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So you Palin-mockers think you’re so smart

Over the past month, the Palin Phenomenon has been moving too fast for me to keep up.  It took me a week or two to figure out what I thought about seeing a major-party VP candidate with a child with Down syndrome (pretty cool, except, you know, for her actual policies on disability and McCain’s plan to strip another ten or twenty million Americans of health insurance), and by then, everyone had moved on to full-bore Sarahmania.  Welcome to the Palindrome!  (Sorry.  Sorry.  Couldn’t resist.) And no sooner did I begin to wrap my head around Sarahmania than the interviews started to hit the YouTubes, and before I knew it, the full-scale panic was on.

My initial reaction to the “in what respect, Charlie?” moment was that it was like watching a student try to fake a term paper in real time: “well, the Bush Doctrine, Charlie, is a doctrine developed by George Bush.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘doctrine’ as ‘a: something that is taught; b: a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief,’ and the Bush Doctrine has taught us much about the body of principles in George Bush’s system of belief, which is to defend America and never blink, Charlie.” Not surprisingly, Palin’s moose-in-headlights performances have reminded almost everyone of what it’s like to try to fake it, and, since many of us have been (woefully unprepared) students at some point in our lives (including me), Palin seems to evoke painful memories across the political spectrum.  Witness CrunchyCon Rod Dreher:

I remember the morning I woke up in my college dorm room and went in to take my final exam in my Formal Logic class. I knew I was unready. Massively unready. And now I was going to be put to the ultimate test. I sat down in Dr. Sarkar’s class and resolved to wing it. Of course I failed the exam and failed the class, because I had no idea what I was talking about. I wasn’t a bad kid, or even a stupid kid. I was just badly unprepared, and in way over my head. Seeing the Palin interview on CBS, I thought of myself in Dr. Sarkar’s exam. But see, I was a college undergraduate who had the chance to take the class again, which I did, and passed (barely). I wasn’t running for vice president of the United States.

I then read the remarkable Ta-Nehisi Coates post that opens with a citation of Dreher, and I found that it called attention to an aspect of McCain’s cynicism I had overlooked. (Dang!  and I thought I’d caught them all!) But until Dreher and Kathleen Parker broke ranks, I was simply amazed by the willingness of conservative pundits to go to the mat for Palin. Katha Pollitt’s most recent column sums up my sense of things exactly (thanks, Katha!):

The stress on high-end conservative pundits is beginning to show. These are people, after all, who belong to the Ivy-educated, latte-drinking, Tuscan-vacationing urban elite they love to ridicule and who see themselves, however deludedly, as policy intellectuals and grown-ups. They’ve written endlessly about “excellence” and “standards.” McCain’s erratic flounderings, and Palin’s patent absurdity, have driven David Brooks and George Will to write columns so anguished I’d feel sorry for them had they not made their bed by spending the past eight years rationalizing the obvious inadequacies of George W. Bush.

(One lovely tidbit from that column: Pollitt quotes Charles Murray’s New York Times Magazine interview with Deborah Solomon.  On Palin, he says, “I’m in love. Truly and deeply in love,” Murray said. “The last thing we need are more pointy-headed intellectuals running the government.” Now, I know that Murray has been railing against the evil cognitive elite for much of his career, but the “pointy-headed intellectual” trope is a bit much, since Murray is, after all, an intellectual, and his head is by all accounts very, very pointy.  Which is why it fits so well inside that Death Eater hood.)

“Michael, please,” says my imaginary interlocutor.  “You know perfectly well that even the ‘high-end conservative pundits’ will slurp down any old slop they’re fed by the party.  That’s their job.  It’s degrading and dehumanizing, sure, and a lot of them can’t face themselves in the morning anymore, but you have to remember that the pay is awfully good.”

“What about Bill Kristol?” I asked my imaginary interlocutor.  “I mean, he’s the very most hackiest of the hacks, but he’s also the child of two serious conservative intellectuals.  Do you think he has any morning sickness about Palin-shilling?”

“The thing about Kristol,” I.I. replied, “is that after he’s dead, we’re going to find out not only that he has no vital oils but that he has no internal organs whatsoever.  No higher-order consciousness, no pineal gland housing the soul.  What’s in there instead?  Just balsam wood from tip to toe.”


So I understood Palin, from the outset, as basically the latest installment in a generation-long project of bird-flipping from the right.  Beginning with Reagan, the GOP has come to understand that when it runs with amiable dunces—even putatively amiable dunces—at the top of the ticket (Reagan, Bush II), it kicks butt and (as Atrios succinctly puts it) pisses off liberals; when it runs old-school government-and-civics types who understand things like parliamentary procedure and know the names of furren leaders (Bush I, Dole), it doesn’t fare so well (Bush I won but quickly squandered the party’s Reagan Dividend; meanwhile, Quayle kept alive the attack-on-eloquence-and-arugula).  The idea, of course, is to run “ordinary people” (even if they hail from families who have been among America’s political and economic elite for generations) against us Volvo-driving liberal elitists.  You know that already.  McCain/ Palin merely seemed the most outrageous gambit on this culture-war front, the most deliberate and direct assault on the idea that being reasonably informed about shit should be some kind of prerequisite for the presidency.

Because, you know, the campaign didn’t have to say anything at all about Palin’s foreign-policy expertise.  They could simply have said, “it’s not her strong suit, sure, but she’s a quick study and brings a lot of populist energy to the ticket.” Or they could have said, “she’s a strong social conservative and deeply knowledgeable about how to organize a Rapture.” But no.  Instead, they went on national television and made a series of arguments so stunningly and egregiously stupid that they wouldn’t have passed muster forty years ago in my third-grade class’s debate over the relative merits of Nixon and Humphrey.  Seriously: if one of my fellow eight-year-olds had said anything like, “Sarah Palin has foreign policy experience because Alaska is close to Russia,” we would have laughed his (or her!) right out of the room.  And if someone had then tried to follow up with “no, really, she has foreign policy experience because she knows more about energy than anyone in America,” he (or she!) would have been sent to the principal’s office.  Or to the school nurse.

And that, my friends, is why I have chosen to honor McCain/ Palin with that graphic in my sidebar.  As a tribute to their contribution to public debate and reasoned political deliberation.  All under the umbrella of job creation.

I’ve been reading the GOP campaign as being not merely an assault on liberal elites—like I say, that’s old news—but a frontal attack on the very idea of standards of plausibility in argument.  To friends and family (and one or two inquiring reporters), I’ve been calling it the National Insult My Intelligence Tour 2008.  It’s as if they’re simply trying to see how much amazing shit they can get away with (like this amazing shit!), even though (as many people have noted) this strategy requires them to run against the very constituency McCain had courted for over a decade—the elite Beltway punditocracy, McCain’s base.

And in so doing, they’re laying a fairly obvious trap for actual liberal elitists like me.  When I was speaking at the Belmont Humanities Symposium last month, the topic of presidential debates came up—partly because the forum was about debate, check, and partly because Belmont is hosting the second presidential debate.  And in response to one student’s question, I said (among other things) that I can’t stand it when liberals go around saying that Obama is going to wipe the floor with McCain in the debates, or that the Biden-Palin debate will turn the lights out on the whole campaign, because too many liberals and progressives continue to think it’s all a matter of being the smartest person in the room.  There are plenty of Republican-voting people out there, I said, who are resentful and (guess what) bitter . . . because they truly believe they are being governed by high and mighty muck-a-mucks who sneer at their pastimes and their cherished local traditions, and they don’t see Obama (or Hillary either!) as someone who’ll give them the time of day.  If this election gets framed as Ordinary People against Mr. Extra Extra Smart, I thought, the Democrats are going down in flames.  Every time a liberal says, “of course our side should win this—we’re so much smarter than they are,” he (or she!) plays right into the right’s cultural-resentment script.  And they make themselves sound like nineteen-year-old Objectivists into the bargain.

The financial crisis may have altered these dynamics, insofar as it seems to have alerted millions of Americans to the virtues of having a president who knows what he’s (or she’s) talking about.  But three weeks ago at Belmont, I was pretty well convinced that McCain/ Palin were going to spend two months saying the most ludicrous and batshit things just to (a) make right-wing intellectuals and pundits repeat them and defend them, (b) confuse low-information voters, and (c) piss off liberal elites.  And that they might very well win, too.  At dinner that night, after the debate about debates, I suggested to my Belmont hosts that it was part of a 30-year culture-war experiment: just as George W. Bush made us nostalgic for the wit and wisdom of Ronald Reagan, so too, in her time, would President Palin make us long for the sagacity and statecraft of George W. Bush.

But then a non-imaginary interlocutor said a most interesting thing.  (It was a dinner for twelve people, and I didn’t catch his name, or I’d tell you.) He pointed out that the right-wing culture war against pointy-headed intellectuals does not extend to the judiciary.  On the contrary, he said, it’s as if they’re willing to run a cephalopod and a bag of hammers for the executive branch (I don’t think these were his exact words), but they actually recruit and train all their intellectual firepower for the courts (those were pretty much his exact words).  And, of course, he’s right: Scalia, Alito, Roberts—these are all graduates from Pointyheaded Liberal Elite Law School, Evil Genius Division, and the glaring exception, Clarence Thomas, was a Palinesque conservative-affirmative-action fuck-you payback for the rejection of Elitist Evil Genius Robert Bork.

And the right-wing noise machine got the memo, too: witness the fact that everyone on the right, even down to bottom-feeding shriekers like Michelle Malkin, duly took up their torches and pitchforks when Bush nominated Harriet Miers.  I was wrong, I realize now, to have called Palin Harriet Miers 2.0.  Because Harriet Miers was ridden out of town on a rail, in a matter of days, by many of the same people who are now digging in, doubling down, and rooting hard for Palin against the mocking liberal elites.  When it comes to the highest court in the land, these right-wing hacks don’t put up with no second- and third-stringers.

Interesting point, no?  I wish I’d made it myself.

Posted by on 10/01 at 01:30 AM
  1. That is an interesting point. It’s really quite a gag. The gag is: when it comes to elected positions, conservatives pretend qualifications don’t matter, thus pissing off liberals. When it comes to judges, everyone pretends that qualifications are the only things that matter (plus reverence for the Framers’ Original Intent). So when Alito gets nominated, no one is allowed to mention that he’s a fucking reactionary, thus...pissing off liberals.

    It’s interesting as well that as far as the executive branch is concerned, the Constitution is “just a piece of paper,” but when conservatives talk about the judiciary, it’s a sacred document. I’ve always wondered why Bush paid attention the decisions in Hamdan or the case of Jose Padilla, instead of claiming that like the legislative branch, the judiciary has no authority. I guess part of it is that they really do believe that the qualifications branch of government actually does wield power.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  03:24 AM
  2. What really confuses me is why you put a space after the “/” in McCain/ Palin—I want to be fully on board with being a liberal elitist and if I’ve gotta put a space there (unlike my wingnut brethren) I’d like to know why I should do this.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  03:57 AM
  3. You liberal bloggers continue to make fun of Sarah - but let’s see what happens in the debate on Thursday. Did you not listen? She *did* read the newspapers - all of them. So she is ready!

    Posted by wolfgang  on  10/01  at  06:07 AM
  4. It’s interesting as well that as far as the executive branch is concerned, the Constitution is “just a piece of paper,” but when conservatives talk about the judiciary, it’s a sacred document.

    It is indeed.  This, too, had not occurred to me.

    What really confuses me is why you put a space after the “/” in McCain/ Palin

    Only one of the canaille would ask a question like that.

    Actually, I just think slash-space reads more easily on this blog.

    She *did* read the newspapers - all of them

    Yes, and did you catch why?  Because Alaska isn’t some foreign country—it’s a microcosm of America!  I’ll bet Palin is aware of all internet traditions, too.  If she goes into the debate talking about “shorter Biden"s and “Im in ur airspace reading ur newspaperz,” I fear that Biden is in for a very long night.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/01  at  07:33 AM
  5. This post has a lot of words in it.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  08:01 AM
  6. >> I fear that Biden is in for a very long night.
    Absolutely, It will be lipstick vs. pitbull (am I predicting some headlines for Friday?).
    But I understand that you, as hockey dad, but also part of the liberal elite, have mixed feelings about it.

    Posted by wolfgang  on  10/01  at  08:51 AM
  7. My gods, this is why I’m glad you’re back.

    Posted by Jim D.  on  10/01  at  09:03 AM
  8. I remember a conversation I had back in 1986 with a right-wing college classmate of mine whom I happened to meet shortly after we had both graduated from a liberal, elitist, Ivy League university.

    He was a very nice guy, not the sharpest nail in the toolshed, but no dope either. And his dad owned a major-league sports arena and was a big-time real-estate developer.  We’ll call my classmate “Bob” (not his name, fwiw).

    Over drinks one night, Bob explained to me how the Reagan presidency proved that a president didn’t really need to be smart or knowledgeable. His magnificent leadership consisted in the fact that he was a wonderful salesman who made Americans feel good about themselves.  All the heavy lifting could take place behind the scenes, courtesy of people who didn’t actually have to face the voters.

    I’ve since come to think that this is one of the major lessons that the right took from the Nixon fiasco (beyond “don’t get caught").  You don’t run your scheming Machiavelli at the top of the ticket. You make him the chief of staff or, if need be, the VP.  And this has the added bonus, as you point out Michael, of allowing the GOP to use the candidate’s very lack of qualifications as a goad to the “liberal elite.”

    They largely lucked into this formula with Reagan, who was already organically emerging as the most presentable face of movement conservatism during the 1964 Goldwater campaign.  They tried, but failed, to create another Reagan with Dan Quayle (remember that as late as 1996 there were still noises about a Dan Quayle for President campaign among some neoconservatives). The big problem with Quayle was that, by 1988, he had been around DC long enough that the media knew he was just an empty suit, so the ability of his handlers to craft a more positive image for him was limited.

    George W. Bush represents the one soup-to-nuts success story for creating and selling such a “leader” to the public.  Unfortunately, the governing bit didn’t work out as smoothly as they’d have liked.

    And now Palin is another attempt at the form.

    It turns out, I think, that it’s harder work conjuring a Buzz Windrip than my classmate Bob thought.  Without in any way joining those who drastically overestimate our 40th president, Ronald Reagan was unusually effective at being the folksy salesperson for policies that might otherwise have been a hard a sell.  And despite what the pointy-headed elitists on the right might think, it’s not easy to be a Ronald Reagan.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  09:42 AM
  9. I’m confused about Bill Kristol. Is the imaginary interlocutor saying he’s aromatic and resinous (the balsam tree), or did she mean to say that he’s buoyant and eminently floatable (balsa wood)? In political discourse, clear botanical references are a must.

    The Greek root palin- in palindrome pertains to going backwards. Apt, no?

    Posted by Orange  on  10/01  at  09:44 AM
  10. At this point I actually think that Palin will do “OK” on Thursday night. I do worry about Biden. I hope for debate prep they are putting him in a burlap sack every night and beating him with big sticks so that at the debate he is so sore and tired that all he can do is give minimalist party-line answers with a quizzical and slightly pained expression on his face. I don’t think it is the night for rhetorical flourishes or much else, not with a million “Buckhead” wannabes in Defcon 1 Gaffe Alert Mode.

    </defeatist democrat not trusting my own guys mode>

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  09:53 AM
  11. Gov Palin evokes Tammy Faye Bakker/ Messner for me, a strong compelling presence any place she happens to be but with the sense that there is no past and no future, just this moment with the star. TFB/M’s universe was a lovely place for TFB/M as long as we were looking in.

    Captcha: mean. If McCain/ Palin prevail don’t be surprised if you see Katie Couric’s carcass strapped across the hood of the Vice-Presidential limo in the inaugural parade.

    Posted by black dog barking  on  10/01  at  10:15 AM
  12. So she is ready!

    Oh yes. She has that readiness.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  10:45 AM
  13. Michael, I’m really excited that you’re back to blogging. I just wanted to point out that with regards to Clarence Thomas, I read you as writing that he was not a graduate of Elitist Law School Genius Division. I don’t know what Thomas did during his time in law school, but he did attend Yale, so it’s not like he went to Podunk State or anything.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  11:10 AM
  14. Yep, this is why you’re needed, just to point out the hypocrisy that right-wingers have for education.

    Hey, if the Ivy League and other institutions of decent standing are so icky, why have your Youth Corps informant dog each and every professor that happens to mutter something non-vituperative about liberalism or a non-rabid centrist politician?  If those schools suck so hard, why bribe them with free Ayn Rand books and all the propagandistic related courses they can stomach?

    For a group that hates academia, they sure would like to take it over, if they got the chance.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  11:24 AM
  15. Hey! I was a nineteen year old Objectivist, dammit.

    Thankfully, though (cue Monty Python), I got better.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  11:31 AM
  16. “I mean, he’s the very most hackiest of the hacks, but he’s also the child of two serious conservative intellectuals.”

    Really?  Has there ever been a serious conservative intellectual?  (Well, I’ll give them Edmund Burke).  Or is this the tyranny of lowered expectations?  Let’s not grade these people on a curve, and define deviancy down.

    Here’s Irving Kristol: “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a neo-something: a neo-Marxist, a neo-Trotskyist, a neo-liberal, a neo-conservative; in religion a neo-orthodox even while I was a neo-Trotskyist and a neo-Marxist. I’m going to end up a neo-that’s all, neo dash nothing.” Serious! “Conservatism is so influenced by business culture and by business modes of thinking that it lacks any political imagination, which has always been, I have to say, a property of the Left.” OK, so he’s the leader of the distinguished lineage of Hitchens and Horowitz.  That’s serious!

    In fact, saying that health care for elderly people is boring and that you want a new Athens or Sparta was never serious.  It’s the infatuation of a boy who never grew up.

    I plan on saying this kind of thing over and over through the next decade, by the way.  It’s not enough to greet every new conservative with “Oh, another one just like Bush.” It’s time to thoroughly trash their past as well as their future.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  12:52 PM
  17. Actually, I just think slash-space reads more easily on this blog.

    Chicka-Wow Chicka-Wow Wow!

    I don’t know what Thomas did during his time in law school, but he did attend Yale, so it’s not like he went to Podunk State or anything.

    In his defense, however, he was by most accounts an unaccomplished student.

    But yes, Stormcrow (living up to the name): Tina Fey, standing in for Sarah Palin in exchange for an obscene amount of money, delivers a moderately coherent debate performance.  Meanwhile, Joe Biden claims that Abraham Lincoln invented airplanes.  I console myself with the thought that the single VP debate is unlikely to have much impact either way.  My parents expect Palin to do well, but they too are proud that she is an ignorant religious extremist, so she will do well by definition.  Especially when she name-drops her buddy Jeebus.  As if my parents were going to vote for a Muslim anyway.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  01:00 PM
  18. Yeah, I’m not defending Thomas; I was just pointing out that, in accordance with previous observations on conservative jurists, Thomas too attended an elite school.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  01:21 PM
  19. Hey, if Charles Murray is now against the rule of ‘pointy-headed intellectuals’, does this now mean he’s more in favor of black political leadership, given that HE HIMSELF thinks black people are generally dumber than white people?

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  01:52 PM
  20. Alaska isn’t some foreign country—it’s a microcosm of America!

    Actually, America was her second try. In her first one, she said:

    “Alaska isn’t a foreign country it is kind of suggested it seems like wow how do you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, DC may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska.”

    Because Alaska is just part of Washington, D.C. Or perhaps this is just “metonymy”?

    Posted by MarkC  on  10/01  at  02:27 PM
  21. Big John pops the question. The true behind the scenes story of John and Sarah.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  02:28 PM
  22. You were too kind to Mr. Kristol, I would have thought him filled with dank brown guano.
    It is time for hockey-go Red Wings.
    I could have run for commissioner of hockey when I was eleven, I knew the names of every hockey player in the league.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  02:57 PM
  23. >I’ll bet Palin is aware of all internet traditions, too.

    In what respect, Charlie?

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  03:40 PM
  24. Ah, back to the Internets after a day of traveling. 

    Ben @ 8:  quite right, I think, and it helps to explain why they went to an unknown this time around rather than to, say, Elizabeth Dole (who’s having some re-election troubles of her own these days).

    black dog @11:  Here’s to Ms. Couric for keeping a straight face all through Palin’s explanation of the importance of the bailout.  Cheers!

    J.V. @ 13:  point taken.  Thomas did indeed go to Pointyheaded Liberal Elite Law School.  He just didn’t graduate from the Evil Genius Division.

    cgeye @ 14:  I hear you.  And as I asked in What’s Liberal about the Liberal Arts?, why do pundits like John Leo rail about the decadent campus elite and then send their kids to Wesleyan?  It takes a true-believing wingnut to send a kid to Hillsdale, Regent, or Patrick Henry.

    Glenn @ 15:  then you must have been among the superintelligent!  I have a little riff in What’s Liberal in which my college-era Objectivist classmates say to me, “don’t you understand, Michael?  Can’t you see? Objectivism is a philosophy for the super-intelligent!  That means you and me, you know—truly, if the world were run on Objectivist principles, we would be philosopher-kings, putting our maximal freedom to the maximal possible use!  Come!  Join us and help spread the Rule of Reason!” Glad to hear you got better.

    Rich @ 16:  oh, all right, let’s just say Irving and Gertrude aspired to being Serious Intellectuals.

    El Cid @ 19:  I can’t begin to unravel Mr. Murray’s mind.  But I do recall that he managed to convince himself that he co-wrote The Bell Curve on behalf of the cognitive non-elite.  You know, to help those poor, underperforming black folk.  If only the liberal media had given him half a chance!

    MarkC @ 20:  thanks for reproducing the full metal Palin.  So much is lost by cleaning up her syntax. 

    Bill @ 21:  McCain uses a Blackberry?

    Burnie @ 22:  oh, come on, enough of your Red Wings already.  They’re gonna win what, 70 games this year?

    bartkid @ 23:  glad to see someone out there is monitoring Total Internet Tradition Awareness!

    Posted by Michael  on  10/01  at  04:27 PM
  25. I’m so glad you’re back!

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  04:35 PM
  26. And they make themselves sound like nineteen-year-old Objectivists into the bargain.

    It’s funny because it’s true!

    Hey, I’m so glad you’re back here at your own blog and not just sleeping on Crooked Timber’s couch. Yay! *And* I just heard you’re coming to our uni to give a talk next semester. Whoopee!  I’m doing *two* kinds of happy dances!

    Posted by Dr. Virago  on  10/01  at  04:41 PM
  27. cgeye @ 14: They think elite intellectualism is just fine, so long as it’s theirs, per the interesting observation about the judiciary. They want to take over academia so they can cleanse it of its evil liberalism and keep it safe for their side. Unlike true wingnut believers, they are class elitists first, and they understand that edumacation is dangerously populist in the hands of the Wrong People.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  05:30 PM
  28. You mentioned the National Insult My Intelligence Tour 2008.  I think it should be the National Insult Their Wit and Intelligence Tour 2008.  Gives a much better acronym.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  06:24 PM
  29. The “point-headed intellectual” phrase is attributed to the late George Wallace (the Alabama governor, not the comedian). 

    Sometimes followed by “can’t park a bicycle straight”.

    Google books quotes Wallace using these phrases in:

    Negative Political Advertising
    By Karen S. Johnson-Cartee, Gary Copeland

    The Deadly Bet
    By Walter LaFeber

    Not surprising that the author of “The Bell Curve” would use terminology from Wallace.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  06:51 PM
  30. Ah, yes, Wallace and Murray—whooda thunk it?  I’m getting old, though, and getting my list of evildoers scrambled.  I used to know it was Wallace, but while I was writing this I thought it was Spiro Agnew.  But, of course, he was “nattering nabobs of negativism,” a phrase penned for him by William Safire, iirc.

    Dr. V @ 26:  hi!  And about my coming to speak at your place—oh, I assumed that was all your doing.  Congrats on tenure! 

    Flora @ 25:  you know that review I was supposed to write for you?  it can be late, right, now that I have to do all this blog maintenance?

    Only kidding.  I’m working on it, with my pointy little head.

    Posted by Michael  on  10/01  at  07:01 PM
  31. 24: As you are aware, each post and comment count for exactly one point in the ABC contest; elite combinatorial commenting and rhetorical flourishes gain you nothing. Not to worry though, I’m sure there is a set of steak knives in your future.

    oh, come on, enough of your Red Wings already.  They’re gonna win what, 70 games this year?

    Yeah, and that Hossa guy, I hear his team like totally tanked in the Finals last year. Did the Red Wings even know or consider that?

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  07:13 PM
  32. I am not gaming the contest.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  07:14 PM
  33. From the start, the “Palin as ordinary people” theme reminded me of the classic sci-fi short story, “Null-P”, by William Tenn (pen name for Philip Klass, an English professor at Penn State).

    Read this nearly 50 years ago, but from hazy memory --

    After a nuclear holocaust, Washington DC is wiped out and too radioactive to revive.  The new national capital is established in Kansas.

    One of the first orders of business is to conduct a census, and see what’s left.  An analyst at the Census Bureau stumbles across the data for one George Abnego, who is exactly at the median for every survey response—age, height, weight, number of children, etc.

    Abnego gets more than 15 minutes of fame.  One of the major political parties nominates him for President, and he runs under the slogan, “A Normal Man for Normal Times” (or something like that).

    The opposition party, desperate for an alternative, runs a “three sigma” candidate with the slogan, “An Abnormal Man for Abnormal Times”. 

    Abnego wins in a landslide.  And he wins again.  And after the 22nd Amendment is repealed, he wins several more terms.

    Eventually his son replaces him, followed by a few more generations of Abnegos.

    The American populace more or less devolves over several centuries.  Then a group of Labrador retrievers, which had been living on an isolated island for those centuries, makes their way ashore, and quickly conquers the humans.

    A good read, available in a lot of compilations.  Easy to find via Google.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  07:33 PM
  34. There’s not a doubt in my mind that Joe Biden is reading this blog, scanning the responses, and seeking some good advice on how to conduct himself tomorrow night. This is just the group to help him out too (even those who think the eating and/or burning of political theorists a just course of action). My take on debate strategy is that Biden should: (a)Grasp that for the evening he’s running against McCain/Bush and all heavy rhetoric needs to be directed there; (b)Avoid the condescending tone that gave Geraldine Ferraro her best moment against Daddy Bush; (c) He needs to commit to memory every word of Michael’s current post; and (d) Wearing lipstick would create a great, disarming effect. I’ll be watching this debate for the same reason I slow down to gawk at accidents along the highway.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  07:59 PM
  35. Michael @ 30 - Well, maybe I put the idea in the committee’s head last time I was on the committee (but it was a linguist’s turn that year) but they did it all by themselves this year.  But since it’s right after my 40th birthday, maybe they did it *for* me, as a present. (OK, probably not.) At any rate, I’m stoked! See ya next semester.  I will warn everyone how really, really, really fast you talk.

    And re: tenure, thanks!

    Posted by Dr. Virago  on  10/01  at  08:20 PM
  36. Palin can claim victory if she simply shows up and survives the night.  Expectations for her performance have been lowered to a point where anything but a complete meltdown will be viewed as some sort of moral victory.

    Given the restrictive debate format, she might even do well: You can be certain she’ll be well-armed with sound bites and applause lines.  Ol’ Joe will probably look none too shiny by comparison...and of course you can never tell when the Senator from MBNA is going to have another unscripted moment.

    That said--I finally was able watch the Couric interview again.  Caramba.

    Oh, no doubt the McCain campaign will Blame the Media if she crashes and burns.

    Posted by Don Drennon  on  10/01  at  08:23 PM
  37. Michael, I am reading your blog for the first time tonight, but I think you’re my new hero!

    And the bar is set so low for this woman that, if she manages to speak in complete sentences, they will proclaim her a genius.

    So the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if she’s been sandbagging interviews until now so she can come out with guns blazing at the debate and suddenly seem brilliant.

    I think I’m reading too much Ludlum in my spare time.

    Posted by Beanie  on  10/01  at  08:44 PM
  38. In what respect, Michael?

    Wouldn’t it be priceless if, tomorrow night, Biden were to turn to Palin after one of her inane obfuscations and say (ala Chappele Show/Wayne Grady)

    “Is Joe Biden gonna have to choke a bitch?”

    catcha: million
    I’d pay him a million to do that.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  09:32 PM
  39. i, of course, also mock maggie o’connell, but i think we dismiss her debating skills at our own peril.

    that is to say, we haven’t been able to believe anything else coming out of the mcmuffin campaign, why should we believe the “leaks” about her terrible debate-rehearsal performances, and the fears of the “insiders”? 

    sounds like classic rovian disinformation to me.

    all maggie o’connell needs to do is not look like an asshole, and she will be hailed as “surprisingly competent” by the media and “omg she’s a vpilf!” by her constituents.

    but i really just came to say, great to have you back blogging, michael!  blogtopia and yes, i coined that phrase, sorely missed you!

    Posted by skippy  on  10/01  at  09:36 PM
  40. I’ve been thinking a bit more about your Harriet Miers point, Michael, and I’m not sure I entirely agree.

    Let me grant that they are clearly happy to go with pointy-headed intellectuals for court appointments (suggesting that all the “anti-elitism” regarding candidates to electoral office is, at the very least, something of a ruse).

    But as I remember it the real problem with Miers wasn’t her lack of intellectual heft, but rather her uncertain ideological commitments.  Yes, the objections were framed in terms of her “qualifications”...but that’s just the way the game is played.  Conservatives have been perfectly happy to support the judicial career of Janice Rogers Brown, whose resume is not significantly more impressive than Harriet Miers, but who is much more of an ideologue.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  10:02 PM
  41. A good post with some useful insights.  I had not heard that Rod Dreher had wandered off the ranch.  (I gave up on him for good after the “tattooed slut in a wedding dress fiasco”.  Life is just too damn short.) So welcome back!

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  10:21 PM
  42. It’s soooooo good to have you back.

    Posted by  on  10/01  at  11:45 PM
  43. So let me get this straight: You just show up out of nowhere and assume that someone will alert me and that you will still be on my Favorites list because you assume that I have a hard time letting go of things? How self-centered of you.

    Secondly-I want to see the Godfather parody that you should have written about the Omar-Willie-Petersen hotel firings. That will do for now.

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  01:16 AM
  44. Welcome back, Michael.

    You know what’s amazing to me about the Republican Phigurehead Filosophy?  It’s that they’re continuously tipping their hand about it.  It’s like they want to be found out so they can be congratulated for how smart they were to have figured out how to get around that pesky mob appeal business. 

    Consider: in 2000, there were no end of public assurances that George I’s people would really be running the show.  Now the likes of Bay Buchannan (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9BESuK7yLQ) is going on Anderson Cooper and claiming that Sarah “I read all of them” Palin’s policy knowledge shouldn’t be an issue because “you don’t speak with your mind if you want to reach the American people… you don’t throw facts and figures at them.  Policy wonks make lousy candidates.” Bay Buchannan knows these pesky policy things, she says, because that’s her job, but it’s not Sarah Palin’s job to know this stuff, so lay off Palin and appreciate her for her “natural leadership skills.”

    “Natural” leadership is something, one imagines, that is like very bad poetry - it is so consciously and deliberately unstudied and unspoiled that it is free of any semblance of art.  Also, liberal elites have a pavlovian wretch response to both, and that wretching delights the Republican base to no end.  There is great potential in an “Psalms for Psarah” astroturf campaign.

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  02:09 AM
  45. I have never posted a comment here before.  Words fail me (a rare occurrence at best).  Let’s just say that one American opera singer in Madrid is jumping up and down and irritating her neighbors from the sheer joy of seeing you back in the blogging world. HOORAY!

    Posted by Kathleen  on  10/02  at  02:54 AM
  46. So here it is 2:18 AM and i just finished reading this post aloud to two Afghan/Iraq war veterans (one with four tours {2 in each country}, and the other with two tours in Iraq), both of whom have difficulty with reading and writing (thus felt compelled to volunteer in the military as a chance to succeed in Amurka).  They both also suffer from PTSD and other TBI issues (one blown up in Humvee, and the other injured in an assault on his Afghan base). 

    They greatly enjoyed your prose and your humor.  They heartily agreed that from their experience Palin is not someone they think represents what is best about this nation, nor is she qualified to serve in any capacity.  And although both were former registered Republicans, they will now vote for Obama/Biden.

    I don’t know what this says about the “elite gap” (we really could use Monty Python and the Credibility Gap this time around), but Michael, i hugely thank you for returning and sharing your elitist, dangerous, liberal intellectualisms again.  This post rocks.

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  05:25 AM
  47. Don @ 36:  no doubt the McCain campaign will Blame the Media if she crashes and burns.

    That’s the way the game is played, yes.  Exactly so.

    Ben @ 40:  I’ve been thinking a bit more about your Harriet Miers point, Michael, and I’m not sure I entirely agree.

    Oooooh, that makes me mad.  Good counterexample, though.  Dang.

    awlsdad @ 41:  I had not heard that Rod Dreher had wandered off the ranch.  (I gave up on him for good after the “tattooed slut in a wedding dress fiasco”.

    That was something, wasn’t it?  I have a theory about that, and maybe one of these days I’ll write it down on the Internets.

    jim @ 43:  You just show up out of nowhere and assume that someone will alert me and that you will still be on my Favorites list because you assume that I have a hard time letting go of things? How self-centered of you.

    Why, yes!  This is, as many people have noted, an especially self-centered blog.  That’s how it manages to keep from tipping over.

    jenniebee @ 44:  It’s like they want to be found out so they can be congratulated for how smart they were to have figured out how to get around that pesky mob appeal business.

    It is indeed like that.  Because, as P. T. Barnum demonstrated long ago, you can actually show people the trick and they’ll stay pony up the cash to get themselves hornswoggled again.  Whereas liberal-elite ideologiekritik guys like me tend to think, “aha!  we showed them that it was all a trick!  all will be well now, certainly.”

    spyder, thanks so much, and Kathleen, you know what they say—if this blog can make just one American opera singer in Madrid happy, it will all have been worthwhile. . . .

    Posted by Michael  on  10/02  at  08:09 AM
  48. The iconography of McCain/ Palin comes directly from Get Smart, for some reason; the Chief standing next to 99 - but a 99 who has by some sinister Kaos plot had her brain switched with that of 86.

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  09:10 AM
  49. Given the results of the Couric/Biden/Palin simula-debate last night* (Joe done good, I conditionally retract my concerns in #10), I am genuinely intrigued by how Palin will play this tonight. (For one thing, I suspect there is no love lost between Palin and McCain right now, much less Palin and her “handlers” from the campaign). Aided by the lame-o format, I suspect it will be unapologetic evasion of the specifics in the questions going right to “aw shucks”, Joe Six-Pack, let Palin be Palin, I’ve got a good heart (not to mention God!), feel good filler, interspersed with “common sense” attacks on Obama/Biden/Dems/media.

    *Her Supreme Court answer was interesting given that she specifically disagreed with a very recent decision (Exxon Valdez) in writing and on the air.

    “I am extremely disappointed with today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Palin said. “While the decision brings some degree of closure to Alaskans suffering from 19 years of litigation and delay, the court gutted the jury’s decision on punitive damages.”

    But of course that would have touched yet another wingnut third-rail. (There are so, so many, which is why they are all suffering from CCDD (Chronic Cognitive Dissonance Disorder)).

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  11:44 AM
  50. So good to have you back.

    I’m impressed with how nasty Palin is as well (same goes for McCain and Bush).  I realize I have a pointy head and drink chai tea, and that makes me unable to understand reupublican down to earth charm and warmth.

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  01:59 PM
  51. OMGWTFBBQ Michael is BACK??? 

    We missed you!

    Posted by tikistitch  on  10/02  at  02:02 PM
  52. Michael, I can’t say how happy I am you’re back. Mainly because I’m only slightly more articulate than Sarah Palin under the umbrella of job creation.

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  02:23 PM
  53. It’s about dang time you came back, Bérubé!

    John McCain—33.33% Captain Ahab, 33.33% Willy Loman, 33.33% Georgie Babbitt.

    Posted by thepuppethead  on  10/02  at  02:27 PM
  54. Welcome back!

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  02:33 PM
  55. And, since I need to feel like I’ve contributed something halfway coherent to the discussion:  I’m wondering how much the current disenchantment with Palin from the right has to do with the fact that she’s not been coming off nasty *enough* lately?  Here’s my folksy anecdote: an acquaintance who’s an ardent Republican started babbling talking points the other night about how Palin is “smart” and Obama rhymes with Osama, blah blah blah.  Then he commented that he was MOST impressed by how Palin can hunt and dress a moose. “That’s what we need to do in this election!  We need to dress a donkey!” Fantasies, in other words, not just of winning, but of violently humiliating the Democratic party.  I predict, if Palin uses the debate tonight to go back to hissing about community organizers and bureaucrats in Warshington, all will be forgiven.

    Posted by tikistitch  on  10/02  at  02:54 PM
  56. Interesting point about the judiciary. But I think you’re missing something: they don’t generally run actual joe-sixpacks for the executive. They very successfully run faux joe-sixpacks. Reagan wasn’t really a Regular Guy Rancher, he was a Hollywood actor. George I, product of Yale and Greenwich CT, was flubbing it until he made a big deal of eating deep-fried pork rinds. As soon as he started faking it the GOP base loved him. Likewise W, who bought his Beloved Crawford Ranch as an election campaign accessory and is reputedly afraid of horses. A goat roper. Or Regular Guy McCain himself, son of admirals, product of the most elite educational institutions, husband of mega-millionaire heiress and consorter with “Lady” Lynn Forester de Rothschild.

    But here’s the thing about Sarah: she really IS the kind of reg’lar guy small state moose hunter they like to pretend they’re electing but don’t really want. I think that’s why so many of ‘em are looking at McCain like he just grew a second head: “Hey, um, dude, we don’t want an ACTUAL bubba, we just want someone who is willing to fake it--WTF were you thinking?”

    Guess somebody didn’t get the memo on that one.

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  02:55 PM
  57. Yeah, I knew Bible Spice would be too delicious for you to ignore.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  10/02  at  03:05 PM
  58. Friends, the writing is on the wall for Governor Palin.  It’s time to get behind a new candidate for Vice President: Peter.  http://peter-for-vice-president.blogspot.com/2008/09/my-candidacy-for-vice-presidency.html

    Posted by Peter  on  10/02  at  03:43 PM
  59. To be honest, there is a liberal elite.  Big business liberals who are in NY skyscrapers and who suck on duck in Boston.  Latte liberals do exist, and they do tend to look down on small town ideals and working class habits.  This is where the left really gets it wrong.  And, I’m on the left.

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  03:47 PM
  60. Good to see you back!

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  04:17 PM
  61. Actually, the right wing worked very hard to pack two arms of the judiciary with partisan hacks:  the administrative law judges who hear immigration cases, and bankruptcy judges.  In fact, “R” party membership was a requirement for the immigration ALJ positions, and that revelation was part of the general hoo-hah attendant the US Attorney firings-flap.

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  04:35 PM
  62. "And they make themselves sound like nineteen-year-old Objectivists into the bargain.”


    Posted by CityzenJane  on  10/02  at  04:36 PM
  63. I think JP Stormcrow @49 is on to something.  She is under incredible restrictions in what she can say.  Not only is she cramming information as we know it, she’s also cramming information as John McCain knows it.  There’s a saying that you don’t need to remember as much if you don’t lie, but at least a liar maintains the same thought processes that created the fabrication, so is likely to remember their lies.  Remembering someone else’s fabrications and living by them has got to be tough.  It’s safer to not say anything.

    I’ve seen tape of her debating, and she is surprisingly good.  Even her voice was less annoying.  If the McCain people give up on trying to control everything that comes out of her mouth, she could give Biden a tough time.  She might contradict McCain’s policies in every answer, but I think the Republicans would be better off going that route.

    Oh, and welcome back Berube <html trick to put thingies over the “e"s /end html trick>

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  04:46 PM
  64. Is putting her poetry in intertextual context ok?

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  10/02  at  05:05 PM
  65. I don’t know if you saw the Raban piece in the LRB, but I winced a bit at the U of Idaho being described as “sagebrush league.”

    Posted by Jonathan  on  10/02  at  07:32 PM
  66. A very insightful post - Thank you, Michael. I have felt for some time now that the Republican wizards have been conducting a long-term clinical social psychology experiment to explore the limits of public tolerance for as you put it, the “affable dunce”.

    As a molecular biologist, and going back a ways, I very much enjoyed your “Palindrome” reference, and I’m glad you succumbed to the temptation. Re Orange @ 9, a palindrome, of course, reads the same forward and backward, e.g. the word “radar”, and such a property in short DNA sequences has important functional consequences. Maybe this will inspire audio engineers to listen to Palin’s speeches backwards, in order to decipher the hidden meaning, or perhaps reversibility or inversion has an apt metaphorical relevance to Palin’s “message” Alas, metaphor is not my department.

    Finally, will microcosmic Alaska - north to the future! - turn out to be the new epicenter of American anti-intellectualism? Ted Stevens has already gifted us with the series of tubes through which we are now communicating, and while I laugh now at Palin’s discourse on fungible molecules, I fear that when the rapture comes there may be no sanctuary for the pointy-heads.

    Posted by al Jeffzeera  on  10/02  at  07:56 PM
  67. moose-in-headlights

    A good turn of phrase here. Just to note, an actual moose in the headlights, unlike the proverbial deer, is completely unphased. They’ll stare right into the headlights, chewing calmly, until the car plows right into them. This makes moose quite dangerous on rural roads at night, since they’ll then fall on top of your car and crush you. Maybe the analogy is all the more apt, then?

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  08:04 PM
  68. Oh, and welcome back Berube <html trick to put thingies over the “e"s /end html trick>

    You mean this?


    It is indeed tricky, but it can be done.

    First, get one of those thick books on HTML 4 with an exhaustive glossary of tags.

    Second, get one of those little solar calculators, for converting to or from base 16.

    Third, use it to prop open a window, since lack of fresh air is unhealthy.

    Fourth, copy the “Bérubé” from “About Michael Bérubé” at the top of the page, and paste it into the comment box.

    Fifth, with all the remaining free time not taken up with learning extraneous HTML, go out for a nice dinner.  Use the solar calculator to make sure you leave at least a 15% tip.  Your needy waitron was probably recently laid off from a web design firm.

    Posted by  on  10/02  at  08:09 PM
  69. Okay, this is genius:
    The iconography of McCain/ Palin comes directly from Get Smart, for some reason; the Chief standing next to 99 - but a 99 who has by some sinister Kaos plot had her brain switched with that of 86. Chrisb

    And this made me smile widely as well:
    Yeah, I knew Bible Spice would be too delicious for you to ignore. Roxanne

    Bible Spice. *snort*

    Posted by Jason B  on  10/02  at  08:32 PM
  70. with all the remaining free time not taken up with learning extraneous HTML, go out for a nice dinner.  Use the solar calculator to make sure you leave at least a 15% tip.  Your needy waitron was probably recently laid off from a web design firm.


    Posted by  on  10/02  at  09:08 PM
  71. Hey, during the debate Biden said he had a great awakening when he realized that ideology matters when confirming judges. Clearly he read my comment @ 1. But then his other great awakening came when he decided to respect Jesse Helms (or at least not impugn his motives, which anyway is against Senate rules).

    Posted by  on  10/03  at  02:48 AM
  72. I picked this up on another site (hat tip to JG):

    While suturing a cut on the hand of a 75 year old rancher, whose hand was caught in the gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to Palin and her bid.
    The old rancher said, “Well, ya know, Palin is a Post Turtle’”. 

    Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a ‘post turtle’ was. The old rancher said, “When you’re driving down a country road you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that’s a ‘post turtle”. 

    The old rancher saw the puzzled look on the doctor’s face so he continued to explain. “You know she didn’t get up there by herself, she doesn’t belong up there, and she doesn’t know what to do while she’s up there, and you just wonder what kind of dummy put her up there to begin with”.

    Posted by  on  10/03  at  08:39 AM





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