the media.

Rest assured, not only are Ms. Palin’s pants on fire, she is also hanging from the proverbial telephone wire.

What Does Game Change Miss?

What Game Change (and to a lesser extent, Battle for America) misses out on are three areas: the Democratic Convention, the GOP Convention, and Private Citizen Palin’s performance in her debate.

Democratic Convention

Given that the last time a political convention actually meant something was the Democrats in 1960, where there really was a question as to who would be nominated, I’ll concede that it is difficult to stage a convention that is worth a damn. Perhaps because there wasn’t a “convention bounce” in the popularity polls, the size and substance of the 2008 Democratic Convention does not get the play it rates. Nevertheless, that convention was a replay of the Iowa Caucuses, meaning that it was going to be bad news to be a Republican in 2008. While a respectable 119,188 people showed up for Iowa’s GOP caucuses, that number was dwarfed by the 239,000 odd people who attended the Democratic Caucuses. If the Republicans were going to hang on to the White House, Iowa was a state they’d need—and the numerical disparity of caucus attendance was not a good sign.

Ms. Adele Jergens. Just because you
have a really big hat, that does not
make you a hick.
Similarly, the numbers attending the Democratic convention in Denver were huge. Not only was the convention hall filled, but when then Senator Obama gave his acceptance speech, he gave it before a filled Mile High Stadium. That’s a whole lotta people committed to go work in the so-called swing states. Additionally, sharing the stage with Senator Obama were a large number of military men, all of whom endorsing Senator Obama’s ability to be commander in chief. While the McCain campaign certainly tired, they wouldn’t get any traction over the fact that Senator McCain was a former POW in Vietnam, and Senator Obama had never served in the military. At any given time, Senator Obama had more (and higher ranking) military officers endorsing his candidacy that did Senator McCain.

Just seeing the size and scope of the Democrats at their convention meant they were going to be a formidable force in the election, regardless of the immediate polls.

GOP Convention

While this isn’t really the time for me to go into a rant about how the GOP’s 2004 Convention was the sleaziest in recent memory, there’s no question (well, in my mind) that the GOP’s 2008 Convention was the saddest. The Bush-Cheney team had set new records (the bad kind) in popularity, such that none of the (at one time) fourteen GOP contenders ran as a member of the incumbent party. Every one of them (Governor Romney especially) were running on a platform of “change.”

When it came time for the convention in Minneapolis, candidates stayed away in droves. From the Pacific Northwest, both Oregon incumbent GOP Senator Gordon Smith and Dino Rossi, Washington GOP challenger to Governor Gregoire both claimed “scheduling conflicts” prevented them from attending any part of the convention (both went on to lose their respective races anyway). The only candidate in a close race who played a significant role was Senator Tim Palwenty, host of the convention (who also went on to lose his seat).

During the convention itself, the GOP lighting people set bright lights on the small number of people on the main floor, leaving the bulk of the hall in darkness—all in an effort to disguise the small turnout. The sitting President made a brief statement via camera, and other than that, his name was not mentioned. Ostensively, both the President and Vice President’s speeches, which were scheduled on the opening day of the convention, were nixed because of an approaching hurricane—and could not be rescheduled. Given the number of hicks and dips who didn’t hold elected office but nevertheless spoke at the convention, the fact that a two-term sitting President couldn’t be wedged in is a little suspicious…..

All in all, the 2008 GOP Convention was a convention without either a message or an audience.

Ms. Adele Jergens. Okay--Admittedly,
sitting on a pile of hay, chewing on a
piece of straw is pretty hick-like. But
not if you're also wearing heels.
The Vice Presidential Debate

What all parties make clear (even Ms. Palin herself in Going Rogue), by the time the vice presidential debate rolled around, expectations for Governor Palin couldn’t be lower if she were a third grader—as opposed to someone sitting a heartbeat from the Presidency. Nevertheless, the pressure was on Biden not to be condescending or rude regarding what was sure to be a streams of Palin-style idiocy.

“The debate went well—from my perspective, anyway,” is how Ms. Palin puts it (Rogue, p. 297), once again invoking the immortal Ronald Reagan quote about how we don’t pass “freedom” on to our children: “We have to fight for it and protect it and then hand it to them so that they shall do the same, or we’re going to find ourselves spending out sunset years telling our children and our children’s children about a time in America back in the day when men and women were free.”
“That’s what I wanted Americans to remember,” Ms. Palin concludes (Rogue, p. 297). What Ms. Palin DOESN’T want America to remember is that when Ronald Reagan made that speech, the programs that were going to destroy freedom for his children, and their children’s children were Medicare and Medicaid. So, is Ms. Palin calling for a repeal of Medicare and Medicaid? Oddly, she doesn’t say.

There are two points that infuriate me about that debate. First, the fact that Ms. Palin largely received a “pass” as to whether she would answer a given question. Several times, Ms. Palin gave a series of non-responsive platitudes instead of answering a question—and then she flat out SAID that she very well might not answer the question the moderator asked. At that point, it’s the role of the moderator to call the rogue (to coin a phrase) participant to task. Unfortunately, Moderator Gwen Ifil might have felt she was hamstrung, because the McCain Campaign had questioned Ms. Ifil’s integrity, because she was writing a book on African American politicians (including Barak Obama).

Nevertheless, if any other candidate at any time deigned to declare it was within the candidate’s sole discretion to answer any question, that campaign would be over before the debate was finished. But not Sarah Palin: “Well, she’s pretty stupid—so we’ll let her pick and choose which questions fit best with her memorized platitudes.”

The second point that angered me beyond the power for rational thought was Ms. Palin’s persistent winking during the debate. At first, I thought I was seeing things—but she did it several times. What is THAT supposed to mean? Is she being cute? Who is she supposed to be winking at? What the hell was the point of that? What if Mitt Romney or Chris Dodd winked while they debated? I don't even want to think about it......

In conclusion, I thought Game Change was weak on the conventions, and gave Ms. Palin a pass on her “performance” in the debate.

Ms. Ginger Rogers. I chose this photo to show that she didn't HAVE to do everything in heels and backwards....

So—Where is Governor Palin Headed?

Not a regular gig on Fox News

Say what you want about Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and Bill O’Reilly et al, but not just any idiot can wander in off the street and do their job. Sarah Palin just does not have the intellectual depth to be a talking head. She couldn’t even be one of the flock of idiots on Fox & Friends. For example, when Glen Beck asked Private Citizen Palin who her favorite “founding father” was, she gave the deer in headlights flash, and then spit out “George Washington.” Not to dis on the “Father” of our country, but if Washington is your “favorite,” then you’ve got an excellent malpractice suit against your high school history teacher.

During her brief sojourn with Bill O’Reilly, virtually all of Governor Palin’s comments were “uh huh” and platitudes about “common sense solutions” (and not anything more specific than that). She couldn’t hold up her end of the conversation, something that both Mr. Beck and Mr. O’Reilly agreed on:

Another position in electoral politics?

Forget it. If you can’t be Mayor of Alaska (there’s not enough people who live there to support a “governor”) because of (literally) a handful of ethics complaints, you can’t do anything else. That’s the easiest ride out there. Moreover, if your idea of “unfair, got ya” questions are the softballs Katie Couric handed Governor Palin, what would she do with all the Helen Thomas wannabes?

A missionary position?--Wait, that didn't come out right

Governor Palin is positioning herself to take over some large evangelical foundation—like Focus on the Family, founded by James Dobson. One of my favorite Alaska bloggers, The Immoral Minority, first suggested that career path, and it makes sense. What is Sarah Palin good at? Reciting crap that she’s memorized by rote. She can’t think on her feet, because of too shallow of an intellectual base and too jumpy of a personality. Heading up a group like Focus on the Family allows her to work with a variety of ghostwriters, the luxury of never having to move off a set stump speech, plus you make lots of money. Beats working.

How Sure are You that Governor Palin’s Political Career is Over?

Pretty sure:

“In late October [2008], Obama’s focus group maestro, David Binder, was conducting a session with a group of swing voters in a Cleveland suburb. A middle aged woman let loose with a string of not-unfamiliar broadsides against Obama. He’s a Muslim. He’s soft on terrorism—because he’s a Muslim. He doesn’t put his hand on his heart during patriotic rituals. We’re not even sure he was born in this country.
“Binder was confused. This was supposed to be a group of undecided voters. If you think all those terrible things about Obama, he asked the woman, how can you possibly be undecided?
“Because if McCain dies, Palin would be president, she said.”
(Game Change, p. 416)
Ms. Laraine Day. Ms. Day is a graduate of the Sarah Palin Correspondence School of Debate.

Books cited in this note:

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (Harper 2010)
The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election, by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson (Viking 2009)
Going Rogue: An American Life, by Sarah Palin (Harper 2009)


robbie said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

Nice essay, Bill. Sarah was in Arkansas last night for a Republican Party fundraiser- they managed to shoehorn 5,000 people into a 18,000-capacity arena. In the last few hours prior to the event, they were discounting the tickets to $20, one order of magnitude less. So, shall we stick the fork in? F'ing retard.

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