Ridicule McCain, not Palin

I think my last post re: Palin was misunderstood. Matt Zeitlin wrote a thoughtful comment:

Reihan, I ask this question in total honesty, what are Democrats like me supposed to do except ridicule Sarah Palin? By that I mean, we can’t attack her on the issues – like foreign policy, for example – because we have no idea where she stands or if she’s even seriously considered anything outside the purview of the 600,000 person state she’s governed for less than 2 years.

The other line of attack we’ve been using (I got the secret blogger attack codes this afternoon) is that her experience governing Alaska – a state where everyone gets welfare from oil royalties and has fewer people than Indianapolis – isn’t exactly relevant to being a Vice president with a non trivial chance of assuming office. Is that somehow stupid or irrelevant?

Perhaps we should be ridiculing McCain, who seems to have made a pick that’s all about winning the next news cycle as opposed to actually governing. Now, I’m sure you disagree with just about everything I just said, but was any of what’s above constitute unfair “ridicule” of Palin? If it was, what attacks should we launch without being unfair and patronizing?

The Palin pick is the politicial equivalent of bear-baiting. Yes, ridiculing Palin as a hick and a rube, and devaluing her experience, comes naturally to the kind of people who take Barack Obama seriously as a presidential candidate. Philip Gourevitch discussed the parallels between Palin and Obama — but of course Palin is in many respects the cultural and stylistic opposite of Obama. Obama speaks to the highest aspirations and self-conceptions of a certain kind of urban liberal. Palin, in contrast, speaks to the highest aspirations and self-conceptions of a different set of Americans. That’s why insults and ridicule are counter-productive for Democrats. Why? Because the kind of Americans inclined to like Obama, without the aid of Joe Biden or free factory-reviving supercars, will never vote for a Republican. The kind of Americans inclined to like Palin might vote for a Democrat, particularly this year.

As for Palin’s worldview, the Gourevitch interview was very insightful. On Democrats, and whether she’s inclined to ridicule them.

But she said she recognized that “the Democrats also preach individual freedoms and individual rights, capitalism, free market, let-it-do-its-thing-best, let people keep as much of their money that they earn as possible. And when it comes to, like, the Party machine, no one will accuse me of being partisan.”

So the possibility that Obama might win Alaska did not worry Palin: “Turning maybe purple in the state means, to me, it’s more independent, it’s not the obsessive partisanship that gets in the way of doing what’s right for this state, and I think on a national level that’s what we’re gonna see.”

Given how the Obama campaign is taking shape, perhaps this sentiment is worthy of ridicule. I don’t think so, not yet at least.

And as for her views on the war, I fear they reflect those of a lot of Americans.

Her son is a soldier, and she said, “I’m a mom, and my son is going to get deployed in September, and we better have a real clear plan for this war. And it better not have to do with oil and dependence on foreign energy.”

This defies the McCain caricature. It is in line with the McCain who in 2004 said he opposed the creation of permanent bases, who called for a shift in strategy in Iraq and is calling for a shift in strategy in Afghanistan, and who has warned against some armed interventions and championed others.

Again: Palin is bait. Her profile is designed to draw out all of the least attractive impulses of Obama supporters. The smarter strategy is to ignore Palin and to ridicule McCain.

(1) For having lots of houses. You’re not risking any votes here. Rich Democrats love populist language and the rest of the country isn’t awash in real estate. It might make things a little vexing when Hillary Clinton or Mark Warner or [insert name here] runs], but I don’t think any candidate will ever forget the detailed contents of her or his real estate portfolio from now on.

(2) For being out of touch. George H.W. Bush in the supermarket aisle. You alienate no one this way.

(3) For being old. McCain is ging to 55+ voters. This is the riskiest approach. But done subtly, it could make a difference. “A new energy for America,” etc.

These charges are about as substantive as the shrill mockery of Palin, but they’re frankly less risky.

One commenter seemed to think I was comparing Palin to Clinton or Reagan. I wasn’t. I was making a different point. Obama shouldn’t be raising the experience issue, even though he can make a plausible claim to being slightly more experienced than Palin. I don’t think he is, but the thing is: this is a game of inches, and you really, really don’t want to talk about it. And I was noting the canard that is “national level” experience, a notion rendered absurd by all candidates who haven’t served in the US Senate, the House, or, I assume, as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.