Saturday, October 4, 2008

Conservative standards

In the last few weeks, I've been dumbfounded by conservative commentators who defend John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as well as Palin's own qualifications to be VP or even president. Did they really believe what they were saying when they tried to justify the "Alaska is next to Russia" standard for foreign policy experience several weeks ago? Were they serious over the last day or so when claiming that Governor Palin won the debate on any other level than being more telegenic and attractive than Senator Biden?

These are smart people, I assume. If that's the case, do they really believe what they're saying? If so, then my assumptions were way off. However, if they don't believe it and are shoveling these rationalizations because they're so blinded by a desire to win that they'll say anything, I just have to wonder how deep they had to bury their standards to willingly go along with this.

There are a lot of things I don't agree with about the view of political, fiscal, or social conservatives. However, I've known a few and with only a few exceptions, have been able to respect their beliefs because they were honestly held and they respected mine. Sometimes, we simply made the decision that there were certain topics about which we shouldn't speak because we knew we'd butt heads and that was fine. There were plenty of other things to discuss – the Red Sox, movies, new books, TV shows, etc. I also know that Independents, Democrats, and those of a liberal ilk don't always have the best ideas.

But the willingness of conservative pundits, commentators, and writers to throw aside their standards of competence and qualifications in the name of the ideological imperative to make sure a Republican, any Republican, is in the White House and (god forbid) one heartbeat away, is baffling to me. I guess I'm too naive in this way, too trusting, or too hopeful that people make choices based on rational, grounded, and firmly held beliefs, upon ethical standards, or by drawing on a well-grounded moral code. I just don't see how conservative commentators can honestly claim to be doing that here.

Joe Conason's new essay in Salon, "The Dumbing Down of the GOP", asks some great questions, including: Why aren't more conservatives disgusted that their party nominated a person devoid of qualifications for the vice presidency (again)?

Conason writes:

There was a time when conservatives lamented the dumbing down of American culture. Preservation of basic standards in schools and workplaces compelled them -- or so they said -- to resist affirmative action for women and minorities. Qualifications mattered; merit mattered; and demagogic appeals for leveling were to be left to the Democrats.

Not anymore.


Palin's phony populism is as insulting to working- and middle-class Americans as it is to American women. Why are basic diction and intellectual coherence presumed to be out of reach for "real people"?

And why don't we expect more from American conservatives? Indeed, why don't they demand more from their own movement?

And the conservatives who do raise questions and concerns? They're vilified as traitors.

The most prominent example so far has been Kathleen Parker, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post. Her September 28th column, "The Palin Problem," took a candid look at the Palin Phenomenom and its appeal. After supporting Govenor Palin at the outset, Ms. Parker took the time to reassess Palin's capabilities as well as the potential for a McCain/Palin ticket to succeed on November 4th. Her conclusion?

If Palin were a man, we'd all be guffawing, just as we do every time Joe Biden tickles the back of his throat with his toes. But because she's a woman -- and the first ever on a Republican presidential ticket -- we are reluctant to say what is painfully true.

What to do?

McCain can't repudiate his choice of running mate. He not only risks the wrath of the GOP's unforgiving base, but he invites others to second-guess his executive decision-making ability. Barack Obama faces the same problem with Biden.

Only Palin can save McCain, her party and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.

Do it for your country.

Clearly, Parker is not morphing into a Democrat. Calling for Palin to remove herself from the ticket isn't "Sarah-bashing", it's a belief that competency is something that Republican Party shouldn't simply cast aside. She's taking a stand on what's best for her party. Her goal is to make sure that the Republicans hold the White House because she believes its the right way for the country to move forward. I can respect that.

Some of her readers apparently can't, as she discussed in "The Omen in My Mail", her October 1 follow-up column.

The fierce reaction to my column has been both bracing and enlightening. After 20 years of column writing, I'm familiar with angry mail. But the past few days have produced responses of a different order. Not just angry, but vicious and threatening.

Some of my usual readers feel betrayed because I previously have written favorably of Palin. By changing my mind and saying so, I am viewed as a traitor to the Republican Party -- not a "true" conservative.

Partisanship is the operating principle in our political system now. Jon Stewart had it right when he mocked Senate leaders who congratulated themselves on actually accomplishing something that required a modicum of cooperation...also known as what they're supposed to be doing all the time! In our political discourse now, dissenters are faced with death threats simply for having a different opinion.

Believe me...I'm not so unsophisticated, gullible, or innocent not to realize that people across the political spectrum aren't like this. Democrats can be just as fanatical and vicious in their response to attacks. They can be just as willing to overlook flaws when necessary to advance their agenda.

Still, the sheer audacity of Conservatives' willingness to raise Governor Palin up while allowing their standards for leadership to drop so precipitously is truly remarkable. I can only hope that the American voters are willing to look beyond the pundits. The challenges facing the United States right now are too grave, too broad, to risk on a presidential candidate who is willing to choose a running mate so stunningly ill-equipped for the role.


It occurred to me after writing this that a conservative reader might wonder if the Democrats were ignoring the same lack of qualifications in Barack Obama. I don't believe so. An excerpt from The New Yorker's recent endorsement of Obama spells it out far better than I could:

It is perfectly legitimate to call attention, as McCain has done, to Obama’s lack of conventional national and international policymaking experience. We, too, wish he had more of it. But office-holding is not the only kind of experience relevant to the task of leading a wildly variegated nation. Obama’s immersion in diverse human environments (Hawaii’s racial rainbow, Chicago’s racial cauldron, countercultural New York, middle-class Kansas, predominantly Muslim Indonesia), his years of organizing among the poor, his taste of corporate law and his grounding in public-interest and constitutional law—these, too, are experiences. And his books show that he has wrung from them every drop of insight and breadth of perspective they contained.

The exhaustingly, sometimes infuriatingly long campaign of 2008 (and 2007) has had at least one virtue: it has demonstrated that Obama’s intelligence and steady temperament are not just figments of the writer’s craft.

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