Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Quick Thoughts on Palin's Speech

She did what she needed to do. She gave a convincing performance with a good delivery. The only time I noticed her waiver was when referring to global energy concerns in Venezuela. Her youngest daughter was also very cute.

The Republicans seem to be much more ad hominem than the Dems were (although the Dems did use the 7 houses line quite a bit). She introduced her family at length and then went into how America likes small town leaders. It is a story which makes sense, but it still remains to be seen if she does. The speech did not focus heavily on policy and did not really give the sense that policy intricacies are her forte. She did not talk about housing at all, for instance. Equally absent was a strong conservative social message--she did not mention abortion or activist judges in her speech. Her message was as a reformer, and she delivered it convincingly. That the Republicans can sell an anti-insider platform is really amazing, considering it was they who created the current explosion of lobbying in Washington.

What's this business of referring to Obama as "our opponent"? He is not Voldemort. Poor form.

Her job was not to lay out detailed policy, but look competent behind a podium. I was fairly impressed with her delivery given her relative new-comer status on the national stage. I don't know if she is really going to affect the campaigns beyond tonight. She will not craft policy and her aims in the VP debate will not be that high. She gives the impression of a ticket that is willing to change the order in Washington, but I think it will be mostly up to McCain and Obama to sell their visions.

Something that really bothers me though is that it really seems as if people are willing to equate Palin's lack of experience with Obama's. The frustrating part is that there is a trump card that cannot be played--Obama is brilliant. No one wants to hear that Obama was editor of Harvard Law Review or offered a professorship at one of the country's best law schools, it does not play well in Nebraska or Coal Country. But he is deeply immersed in policy debates and understands the complexities. When he does not he has others do the scut work like Cass Sunstein and Rob Rubin. Would you pick any CEO to run the country? Is that all it takes?

[Cleaned up from earlier] Now that I think of it, Palin's presentation is rather similar G.W. Bush in 2000. Then Gov. Bush packaged himself as a compassionate conservative who had reached across the aisle to get things done in TX. The role of the governor is not especially large in TX, but he offered a return to American morals (as a born-again Christian) in the wake of the schism relating to Pres. Clinton's sexual improprieties. Bush did not run on his father's coattails and it is still largely forgotten that Bush 43 was born in CT and not TX. It was not perceived as the extension of a legacy, but a new direction for the country. Palin similarly sets herself up as an outsider (which she truly is) who can come into Washington and restore decency. My frustration is that Palin sets the stage for precisely the same failures for which the Bush administration has been responsible. His Manichaean understanding of policy options and lack of comfort justifying his decisions seem, at present, to have done the country ill. But Palin sets up those very concerns all over again. Electing a president who is both articulate and bright may actually be a good thing. No one likes an armchair academic ('cept me, of course) but surely there is *some* value to carefully thought-through policies. Though Palin is only filling the VP slot the same arguments that will advance the Republican ticket with her on it are exactly those that placed us in many of the messes we find ourselves in today. I fear that people will make the same misjudgment with Palin that was made with Bush because of this discomfort with expertise. Maybe JS Mill was right, just a little.


Anonymous said...

I'll tell you Zev, I have not concluded that Obama is brilliant. Well maybe if your definition is really expansive. I'm sure I skipped a huge portion of his con law class, but I skipped classes of other profs who nevertheless still blew me away with their intelligence. The only distinctive impression I recall having of Obama is that he seemed much nicer than a typical law prof. This isn't to say, he didn't strike me as intelligent. Unremarkable by UofC standards is still pretty good. That's about all I can say from my own personal experience

As far as other evidence goes, I don't see brilliance there either. He never actually produced any scholarship, though he apparently had considered writing something on voting rights. I certainly had instructors who may not have impressed in class, but had scholarship that showed brilliance.

You apparently predict high IQ from his presence on Harvard Law Review or the offer of a tenure track appointment at UofC law. This is certainly reasonable, though I wonder whether you would characterize every such person as brilliant. Moreover affirmative action has such a strong role in these areas that I do not think you could reasonably predict as high an IQ for probable AA beneficiaries as for others.

I seem to recall that the concensus was that Hillary Clinton regularly demonstrated a much greater command of policy than Obama. As with UofC instructors, Presidential candidates are probably a significantly above average IQ group. My impression is that in the Democratic debates Obama was considered at best in the middle in either mastery of policy or quickness of mind and mouth. But maybe you think most Presidential candidates brilliant.

I'm curious but ignorant. Do you have any special reason to believe there has been a recent explosion of lobbying in DC beyond what any secular trends would predict (i.e; growth of the economy, growth of government, or nationalization or globalization of the economy) and that the GOP created it?

One further point. If the GOP were to treat Obama like Voldemort they would refer to him as "he who shall not be middle-named". I've seen that elsewhere so don't credit me.


Zev said...

You are right to challange the scope of brilliance I presented. To be fair you are right, he is not brilliant the way Epstein, Sunstein or Posner are. He is not going to produce any legal decisions or scholarship that will be read in a century.

What I meant by brilliant is that he has the ability to weigh policy alternatives himself without mediated interpretation. He can look at data and trends and draw advanced college level conclusions. I am not convinced Palin or McCain have that ability. Nothing I have heard indicates to me that McCain understands the principles of macroeconomics or how a regression works. I feel safe saying the same about Palin. Neither do they seem to consider or regard broad based models which address international relations and conflict resolution, while Obama is purported to love scholarship. McCain has specifically said that he does not understand the economy and his inability to demonstrate how he will balance the federal budget while leaving the tax code as is reinforces my impressions that McCain does not think carefully about policy.

My ignorant sense of lobbying is that Republicans tend to support Big Business and BBs are more likely to have the organizational capacity to lobby effectively. Lobbying is slightly different from special interest groups (insert my bias here) SIG are around Washington for all time and build "grassroots" support to pressure Washington from the outside, as well as coordinating campaign contributions. Lobbyists are guns for higher who push specific pieces of legislation as they arise. So if you are Comcast you will higher a lobbyist firm to push for net-neutrality, even though there is no constituency advocating for it. It is easier to call in favors for one shot items than, oh, say, to pick a random example, annual foreign aid authorization bills. Then again the climate might have risen completely coincidentally around economic prosperity. What do I know.

Hussein. There, I said it.