Songs of Innocence, Dirges of Experience

I’m going to take a break from the horror of the market and return to an old, sore subject.

As everyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I responded pretty enthusiastically to the Palin nomination in its first minutes. This in spite of the fact that I’m not a “social issues” voter as such and in spite of the fact that I was already finding it very hard to see voting for McCain for pretty much the opposite of the reasons why the stereotypical Palin voter was finding it hard to warm to McCain. And, honestly, I didn’t know that much about her. But what I knew, I liked. My impression of her Alaska record was that she came from the far-right to govern from something more like the center-right (or, perhaps, the “radical center”), and that she had a record of looking after the interests of Alaskans (making sure they got a better deal on a pipeline project, primarily) that spoke well of her and that would reinforce a key message of the McCain campaign. I thought she was a great choice for symbolic, narrative reasons, and McCain got exactly the boost I expected from the pick. And I thought McCain would use her to do three things: to excite the social-conservative base; to reach out to women (not on the assumption that women would be excited just because a woman was running, but on the assumption that there was some substance behind the “pro-life feminist” label and that therefore Palin could speak intelligently to women about so-called women’s issues in a way that McCain never could); and to flesh out the campaign substantively and rhetorically on kitchen-table issues where it has had nearly nothing to say so far.

From the beginning, I thought she was unqualified to be President from day one. But I wasn’t enormously worried about that fact – on the assumption that she was going to be able to speak intelligently on a narrow range of issues, that she was going to be trained up to be ready, and that McCain really was very unlikely to die immediately upon assuming office. And I think I was consistent in my lack of concern for her length of experience in government. I didn’t view Obama’s own limited experience as disqualifying. Moreover, I thought he should pick someone with relatively limited experience to be his running mate: my first choice was first-term Senator Jim Webb, and when he took himself out of the running my second choice was first-term Governor Brian Schweitzer. I didn’t like Tim Kaine because I didn’t like Tim Kaine, not because I thought he was too inexperienced to be Obama’s running mate. And my preferred choices for Obama were also consistent with my interest in Palin: I was thinking about narrative reinforcement, about personal qualities, and about demographic balancing, much more than I was thinking about Washington experience. That doesn’t mean I think experience is irrelevant; all things being equal, I’d rather have a nominee who’s had substantial and successful executive experience than someone who hasn’t had that experience. But “successful” is key, and even successful executives can flop politically on the national stage (e.g., Tommy Thompson). If there were an obvious “experience” candidate of the caliber of a Reagan, an Eisenhower, or an FDR, that person would have been the nominee.

But now I have more . . . experience with Governor Palin. And pretty much everything she has said or done since her appearance on the national stage – beginning with her acceptance speech – has soured me on her. It’s decreasingly plausible to me that she’s who I thought she was when she was nominated. Based on her performance on the campaign trail so far, she’s a shallow and demagogic politician. And if, on the off chance, that’s not who she is, then it’s instructive that the McCain campaign seems to be eager to have her play this particular character.

She’s still not a terribly crucial factor in my decisionmaking about this election. But she’s a negative factor for McCain in my mind. This is not a new conclusion for me; I started trending in this direction, as I say, within a few days of the announcement of her nomination. I probably would have trended faster were it not for, well, the sort of coverage Alex Massie describes here. But, you know, my opinion of the coverage shouldn’t determine my opinion of the candidate. And, in the end, it doesn’t.