Conventional Wisdom

RNC Days 1-2: Getting Beyond the Palin Distraction

Conventional Wisdom

"Conventional Wisdom" brings you perspectives from both sides of the political aisle during this convention season. Author and Columbia University professor Farah Jasmine Griffin is monitoring the ongoings at the Republican National Convention and offers her thoughts on America's "temporary fascination with this attractive mystery woman," Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Farah Griffin

I am at a disadvantage in writing about the Republican National Convention for a number of reasons. First, I am not in Minnesota. Second, I support Barack Obama for President. Third, I have to rely on television coverage for my access to the events of this convention.

It is easier to feel the excitement and the drama of an event when you are present and participating in it. However, I don't have to be there to sense the excitement generated by Senator McCain's pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for his running mate. The Republican base is excited, the press is burning with curiosity and much of the American public has a temporary fascination with this attractive mystery woman. After watching the first night of the convention — the lack of diversity amongst its delegates and the somewhat boring presentations of the evening's speakers (including Joe Lieberman, who in spite of statements to the contrary, is NOT a Democrat) — I, too, am looking forward to hearing from Gov. Palin.

Palin is fascinating: a former beauty queen and a member of the NRA who hunts moose, and has given birth to five children while running for and winning public office. She is pro-life, doesn't believe in sex education in public schools and advocates abstinence as a form of birth control for teenagers. However, I cannot help but agree with New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, that much about the Palin selection and its subsequent coverage by the media serve to distract us from important issues such as the economy and the war.

She also serves the useful purpose of separating Senator McCain from President Bush. The Democrats had persuasively connected the failed Bush administration with Senator McCain's presidential aspirations. Last night, both Bush and Palin were absent from the convention hall. In her absence, Palin was more of a presence than Bush. Although the President did address the convention, he did so from Washington, D.C. Are we really to believe he stayed away from the Twin Cities because of the demands of monitoring Hurricane Gustav?

But back to Palin. There are ways to talk about her that do not distract us from the issues. Clearly she was chosen to appeal to the right-wing base of the Republican Party. Clearly, she was also selected to appeal to disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters. Suppose there are some Hillary Clinton supporters who will support the McCain/Palin ticket. (I don't know any, but that says more about my social circle than it does about the diversity of women who were excited by Hillary.) Yet, the two politicians couldn't differ more. How could anyone who was happy with President Hillary Clinton find Governor Palin an attractive alternative? Perhaps those voters who sided with Hillary after Pennsylvania, after she drank shots and spoke nostalgically of hunting with her grandfather, perhaps those are the voters who are thrilled at the prospect of Sarah Palin.

In many ways, McCain's pick of Sarah Palin is very cynical but also very Republican (think Clarence Thomas) and, unfortunately, very American. We, the American people, often are willing to settle for symbols over political heft. However, Sarah Palin is not an empty symbol of emerging womanhood. She is an extremely conservative woman whose rise to power signifies the victory of Phyllis Schafly, who has emerged again in recent days. Remember Phyllis Schafly? She helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment. She was against arms control. She's back.

When I say that current coverage on Sarah Palin is a distraction it isn't because I want to hear less about her; it's because I want to know more. This I know: she is against a woman's right to choose. She is pro-gun. She believes the Iraq War is part of God's plan. She is a creationist. She is against sex education in public schools. I would love more details on the following: Her stance on the current state of our economy? On global warming? On foreign policy? On health care? That's why I am really looking forward to those October debates between she and Senator Biden. That's also why I would love to see one between she and Senator Clinton as well!

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I was struck , in many negative ways, by the Palin nomination, but the photo of her distraught-looking, pregnant daughter brought up one of the most notable aspects of this catastrophe. Why would any parent, male or female, subject a child to the public humiliation that Sarah Palin has brought on her child and ultimately, grandchild?
Few of us can claim to be unaware of the difficulty of teaching "abstinence only" to our teenagers, but to put this youngster's plight before the country and then claim the reaction as a feminist issue is just cruel. Is she visiting this on Bristol as a punishment or is she just oblivious?

I would feel the same whether the candidate were father or mother-the first obligation of a parent is to protect his or her children, whether from the scandal of prying eyes , the need for special care of a disabled child, even the privacy of their aunt's custody battle.

What was she thinking?

Sent by mary murphy | 1:43 PM | 9-3-2008

Some would like to steer this election away from "issues," and the working mother debate is distracting from the facts of her accomplishments. It is not a record of executive achievement, as some have tried to suggest.

A civic mother in Wasilla offered some observations that should be the focus of this national vetting. Among them:

Palin campaigned in Wasilla as a "fiscal conservative, yet during her 6
years as Mayor (1996-2002, a period of low inflation), she increased general government expenditures by over 33%, and the amount of taxes collected by the City increased by 38%.

She reduced progressive property taxes and increased a
regressive sales tax which taxed even food. The tax cuts she
promoted benefited large corporate property owners.

However, the huge increases in tax revenues during her mayoral administration weren't enough to fund everything on her wish list. She initiated borrowing and bonds. She inherited a city with zero debt, but left it with indebtedness of over $22 million. What did she encourage
the voters to borrow money for? Not infrastructure that she said
she supported, or the sewage treatment plant that the city lacked, or a
new library. He instead spent $1m for a park, $15m-plus for construction of a multi-use sports complex which she rushed through to build on a piece
of property that the City didn't even have clear title to, that was
still in litigation 7 yrs later. The sports complex itself is a nice addition to the community, but a huge money pit, not the profit-generator she claimed it would be. She also supported bonds for $5.5m for road projects that could have been done in 5-7 yrs without any borrowing.

While Mayor, City Hall was extensively remodeled, and her office
redecorated more than once.

As an oil producer, the high price of oil has created a budget surplus
in Alaska. Rather than invest this surplus in technology that will
make us energy independent and increase efficiency, as Governor she
proposed distribution of this surplus to every individual in the state.

In this time of record state revenues and budget surpluses, she
recommended that the state borrow/bond for road projects, even while
she proposed distribution of surplus state revenues: spend today's
surplus, borrow for needs.

While Palin was Mayor of Wasilla she tried to fire the highly respected
City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from
the library some books that Sarah wanted removed. City residents
rallied to the defense of the City Librarian and against Palin's
attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew
her termination letter. People who fought her attempt to oust the
Librarian are on her enemies list to this day.

These are the issues that matter to those of us in small towns. Palin leveraged a few high-profile challenges to her party and the oil companies into a typically American power grab. To know what kind of national leader she would be, go back to her very small pond, as McCain's team didn't.

Sent by Jenny | 2:53 PM | 9-3-2008

Very informative Jenny. And the article of Dr. Griffin is also instructive. What bothers me is the way the Republicans--much like the pre-Iraq war propoganda--are selling the public a complete fabrication. I want to scream as I hear these talking heads speak of her "executive" experience; her command of the national guard; blah, blah, blah. I have ONE question: How many people voted for Barack Obama? more than 18,000,000. How many people voted for Palin in this process? 1.

Sent by massai | 5:08 PM | 9-3-2008

It was not Governor Palin who brought her pregnant daughter into the national spotlight. That dubious honor goes to the national press which, under the guise of asking "Could this horrifying revelation about Governor Palin reflect badly on McCain's vetting process?" was more than happy to exploit Palin's family problems. Give me a break. The fact of the matter is that the national press -- which has been touting the beauty of a national campaign in which a black man and a white woman are running for national office (so long as they're liberal Democrats)is more than happy to throw all of that "diversity" back-slapping overboard when the "diverse" candidate is a conservative Republican woman. It's sheer hypocrisy, and it's pretty transparent.

I'm not voting for McCain and Palin, but it's not because I have some deep-seated qualms about McCain's judgment in choosing a conservative woman. That's all just inside-the-beltway press palaver. My vote will be based on the issues that matter most to me -- the huge national debt, the unwinnable and unconstitutional war, and the fact that none of the major candidates have yet addressed the issue of how we're going to pay for our national financial profligacy.

The fact of the matter is that the national press in this country has a liberal bias. Reporters, editors, anchors and their ilk love Obama and can't stand McCain (or, at this point, anyone other than Obama). There's not much that anyone can, or should, do about it, except this: Why don't they have the guts to just own up to their bias, instead of throwing out non-issues in the ostensible name of the "people's right to know?" (Know what? Is Palin's daughter running for national office?) I, like most Americans, have learned to simply live with the bias and the hypocrisy, accept it for what it is, and move on. Once in a while, though, it becomes so annoying that I can't help but comment. My guess is that millions of Americans will be commenting through their votes -- for McCain and Palin.

Sent by Randall | 3:07 PM | 9-4-2008

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