The GOP Tea Party Debate


Caricatures: GOP Presidential Debate Participa...

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

The Republican candidates have done two debates this week. Tonight’s debate was the best of three. The questions were focused and the candidates showed vim and vigor. Those lagging behind Romney and Perry in the polls needed to up their game, and two of the candidates did. Michelle Bachman shined and Rick Santorum did pretty well. Bachman is still in the game. Santorum is probably going to continue to lose traction.

Until tonight, I was looking forward to hearing more from John Huntsman. After tonight, I don’t care if we never hear from him again. I don’t see any potential there for this guy to break out. He’s glib, the opposite of self-effacing, and petty.

Ron Paul’s only real potential is as a spoiler. Tonight, as a senior congressman from Texas, he played the spoiler to Rick Perry. Paul’s presence will be a nuisance to Perry as long as Paul stays in the race.

Perry proved vulnerable on several points, including his HPV vaccination plan and his handling of illegal immigrants. Michelle Bachman may have succeeded in raising Perry’s weaknesses on these points to a level of appreciable resonance with his own base. Perry was on the defensive most of the evening. He limped through one defense after another in front of ultra-conservative Republicans, many of whom want to see Perry do well. And he was booed following one of his comments about the immigration issue.

Sometimes Perry looks and sounds like he’s channeling George Bush. He’s not an effective debater. I have real doubts about his ability to survive under close scrutiny in future debates.

Mitt Romney hit harder than he has in the past, but with the aplomb we’ve come to expect from him. I believe his problem is that he is uninspiring. He also comes across like a real establishment-type politician. But he’s in this race for the long haul and is the candidate to beat if Perry peters out. Romney projects stability. But he looks like the rich guy he is and hasn’t been comfortable reaching out to Tea Party Republicans who will, for better or worse, make a difference in the Republican nomination process.

Herbert Cain is a refreshing presence at these debates, and he’s doing a number of things well. Can he go the distance? It will be interesting to see. It’s nearly certain that he won’t get the nomination and I doubt that he would be anybody’s first choice as a vice presidential running mate. He could have a place at the table in the next president’s cabinet, though. He’d make a fine good-will ambassador.

That leaves Newt Gingrich.

At every debate so far, Gingrich has excelled. John King of CNN agrees. Newt Gingerich has had “back-to-back-to-back strong debate performances.” King blames Newt’s low poll numbers on his age. He thinks that voters are looking for the younger candidates to get the job done. I’ve wondered about this. But Newt does look like the adult in the room. This could turn things in his favor. When others are petty, kicking sand in each other’s faces, Newt just keeps taking the battle to Obama. He understands that the coming election will be very much about whether Obama should be re-elected. Newt is singularly capable of challenging Obama head-to-head. I suspect he’s the candidate that Obama fears the most.

So why is New Gingrich lagging in the polls?

1. Gingrich is especially disliked by the liberal media. They almost uniformly acknowledge his political prowess. His debating strengths are readily acknowledged. But he’s dangerous to the liberal cause.

2. The media prefers to cover the sensational. This explains, I think, the favor that Rick Perry enjoyed before even announcing his candidacy. Gingrich’s strengths will not be noticed as long as attention is poured on candidates whose substance remains a mystery.

3. Gingrich is the elder statesman of the group. He’s been around longer than anyone, except Ron Paul. He isn’t such a fresh face and he hasn’t been leading the new Republican charge to change the way business is done in Washington.

4. Gingrich has a couple of personal negatives to overcome. These were bigger news earlier on. If he begins to garnish renewed attention, they may return to haunt him.

These aren’t deal-breakers for Newt. The personal issues may already have been aired as much as they can be, and his interval of invisibility may have been good for him on this score. Ron Paul is polling in double digits, and Gingrich is down around 7%—about even with Bachman. Ron Paul is an anomaly. He won’t last. That should give Gingrich room to move up. And if Perry peters, as I expect (hope?), he can move up dramatically. If Gingrich endures and moves up in the polls, that will be a sensation and the media will have to cover the story. And he isn’t ancient. John McCain was ancient.

Here’s how Gingrich improves his standing, if he can hang in there long enough. The Perry fanfare fizzles as his debate performance deteriorates. This depends on Perry’s own limitations. It’s also reinforced by Bachman’s vigorous and effective attacks, as seen in the Florida debate. Bachman needs to play the spoiler long enough for Perry’s cache to diminish. In due course, Ron Paul, John Huntsman, and Rick Santorum need to drop out of the race. Herbert Cain must follow suit. That would leave Romney (a known quantity, but a force to be reckoned with), Perry (paired down to size), Michelle Bachman (maybe), and Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich’s stature is sure to rise if there’s ever a two-way or three-way debate in which he participates. He can hold the Tea Party folks if their favorite candidates drop out, and he can win with independents who are weary of Obama.

But time will be a factor for Gingrich. He needs to win in the South Carolina primary. Rick Perry has the edge there now. Bachman could do well in SC, but for Perry. If the New Hampshire primary comes early enough, John Huntsman could cut into Mitt Romney’s strength there. This could minimize the effect of New Hampshire on a Gingrich bid.

I have no idea what to expect from Iowa, though it’s expected that Bachman could do well and is out of the game if she doesn’t.

Rick Perry has deeper pockets than Newt Gingrich. But Obama has deeper pockets than everyone. And I view it as cynical to suppose that the one with the most campaign money is the likely winner for that reason alone. (What kind of treasure chest did John McCain have during the last Republican primary?)

All of this may be wishful thinking. I would like to see a contest between Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama. This would be a contest between two radically opposed ideologies on a national stage that is itself deeply divided. Gingrich’s penchant for clarifying ideas might force Obama to be more explicit about his own ideology. The electorate would be faced with starkly contrasting agendas defended by more-or-less articulate spokesmen.

There is one other variable that is important to Newt Gingrich’s chances: Sarah Palin has to remain in the sidelines . . . .

Democratic Terrorists in Egypt?


I’ve been watching coverage of the mess in Egypt and have not commented here until now. I’m stunned by what I’m hearing . . . and not hearing.

TV commentator Rich Lowry spoke tonight as if the Obama administration had only two choices. He could support Hosni Mubarak, the evil dictator, and watch the Egyptian President shoot down the demonstrators in the streets. Or, he could support the “democratic demonstrators” in the streets of Cairo. Obama, he thinks, rightly chose to support the democratic demonstrators.

Where does Lowry get the ridiculous idea that the protesters are “democratic”? Their demonstrations have hardly been peaceful.

And who are the Muslim Brotherhood? They sound like barbarians, and the likely heirs to the evil Mubarak regime.

John McCain said it well yesterday. Mubarak has been a friend to the United States for many years, and he has helped to keep some stability in the Middle East—which is otherwise hell-bent on the extermination of Israel. But Mubarak stayed too long and did not use his position to institute a democratic government in Egypt.

After watching the mess on the streets every night from the comfort of my living room, I’d like to know what democratic measures anyone, Mubarak included, could have introduced. I can’t visualize these people stowing their molotov cocktails the day after tomorrow and going peacefully to the polls to elect a respectable government in a free election.

The Egyptians are making a spectacle of themselves in front of the rest of the world. Their actions have galvanized dispirited citizens in countries elsewhere in the region. What exactly is their message, and why should we care what they want if all they can say is that Mubarak has to go?

Mubarak says he would like to leave, but believes the country would descend into greater chaos if he just walked away right now. Maybe people should consider the possibility that he’s right.

Here’s another possibility. Our president has been telling us, the American people, that he’s been talking tough to Mubarak on the phone. When our president announces this on television, then it doesn’t matter what he said on the phone. The world has heard Obama scold Mubarak and tell him what to do about the mess.

So what’s Mubarak supposed to do in response? Is he supposed to let Obama dictate to him what he should do? What if Mubarak is as vainglorious as Obama?

Does Obama really understand “the democratic process”? He seems to think that the process begins with a free election. This is simply naive. A “free election” isn’t an important step in a democratic process if that election results in a fascist government. And it looks like that’s the result we should expect. Dana Perino told Greta tonight, “Democracies take time.” Obama doesn’t know that?

What’s really going on in Egypt? Everybody is guessing here, including our officials. They’ve made that pretty obvious. Shame on them for being so out of touch with world realities. And shame on us if we stand by and watch without criticism the naive, oddly paranoid and aggressive response of our government to a complex conflagration.

We’ve ostracized a valuable ally. Israel is mystified by our response. Things aren’t getting better on the streets of Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood lurks in the background. Obama chastens a proud dictator who no doubt has his own ideas about what he should do. Mubarak won’t budge (as of today). Western reporters are crying foul for the mistreatment they’re receiving in their efforts to scoop the story.

I would like a clear and detailed statement from Mr. Obama that explains his view of our relationship with Egypt, and how it will improve if Mubarak walks away and the people participate in the kind of free election he has goaded them to demand.

Spinning Joe Biden


The Senator with the foot-shaped mouth fired off a real whopper this time:

Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don’t remember anything else I said. Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.

Barack Obama’s admirers are dumbfounded—that includes people running his campaign. How do you spin a statement like that? Biden’s remarks were so extensive and emphatic that even a retraction would do nothing to mitigate the unease he has created. Besides “the cynical electorate” already knows what retractions mean.

Media response should be interesting. If Obama really is “their candidate,” it may be gut-wrenching for them to report on this story. And let’s remember what “news reporting” means today—it means editorializing in an effort to influence viewers.

This time, Biden’s comments are not mere trifles. They are sober reminders of what everyone knows. The threat of more terror—the likes of which we may not have seen yet—is a real and present danger. That will still be true no matter who becomes President. But would an Obama presidency intensify the risk? That’s what Biden seemed to be saying. And no one can say it isn’t true, because no one knows that it’s false.

It is easy to see why a McCain presidency could have a different effect on our enemies. And now, consideration of that has suddenly become a factor in this election. Maybe this is the “October surprise” that pundits say could change the numbers that pollsters have been producing.

Foreign policy is back on the table, with only two weeks left in this election season. More specifically, the prospect of a new chain of crises has to be considered. Thus we find ourselves asking two questions:

  1. Is Barack Obama as ready as John McCain to lead our nation should new challenges come?
  2. Is it more likely that new challenges would come during an Obama presidency than during a McCain presidency?

Thanks to Joe Biden, the economy is not the only thing we’ll be thinking about when we vote on November 4th.

Was Obama Really as Comfortable as He Looked in Last Night’s Debate?


To me, last night’s debate was the third—and, mercifully, the last—in a series of lackluster debates between senators Obama and McCain. But somehow the media have managed today to cull from the regurgitation of campaign sloganeering some rich moments truly worthy of playback. Maybe it wasn’t so lackluster after all.

Could McCain have done better? Pretty much everyone agrees that he missed opportunities. That’s interesting. It means two things. The first is that McCain has a platform of strength that might really resonate with people if he could only launch his case with compelling pizzaz. Second, Obama has opened himself to some pretty withering criticism that McCain has been reluctant to exploit.

Contrast Obama. What opportunities did he pass on last night? Could he have made his policies more compellingly attractive than he did? Could he have put McCain on the defensive? I don’t think so. Obama did what he could, and all that he needed to perhaps.

Once again, Obama “looked presidential.” But did he feel as comfortble as he looked? The question can’t really be answered objectively, except by Obama, and we all know what he would say. But Obama will raise taxes during “the worst economic crises since the Great Depression”; and McCain made that stick. Obama has fraternized professionally with people most of us wouldn’t shake hands with; and McCain reminded everyone that we still don’t know who Obama really is. McCain was unequivocal in his pro-life stance, and missed an opportunity to demonstrate how radically pro-choice Obama really is. But this was not a comfortable topic for Obama. He had to nuance his way out of the spotlight while McCain beamed confidently in the background.

Obama is counting on his lead and the lateness of the hour to carry him to victory. From this point on it’s a matter of damage control. That’s one thing McCain really doesn’t have to worry about. The most seriously debilitating event for his campaign was the egghead announcement by Hank Paulsen that the sky is falling and the whole world is going to go bankrupt. Paulsen’s alarmist tactics and his timing could not have been worse. You have to wonder if he isn’t a liberal democrat himself, given the tone of his message and the nature of his proposed solution—socialize the entire market in America.

The irony is that Obama is specially vulnerable on this point, if the message gets out. He wants bigger government on every flank and surely relishes the opportunity to preside over the socializing of medicine, our economy, education, and who knows what else. But people are ticked off at government right now. It can’t be just the Republicans and the Bush administration they distrust, but the whole lot of them. So bigger government portends more to be angry about as the months and years tick by.

Obama has two other things to be worried about before the election: Nancy Pelosi and Harry Read. It is an undeniable fact that under Obama our government would be on the verge of its most controlling ever. The democrats are pro big-government. Pelosi and Read, party leaders in their respective houses in Congress, and Obama are democrates, and they are among the most liberal democrats. This is a frightening prospect for anyone who wants government to downsize.

The only way that Americans across this country can prevent unchecked government by tax-and-spend democrats is to vote for John McCain. That’s bad news for Barack Obama, and a reason to be uneasy, even if he looks presidential.

Talk about an Abuse of Power


An Alaska ethics probe concluded today that Governor Sarah Palin did abuse her power in the ordeal surrounding the dismissal of state official Walt Monegan. Monegan had refused to fire state trooper, Mike Wooten, who had been married to Palin’s sister until that marriage ended some years ago. Wooten had, Palin alleged, tasered his 10-year-old stepson and threated to kill Palin’s father. This before Monegan’s departure from his job.

Inquiries into Gov. Palin’s possible conduct in the matter had already begun prior to her nomination to be John McCain’s running-mate. There is evidence, however, that the probe was managed by Obama supporters and was speeded up to result in a decision soon enough to have a bearing on the presidential election.

I don’t know the facts, but if this suspicion is true, or even if the suspicion is well-founded without being demonstrably true, then there ought to be a very speedy inquiry into the ethics of the ethics probe and the possibility that those who conducted the probe are themselves guilty of an abuse of power.

* * *

It’s not surprising that Alan Colmes (of Hannity & Colmes) was pleased with this result. He interviewed Dick Morris, who noted that trooper Wooten had made a death threat on Palin’s father and tasered his stepson. Colmes’s response was interesting. He said that Wooten denies making any death threat. Apparently, Colmes had done his homework and knew that this did not apply to the allegation that Wooten had tasered the young boy.

A few weeks ago, during a televised interview, the officer in question acknowledged that he had tasered his 10-year-old stepson. He said he did it because the boy was curious about tasers and asked to be tasered. He agreed in the interview that it was a dumb thing to do.

I mention this because of the example it provides of the deterioration of public discourse. Morris’s statement was a conjunction: Wooten made a death threat against the father-in-law and Wooten tasered the stepson. To defeat this statement, Colmes challenged the second conjunct and ignored the first. In challenging the second conjunct, Colmes offered as evidence Wooten’s denial of the allegation. This is hardly compelling evidence, especially if the first conjunct is true. And the first conjunct is true. The evidence for that is that Wooten confesses to that.

Now, logically, if the second conjunct of Morris’s statement is false, then the entire conjunction is false. But it doesn’t follow that the first conjunt is false. That part of the conjunction is true. And Morris’s comments clearly indicated that he believed its truth is a sufficient condition for Sarah Palin to have fired Monegan if he refused to fire Wooten.

If the trooper had been anyone else than a former brother-in-law, then an ethics probe might never have been started. Who can say? But the grounds for questioning her ethics would certainly have been different, since the findings in the actual probe are tied to the investigators’ judgment that Palin’s behavior was, in some sense, payback. Again, I don’t know the facts, or the evidence that was produced during the probe. But I wouldn’t imagine that Palin’s previous relationship with Wooten would count as sufficient evidence that this was her motive.

What is of interest—because we are in a position to judge based on observation—is the conduct of the press in this matter and the jockeying that will go on among chieftains of the two presidential campaigns. Barack Obama is under closer scrutiny than ever before because of his financial support of ACORN and his relationship with sundry scoundrels. Treatment of the Palin news will be an illuminating test of the objectivity of the “mainstream media.” I make no predictions about what will transpire over the weekend, but if the several prominent news and commentary shows direct more attention to the Palin issue than the Obama probe they themselves should be conducting, it will be very telling.

This Election as a Referendum on the Liberal Media


Voting for John McCain is a referendum on the liberal media. They have made it obvious that they support Barack Obama and will cover for him by not covering him when that’s in his (and hence their) best interests. They are doing what they can to get Obama elected a few weeks from now. This is patronizing and offensive. They presume to know better than voting Americans who should be the leader of this great nation. They filter the news and editorialize without restraint, believing that we must rely on them to get the facts that matter. Since we do rely on them for this, and they have not fulfilled their noble duty, voters can send a powerful message of disapproval to the media by voting for the McCain/Palin ticket. If they do, they will also have a President they actually know something about.

“At Least He Looks Presidential”


Any number of people would look equally presidential in the situation we witnessed tonight. Some of them are good friends of mine. They are self-possessed, have an authoritative bearing, are practiced public speakers across a full range of contexts (including debates), and could have learned everything that was said tonight in less than a week just watching a selection of Obama’s and McCain’s campaign speeches. But none of these friends of mine has any business running for president. Thankfully, they are not.

But Barack Obama and John McCain are running for president. And they both look like they could be president. It’s befuddling and disappointing that this is the single most significant factor the pundits have utilized in calculating the net result of tonight’s debate. Obama only had to look presidential to win—even if McCain also looked presidential—as long as McCain did not deliver a knock-out punch. This because Obama’s lead in critical states has lengthened. And that’s more-or-less how things turned out, if we’re to believe post-debate chatter.

What do pudits mean by a “knock-out punch”? What many of them mean is the slick delivery of a purely rhetorical zinger. An example, courtesy of Brit Hume (Fox News), is Ronald Reagan’s admittedly clever and endearing jibe about not taking advantage of Walter Mondale’s youth and inexperience.

Give me a break. Has the media gone bonkers? The most charitable spin I can put on this is to suppose that the punditocracy is merely speculating (perhaps quite plausibly) about how viewers (especially undecideds) will perceive the outcome. But that isn’t exactly what the pudits are saying. It sounds like it’s what they themselves believe. And they should know better. More than that, they would serve us better if they attempted to educate us in the proper criteria for evaluating a candidate for the presidency. Otherwise, we don’t really need them.

Maybe they think that’s what they are doing—educating us in a tradition of collective wisdom. If so, they and I disagree about what that is and what criteria matter most.

I’m of the anachronistic opinion that we need to distinguish between necessary conditions and sufficient conditions for being qualified to serve as president of the United States. Looking presidential (talk about a subjective variable) may be a necessary condition—may be. But in my judgment it is by no means a sufficient condition. A candidate must have other qualities. And among the preeminent qualities are proven experience and policies that make sense on close inspection.

That probably sounds like an endorsement of a particular candidate. But I’d like to know who disagrees with me about the criteria. “Proven experience” may be a lock for John McCain. “Policies that make sense on close inspection” will be matters of principled disagreement among those who take pains to understand proposed policies thoroughly, know what to look for in sensible policies for times like these, and have the disposition to embrace those policies.

Do you reckon you’re one of those people? I’m not sure I am. Remember that “zen-like” question the candidates had to answer at the end of the debate? “What is it that you don’t know now that you’ll have to learn after you become president?” Maybe those of us who plan to vote in November should be asking ourselves a parallel question: “What is it that we don’t know now (about the candidates) that we’ll wish we knew after one of them becomes president?” Something tells me that tonight’s debate did little to dispel our dangerous ignorance.

Our democracy is threatened by a glib populism. I suppose that’s always been true to some extent. But greater access to modern media by more people, and the dumbing down of America, is cause for concern. This can’t be what the Founding Fathers had in mind, though I’m sure they feared the possibility of its emergence.

Let’s at least think as hard as we can before we “pull the lever” (to use a quaint expression).

The TimesOnline Make a Good Point about Biden-Palin Debate


Gerard Baker, writing for the London Times Online, has a nice little piece on the Biden-Palin debate. He concludes:

Last week, Senator McCain probably lost his first debate against Senator Obama by not winning it.

On Thursday night Mrs Palin won her debate by not losing it.

That sounds about right to me, on both counts.

I would add that Palin scored points that were missed opportunities for McCain last week. Many were baffled when McCain’s debate with Obama ended and McCain had not drawn attention to his demonstrable record of seeking to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, while Obama had dubious ties to the principals at those entities. Now I wonder if McCain didn’t keep his powder dry so that Palin could use it to good effect in her salvo Thursday night.

David Foster Wallace


He was someone I thought it would be great to meet sometime. Had I known he was living and working only a stone’s throw away, it might have been arranged.

Unfortunately, that won’t be possible. David Foster Wallace hanged himself and was found by his wife when she returned home Friday night, September 12, 2008. He was 46.

Wallace was clever with words. He was inventive. He employed extensive footnotes in his fiction. And he was candid. He went naked onto the page and exposed his soul in ways few novelists do.

His parents were university professors, his father in the department of philosophy at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). David Foster Wallace himself majored in English and philosophy at Amherst College. And it shows in his writings.

His writings reveal something else, too. In his tribute to Wallace, David Gates writes that “we’ll surely be spotting more and more of these clues in his work,” clues of his long-standing depression and contemplation of suicide. I find it hard to believe that Wallace’s readers didn’t suspect it already, because the clues are littered everywhere.

While reading Wallace myself, I would recall the thesis that genius and great art are often accompanied by threatened madness, that great talent and erudition can only be managed with a colossal effort of self-possession that no one else but the artist can know.

In her book, The Midnight Disease, neurologist Alice Flaherty examines the mental disorders that frequently haunt the most creative writers. She develops an illuminating theory of “manic hypergraphia.” Kay Redfield Jamison, whose work I’ve recommended on this blog, explores the culverts of this condition in a wonderful book called Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. The treasure of a gifted man’s labor is more precious when understood in the light of this fire.

***

As it happens, David Foster Wallace travelled with John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000. He wrote a book about it that came out this past summer. It’s hailed as a journalistic tour de force by someone other than your typical political journalist. It’s called:

McCain’s Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express with John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking about Hope.

Kindle edition

Never Say “Lipstick”


Barack Obama’s supporters recognized a smear that he didn’t intend. When he spoke of putting lipstick on a pig, the house exploded with laughter. Talk about red meat.

Only problem is, Obama didn’t mean it “that way.” And that’s Barack’s problem, not McCain’s, or Sarah Palin’s. Barack said it, paused (as he is wont to do), and his audience punctuated his remark with wild enthusiasm as if they believed it was about Sarah Palin. And right at that moment it became about Sarah Palin. And there was almost nothing Barack Obama could do about it.

The McCain campaign posted a web ad exploiting Obama’s slip. Big mistake, if you ask me. Or maybe not so big if the real “catnip for the media” (Obama’s estimation of his comment) continues to be the video of Obama’s slip and not the McCain ad.

Dennis Miller has an interesting theory about what happened. “Lady Palin,” he said, “is deep inside Obama’s mellon.” I’m from California, so let me translate. The esteemed governor Palin has become so popular and has so effectively derailed the Obama campaign that Obama can’t get her out of his head and he doesn’t know what to do.

What’s this got to do with the lipstick gaffe? Ms. Palin’s most memorable remark during her convention speech was the alleged extempore joke about the difference between a hocky mom and a pitbull. She pointed to her mouth and said, “Lipstick.” America liked that, and they liked Sarah Palin. Still do.

So the lipstick motif became a fixture of the McCain camp. Miller speculates that this motif took subliminal root in Obama’s consciousness. Without malice or forethought, the motif surfaced in the form of a long-standing aphorism. Obama’s problem is that this aphorism had never before been used in this peculiar political context.

People are beginning to speculate that Obama has a liability that could injure him in his upcoming debate with John McCain. He seems constitutionally incapable of packaging his ideas in the form of a sound byte. When commenting without a script, his statements are neither crisp nor compact. (In this respect, he is more like President Bush than John McCain is.) Obama may be thinking now that going for the spontaneous repartee may be more dangerous than his typically long-winded answers to questions he could answer with a simple “yes” or “no.”

***

By the way, suppose Obama was actually intentionally ambiguous when he said what he did. Would that really be sexist?

What say you?

BlogLogic—Rumors of Sarah Palin’s Affiliation with the Alaska Independence Party


It’s been interesting to see how things have unfolded on the Mudflats blog, which purports to be “tiptoeing through the muck of Alaskan politics.”

The host goes by the handle “AKMuckraker.” Today she published a post titled “Palin – Republican Party Infiltrator? Damning Video.” With a title like that, you hardly need to read further to know what’s up:

There’s a video that incriminates Sarah Palin by showing her past ties to the Alaska Independence Party (AIP) and her secret plan to advance that party’s aims by infiltrating the Republican party.

That’s the muckraker’s thesis.

If you want to know what’s so damning about the video, or whether it’s damning at all, then you might want to read the post. The muckraker connects the dots that lead to her conclusion. And she’s remarkably confident of her conclusion.

The only problem is, her evidence doesn’t support her conclusion. Her argument is fallacious. If it’s not a specimen of conscious bias against Palin, it’s at least a case of wishful thinking gone awry.

The video features a small gathering of crazies scheming about how best to achieve the secessionist goals of the Alaska Independence Party. So we’re told. We have to take the muckraker’s word for it that this video is not a setup. We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt here. We’re also told that a key participant seen and heard on the video is Dexter Clark, vice chairman of the Independence party. Fine. We’ll go with that.

The muckraker then provides transcripts of bits of the video. Since these are the portions she uses to make her argument, let’s assume that they are the most damning evidence in support of the muckraker’s conclusion.

The first excerpt shows Dexter Clark estimating the number of American soldiers and dependents who “could be eligible to vote” for Alaska “Statehood.” Of course, Alaska has been a state since 1959. Ah, but it isn’t yet a “State,” as in “independent nation state.” The excerpt doesn’t disambiguate for us, but I take it that Clark is referring to the independent-nation-state kind of state, and he’s calculating the number of votes his party might be able to count on in a referendum on Statehood.

OK?

Well, maybe not. The ensuing paragraph, where the muckraker explains things for us, leaves us in greater suspense. How is “Statehood” really being used here? It isn’t easy to tell.

It might not matter. The basic idea seems to be that the Independence party was shafted by a rigged vote about Alaska Statehood, and the desired result of the AIP went down in smoke.

We come, then, to the next excert, what the muckraker calls “the good part.” Here Clark lauds the election of Sarah Palin to become Alaska’s governor, even though she did so as a Republican. Clark explains why this is good news for his Independence party. Palin had once been a member of the party. The only reason she switched parties and became a Republican was to “get along and go along” (Clark’s words).

At this point, vagueness corrupts the argument. What does Clark mean by “get along and go along”? Presumably, he’s suggesting that at the time of Sarah Palin’s move to the Republican party, she was still an Independence party member at heart and that her new role as a town mayor might work out better if she had the appearance of being a Republican. She couldn’t have been much of a Republican, suggests Dexter Clark, since she discovered that “she all kinds of problems with their ethics.” This is clearly the message that muckraker gleans from Clark’s musings.

The joy in seeing Sarah Palin become governor of Alaska is rooted in Dexter Clark’s perception that Palin remains sympathetic with the AIP cause. And this is based on two things, Palin’s prior membership in the AIP, and Clark’s perception that Palin isn’t a sincere Republican. Clark’s perception that Palin isn’t a sincere Republican is itself based, in part, on Palin’s past association with the AIP. Clark’s perception of Palin’s continued affinities for the AIP is reinforced by his perception of a clash between Sarah Palin and the Republican party over the ethics of the party.

The net effect is supposed to be that Alaskans now have an AIP governor, disguised as a Republican, who can be counted on to reintroduce the issue of Statehood and perhaps facilitate the achievement of the AIP’s primary objective. What makes the whole thing really rich is that, because governor Palin is such a popular figure in her state, many Alaskans would probably vote with the AIP and everything turn out hunky-dory for the AIP.

So strategists in the AIP propose to infiltrate the two mainstream parties, get these pseudo-members elected to municipal and state offices, and watch them use their positions—synchronizing their efforts, of course—to bring about independence for Alaska.

This seems to be the basic trajectory of Clark’s reasoning process.

And the muckraker is floored by this. The video excerpts are so unbelievably damning that the muckraker thinks her readers might want to sit down before they are presented with the evidence she presents.

What’s truly unbelievable is that the muckraker finds the argument so compelling. Indeed, to sort it out you might need to sit down for a spell.

Here’s the argument:

  1. Dexter Clark is the vice chairman of the Alaska Independence Party (AIP). [Fact]
  2. If Dexter Clark is the vice chairman of the AIP, then his proposed strategy for achieving independence has been adopted by the AIP and its members. [Assumption]
  3. Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving independence has been adopted by the AIP and its members. [MP, 1 and 2]
  4. Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving independence is for members of the AIP to switch to one of the two main parties, get elected to government positions, and use their new authority to sponsor independence for Alaska.
  5. Members of the AIP agree to switch to one of the two main parties, get elected to government positions, and use their new authority to sponsor independence for Alaska. [Conjunction of 3 and 4]
  6. No member of the AIP ever leaves the AIP except in pursuit of Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving independence. [Assumption]
  7. If a person who was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party, then that person has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for independence. [Direct implication of 6]
  8. Sarah Palin was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party. [Assumption or fact, as the case may be; that depends on the truth value of the first conjunct; we can safely believe that the second conjunct is true]
  9. Sarah Palin has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for independence. [MP, 7 and 8]
  10. If Sarah Palin has infiltrated the GOP in order to advocate for independence, then Sarah Palin is not a genuine Republican. [Direct implication of 7]
  11. Sarah Palin is not a genuine Republican. [MA, 9 and 10]
  12. If Sarah Palin is not a genuine Republican, then Sarah Palin is unfit to become Vice President of the United State. [Assumption]
  13. Sarah Palin is unfit to become Vice President of the United States. [MP, 11 and 12]
  14. If Sarah Palin is unfit to become Vice President of the United States, then we should not vote for John McCain in this year’s presidential election. [Assumption]
  15. We should not vote for John McCain in this year’s presidential election. [MP, 13 and 14]

Statements 10-15 do not appear in the muckraker’s post. They are gleaned from the tone and content of this and other posts at her blog, and my suspicion that she does not want John McCain to be the next President of the United States. In any case, we can dispense with them here.

The above argument can be simplified by extracting three of the numbered statements, 7-9. The resulting argument is as follows:

  1. If a person was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party, then that person has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for the independence of Alaska. [Assumption]
  2. Sarah Palin was once a member of the AIP and is now officially a member of the Republican party. [Assumption or fact, as the case may be; that depends on the truth value of the first conjunct; we can safely believe that the second conjunct is true]
  3. Sarah Palin has left the AIP and inflitrated the GOP in order to advocate for the independence of Alaska. [MP, 1 and 2]

Notice three things about statement number 1.

First, it is an assumption that is never actually stated in the argument.

Second, it is crucial to the argument, since the muckraker never so much as hints that Sarah Palin was in the room when the video was shot, or even that Sarah Palin has unequivocally embraced Dexter Clark’s strategy for achieving Alaska’s independence.

Third, it isn’t true.

How’s that for a specimen of BlogLogic?

* * *

Why have I written this post?

One should not infer from what I’ve said here that I support the McCain/Palin ticket. That would require another instance of specious reasoning.

I have two reasons for writing this post.

First, Sarah Palin should be defended against arguments that violate the principles of sound reasoning. So should any other candidate. But Palin has been the target of incessant, vicious attack with arguments constructed on manufactured evidence. This seems to be the current number one priority of the muckraker. (Again, that’s what muckrakers do.)

Second, I can at least hope that exposing the barrenness of a BlogArgument—or Blogument, if you will—is a contribution to the common good, as a call to sound reasoning in the public square.

Why Does John McCain Look Like He’s 72 Years Old?


Two Heartbeats Away from the Presidency


Many people have said that this year’s presidential election is a referendum on President Bush, and this is a problem for John McCain—because with McCain we would just get a four-year extension of the tired-out Bush policies.

Others have suggested that the election is a referendum on senator Obama because of his inexperience.

Could it be that this year’s presidential election is a referendum on . . . Nancy Pelosi?

John McCain has tapped governor Sarah Palin as his VP running-mate. Many are asking, “But is she ready?” Ready for what? Ready to be the President of the United States if—God-forbid—something should happen to John McCain. After all, the Vice President is only one heartbeat away from the presidency.

So what’s that got to do with Nancy Pelosi?

Nancy Pelosi is a congressional representative from the state of California, and one of the most liberal members of Congress. She also happens to be the Speaker of the House of Rrepresentatives. The United States Constitution provides for the Speaker of the House to assume the reigns of power if—God forbid—something should happen to both the President and the Vice President. We actually saw Gerald Ford become President in the 1970s through this mechanism—and neither the President nor the Vice President had died!

So Nancy Pelosi is only two heartbeats away from the Presidency . . . right now. That won’t change when we elect a new President and Vice President in November. Maybe we should be looking at her record and experience.

Is Joe Biden the Best Person Obama Could Have Picked as His Running-Mate?


I’m just asking because that’s the question everybody’s been asking about McCain’s choice. Read more of this post

What Campbell Brown doesn’t know about the National Guard


John McCain cancelled a scheduled interview today with Larry King, of CNN. Why? Word is that McCain campaign staffers believe an earlier CNN interview with spokesman Tucker Bounds signaled the wrong kind of attitude for a fair-handed interview. During her interview with Tucker Bounds yesterday (September 1, 2008), news anchor Campbell Brown pressed the McCain representative with questions about Governor Palin’s readiness for the VP slot, given her level of experience. Brown was especially energetic in her effort to get Bounds to name a single specific example of some decision or action of consequence by Sarah Palin as commander-in-chief of the National Guard in Alaska.

Bounds was, I think, caught off guard (unfortunate pun). He didn’t give a specific example. Instead he tried to describe the nature of a governor’s responsibilities vis-a-vis the National Guard. He remarked that governors have the authority to deploy the Guard in various circumstances. At that point, Campbell Brown challenged him and stated unequivocally that governors do not have that kind of authority. She flatly contradicted him about a factual matter.

Since Campbell Brown knew she was going to ask her question, and Tucker Bounds apparently did not, Brown seemed to be in the winner’s corner in this dispute. She was so insistent that Bounds answer the question that it seemed she knew the answer before she asked it. It looked as if Brown had set the trap for poor Tucker: state governors do not deploy the national guard. Brown suggested that governors play almost no role in determining the activities of the National Guard.

I suspect that TV viewers often give news anchors the benefit of doubt when they make factual claims that can be corroborated using a laptop and a link to Wikipedia. But Campbell goofed. She was wrong about the National Guard and wrong about the responsibilities of state governors. (For a helpful explanation of the complicated relationship between state governors and the president regarding deployment of the Guard, see Kavan Peterson’s article here.)

Tonight, Brown’s colleague Wolf Blitzer praised her handling of the interview. Brown and Blitzer described how dumbfounded they were that the McCain camp had cancelled Larry King. But Campbell Brown isn’t vindicated by the facts. So maybe a little self-examination is appropriate here. Maybe she should apologize for trying to corner her guest with a false statement that she probably believed was true.

What say you?

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