We interrupt the World War IV series for a rant.
I have concluded that Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska and one-time VP candidate, may be a test for America. It seems like at least 30% of conservatives, let alone her natural political enemies on the left, have to constantly edit the lady. I’m trying to remember if Reagan had to endure this. You know, as in, “He says all the right things, but he’s just so folksy, blah blah blah…”
Palin made a speech chock full of excellent, superb, crying-to-be-made points this week, as an introduction to a Michael Reagan appearance in Anchorage. The audio quality is not great here (linked from the Hot Air item), but the speech is audible, and well worth the listening time of about 18 minutes. The speech was blunt and courageous, particularly as regards the danger to liberty from government gaining leverage over the people through our finances.
I have not been hearing other GOP politicians make this point. Much as I have been willing to vote for Mitt Romney (did so in last year’s primary), and admire Bobby Jindal and Haley Barbour, and thank God often for Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and am impressed with the promise shown by Marco Rubio in Florida – Palin’s speech on Wednesday is the first one I recall hearing from a major Republican figure in which the political dangers of Obama’s spending and “bail-out” plans were addressed head-on. Palin is right: Washington “bailing out” the states means Washington eliminating the last vestige of state independence, in matters from school choice to health care to the definition of “public purposes” for eminent domain.
In Palin’s words:
We need to be aware of the creation of a fearful population, and fearful lawmakers, being led to believe that big government is the answer, to bail out the private sector, because then government gets to get in there and control it. And mark my words, this is going to be next, I fear, bail out next debt-ridden states. Then government gets to get in there and control the people.
Some in Washington would approach our economic woes in ways that absolutely defy Economics 101, and they fly in the face of principles, providing opportunity for industrious Americans to succeed or to fail on their own accord. Those principles it makes you wonder what the heck some in Washington are trying to accomplish here.
(Transcript: Allahpundit at Hot Air)
A few conservative websites picked up on the speech, such as, of course, Hot Air. It is actually surprising how few have run pieces on it, though, considering the “red meat” of its content. A number of left-wing sites (e.g., HuffPo) have run the obligatory dismissive critiques, and the indefatigable Allahpundit at Hot Air documented Chris Matthews in taunting mode at MSNBC, with a clip of the Palin speech yesterday (see it, if you must, here).
But the silence from some major conservative outlets has been interesting. I do note that besides Hot Air, Lucianne Goldberg’s site posted on it, citing the CNN coverage. Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin both addressed the Palin speech on their radio programs. It got no mention that I can find at NRO, however, or among the well-known contributors at Townhall.
This is not, it turns out, because the concerns expressed by Palin in her 4 June speech are not topical. Yesterday NRO contributor Jim Manzi, posting at The Corner, invited readers’ attention to a pair of articles dealing with the thesis that the Obama stimulus plan would move America down the European road toward a much more comprehensive welfare state. This is how he introduced them:
About four months ago, while the stimulus bill was being debated, I did a pretty nerdy post about it that generated a lot of controversy. The key points were that the spending would very likely either: (i) come too late to do much more good if we had a normal length recession, or (ii) represent a significant shift in the structural budget that would move the U.S. a significant distance toward a European social welfare state if we had something more like a decade-long slowdown. Under either scenario, I argued, this law would near-permanently lock in programs that have long been on the wish list of the left-wing of the Democratic party. I saw it as a huge ideological shift masquerading as emergency relief. I think events have, so far, vindicated this point of view.
Keith Hennessey, who was the senior White House economic adviser to President George W. Bush, has a fascinating post that broadly confirms this view, and more importantly provides a view of the inside baseball that produced this outcome. He tends to see the Obama administration as having been taken by the Congress. For all I know, this may be true, but it’s not clear who did what to whom when.
A Friday post at The Corner by Veroniqe de Rugy lamented the “Sad State of Federalism,” and recounted South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s run-in with his state supreme court over taking the Obama stimulus money:
Yesterday South Carolina high court ordered governor Mark Sanford, the last governor standing for fiscal responsibility and federalism, to request the stimulus funds that he had been trying to reject. According to the State:
The state’s top court ruled unanimously Thursday that Gov. Mark Sanford must apply for the disputed $700 million in federal stimulus money.
The S.C. Supreme Court also took the rare step of issuing a writ of mandamus, which orders the governor to apply for the money.
Chief Justice Jean Toal and three of the four other justices — Donald Beatty, John Kittredge and John Waller — said a state law passed last month requires Sanford to apply for the money and doesn’t conflict with the federal law providing the stimulus funds.
“Under the constitution and laws of this State, the General Assembly is the sole entity with the power to appropriate funds, including federal funds,” the four justices wrote. “Therefore, the General Assembly has the authority to mandate that the Governor apply for federal funds which it has appropriated.”
Now I am left to wonder: How will federalism be taught in South Carolina schools in the wake of the stimulus bill?
As are we all. Meanwhile, over at Townhall, Dick Morris and Eileen McGann point out “The Failure of Obamanomics,” warning us that
Barack Obama has fatally undermined our currency, our solvency, our financial stability and – ultimately – our economy, all to spend money that has had no economic effect!
Is Obama a failure? Not by his lights. His goal was never to stimulate the economy. His goal was to expand government spending, and he used the recession as an excuse to do so. And, by this standard, he is a raging success. With the stimulus spending, the government proportion of gross domestic product will rise from about 35 percent to about 40 percent, and with health care “reform” it will go soaring into the mid-40s, bringing us to parity with Germany en route to France!
Wayne Winegarden suggests at Townhall that “Obama’s Health Care Reform ‘Paints the Roses Red’,” a nice allusion to Alice in Wonderland, and observes that
The end result from the Obama plan on the health insurance market will be the same as it was in Florida’s storm insurance market. The Federal insurance program will drive out the private sector and become the primary health insurer in the United States. The U.S. health system will effectively become a single-payer government run health care system.
Well, sure. I agree. In fact, I agree with all the points made in this sampling of columns and posts, although I would go a step farther than Jim Manzi, and dispense with any time-wasters about who was zooming whom when Obama went down to Congress with his stimulus plan in his hand. The frustrating thing about these communications from the punditry, and so very many others, is that they constitute repetitive hand-wringing analysis that we all, on the right, already agree about. Sure enough, the Obama stimulus plan menaces federalism. ObamaCare is a threat to people’s financial independence from government, as well as states’. The whole Obama program is such a threat, from bail-outs and takeovers to the CEO pay czar, and government favoritism toward unions and ACORN.
I appreciate the yeoman work being done by analysts. We didn’t actually need to perform the experiment with government spending and threats to liberty in the first place, and wait for the analysis to start coming in – many of us knew beforehand how it would turn out. But the analysts are doing a service by documenting how right we were, and at least getting some relevant truth out, as the mainstream media focus on the Obamas’ date night in New York, and on Obama himself as a polo-shirted Philosopher-King, roaming the pyramids with greater regional empathy than any other US president ever.
It is not to disparage the calling of the pundits that I come here. It is, rather, to point out that what they do does not build political momentum, or form a core of leadership to rally around. Yes, I know the direction Obama is leading us. But I want to do more than ask melancholy questions, and make discouraging conclusions, on the wide road to ruin.
Sarah Palin does that. Read her words from the 4 June speech:
So I join you in speaking up and asking the questions and taking action, and here at home in my beloved Alaska I just say, politically speaking, if I die, I die. I’ll know that I have spoken up and I will speak up to thank people like Mr. Reagan as we honor his dad, to encourage you too, Alaskans, to do the same, and don’t just hang in there and go along to get along but stand up and speak up, and be bold and demand that Washington be prudent with our public monies and prioritize for America’s security, and forget the political correctness… and couch our words so cautiously that they lose meaning, and we lose effectiveness, and then we lose hope because we start thinking that politicians are only worried about their poll numbers and attracting campaign contributions for their next bid so that they can hold on to some title and some position.
This is a politician – a politician – making a commitment to stand for her principles no matter what. She is unafraid to link Obama’s federal activism with a threat to liberty. What other major GOP politician have we heard saying such words? I hear them only saying what amounts to “This is a bad idea”; “This is too much”; “This violates the American commitment to private enterprise.” But Palin is not afraid to make the crucial point that Obama’s plans threaten the very foundation of our liberties.
There are millions of Americans who do not need further documentation, analysis, or persuasion to recognize that Obamanomics is a threat to our national heritage of individual liberties and rights. And we want to do something about it. We know that the spending has to stop. The government takeovers have to stop. The “bail-outs” have to stop. Government takeovers of industry are as old as Imperial Rome, if not older, and the last century has given mankind a millennium’s worth of experience with them, around the globe: we already know how this will all turn out, if the American ship of state does not reverse course. The time is already upon us for action.
Palin holds out a promise of such action: the promise of a politician who will not tack or trim to the winds of political correctness. So, of course, her speech is described as “rambly.” In the comments at Hot Air, one reader opines thus:
She hit a number of issues here, and I liked what I heard (as usual). Do need to note, though, she’s going to have to get better in her delivery for more “serious” addresses. She’s done well at times, but her good material often seems to get lost in run-on sentences and forests of slang/colloqualisms.
If she runs hard (and it looks like she is) good speechwriters and communication advisors will be essential.
She connects with the people in a “rally” format, but needs to show in the next couple of years that she can speak concisely and directly in a serious, formal atmosphere.
(Maybe she’s done this and I haven’t seen it, but that’s what I’m seeing now).
Several readers chime in with the comment that she “needs polishing” to compete at the national level. And you know what? That makes us the fools – not Palin.
Will we really call for Sarah Palin to be polished, while America burns, and our liberties fly upward like sparks from the conflagration? What kind of a people are we, then, in 2009? Are we the shabby and pathetic poseurs Noam Scheiber unintentionally evokes in his October 2008 New Republic hatchet job on Palin? Are we seriously worried that Scheiber might suspect us – unless we join the Polish Palin movement – of not having gone to Dartmouth, or not savoring the New York Times crossword puzzle?
It seems clear that when conservatives speak of Palin requiring “polish,” their perspective is that of selling her to America as a candidate for national office. It’s not they themselves who need to see more polish on her, necessarily; it’s all those other Americans who will demand it. And I wonder if this is so. If it is, it is a statement about America: about who we are as a people – and how far we have come from our roots in practical liberty, unpretentious individuality, and respect for character and substance over rhetorical polish and formulaic presentation.
Will we only accept the truth if it is spoken with the accents of a pasteurized political elite? But what if no one ever speaks it in those accents? Do we condemn ourselves to a future in which liberty perishes from the earth, because we were waiting for polish, and elite appeal, in the truthtellers?
This is a question we must seriously ask ourselves. From what I can tell, there are quite a number of conservatives out there who have not needed to ask themselves the question, because they were never worried about the issue of “polish” to begin with, and had no trouble declaring themselves as Palin supporters. But there is also a conservative contingent that, seemingly, can’t see the message for the polish, or perceived lack thereof; and rather than merely holding back from Palin, feels compelled to comment on the “polish” issue.
One take on this general phenomenon is a poignant piece from The Weekly Standard in October, in which Sam Schulman muses on the fact that in terms of “class” acceptability, parlor revolutionaries Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn have more of it than Sarah Palin. The poignancy of the piece, for me, lies not in the distance Schulman tries to establish from the issue of social class in last year’s election, but in the respect he obviously has for it. Sure, it’s ironic as heck that Ayers and Dohrn retain any respectability at all, with their personal histories. But it’s yet more ironic that in seeking to lay bare America’s uneasy perspective on class prejudices, Schulman invokes analogies for Palin like the farm girl in the Loretta Young movie The Farmer’s Daughter, who rises to politics from domestic servitude in the “big house,” and the butler in a 1902 J.M. Barrie play (Admirable Crichton) who is a better man than all whom he serves.
In case you’re not fully convinced of the class distinction being made here, Schulman adduces this passage from Manhattanite Paula Throckmorton-Zakaria:
We may not have a ”servant” class in the strict Victorian sense, but a “service” class we have indeed, and it is serving us. How do we square our egalitarian self-conceit with a liveried doorman? Not easily. For non-New Yorkers, doormen are the guys who carry the bags, organize the packages and tell you who stopped by to see your 15-year-old while you were out. They also open the door.
There’s a whole America out here of people who do not see things in these terms at all: of there being a “servant class,” or even a “service class,” and of people being pigeonholed in it – or, indeed, of it being particularly scrappy, of those whom the class-conscious pigeonhole thus, to seek high political office. Not only has Sarah Palin never thought, “Gee, if I lived in Manhattan, I’d be a doorman” – millions and millions of other Americans have never thought that either.
We need to ask ourselves: are we a nation that would reject someone who is telling us the truth because some might see her as the farmer’s daughter, producing dissonance among her betters with her backwoods accent? What does it say about our ear for the truth, that it can be affected by such considerations? Are we sure it is Sarah Palin who needs to change, here – and not, well, us?
In asking these questions, I don’t mean to imply that there cannot be valid reasons to criticize or have reservations about Palin. She is a politician; we are voters. We have every right to demand proof and performance from those who court us. But as guardians of our own liberty, and our political future, we should take seriously the obligation to demand proof of, and performance in, the things that matter. It is past time to be looking for a political coalition that can take down the progressivist juggernaut building against us – and it may well be past the time to insist on particular cadences and rhetorical styles in our political leaders, as evidence of their merit for leadership.
I’ve found it interesting that Palin’s allusion, in her speech, to the Biblical heroine Esther has not gotten more play. The line “If I die, I die” comes from Esther’s statement of resolve before going to petition Persian King Xerxes, on behalf of her people, the Jews, whom Xerxes had been maneuvered by a court official into sentencing to death. (See Esther 4:15-16.) An evangelical Christian like Sarah Palin would undoubtedly have in mind Esther’s resolve, which was bolstered by her faith in God, in using this phrase.
And Esther’s story had a characteristic in common with that of another Bible heroine: Deborah, one of the Judges of ancient Israel, who led Israel in battle against the soldiers of the Canaanite king Jabin (Judges 4-5). In each woman’s tale, the element appears of a requirement for the people to rise up and do their part. Before she goes to beg an audience with Xerxes – a petition which itself may cost her her life – Esther tells her uncle Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16, all citations NIV)
Deborah, “a prophetess,” and the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel during a period when a Canaanite king had been “cruelly oppressing” the Israelites for 20 years. Reportedly:
She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’ ”
Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”
“Very well,” Deborah said, “I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh, where he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him. (Judges 4:6-10)
According to the verses following, the army of Israelites routed Sisera’s troops in battle; but Sisera himself died at the hands of a Kenite woman: Jael, wife of a descendant of Moses’ Canaanite brother-in-law Hobab.
Deborah and Barak sang a song of victory and praise afterward, which starts with these words:
When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves – praise the Lord!
The song goes on later to yield this passage:
In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the roads were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths.
Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel.
When they chose new gods, war came to the city gates, and not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.
My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the LORD! (Judges 5:2 and 6-9)
Deborah’s song, and her story, are unique among the judges and kings of Israel in emphasizing the willing and courageous participation of the people – even when their premier male commander did not necessarily meet the standard the people themselves set. When she sings “I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel!” – we can almost hear the inward groaning of some in an arrogant and dismissive elite, which perhaps even included some of those Israeli princes. Yet the people arose with her, and the cruel oppressor was defeated.
I am certainly not the only conservative to be reminded of Deborah, in contemplating Sarah Palin. The comments sections at conservative blogs are proof of that. But the comparison with Deborah has a particular resonance that relates to my main point here, in light of Palin’s political persona – “a mother in America” – and the achievement of Deborah in galvanizing the people.
Deborah’s dissimilarity from the run-of-the-mill Judge of Israel, and the mighty warrior in battle, ended up being a test of the Israelites themselves. It is worth considering whether Sarah Palin poses just such a test for America. Are we determined to respond only to leaders who meet a preconceived profile of political “fitness” – even if, like Deborah’s Barak, they are unwilling to stand on principle – and perhaps on faith – on their own? If the “right” leaders, the ones with the polish and the elite approval, are talking around the truth, and unwilling to take political risks, will we still feel bound to put our lives in their hands, and let them make our decisions for us?
Or will we, perhaps, consider that it is more important to speak the truth and be trustworthy than it is to be polished? And will we recognize that a time has come when we must do our part? That polish is meaningless without an army of the willing arrayed behind it – but also, in a delightful inversion, is also rendered meaningless with that army?
Will we consider the possibility that it is not Sarah Palin who must undergo a test to prove herself here – but us?