03 September 2008

Republican Nostalgia Night, also starring Sarah Palin!

Do you remember those long ago days of January 2008 when it looked like Mitt Romney vs. Mike Huckabee for the Republican presidential nomination, with Rudolph Giuliani looming in the wings? You had a chance to relive that a little tonight when the defeated contenders gave their first auditions for 2012 or 2016, depending on circumstances.

I came in late for Romney, but reporters confirmed the impression I got from the little I heard that the speech was bad. It sounded impersonal, almost robotic despite Romney's determination to push the hot buttons. It lacked personality, while Huckabee's had almost too much. Huckabee remains the most intriguing figure among the major campaigners, and tonight's speech elevated him to the level of the enigmatic. While Romney seemed completely generic, Huckabee indulged in egotistical clowning, daring to name Senator McCain as his "second choice" for the nomination and confessing his desire to give an acceptance speech. As well, he indulged in taxophobia and xenophobia, warning against bad ideas of big government that Senator Obama might have brought back from his "excellent adventure" in Europe. He offered himself as proof that Republicans aren't the party of the rich, invoking his impoverished upbringing in Hope, Arkansas, where the "sacred heroes" were "Jesus, Elvis and FDR, not necessarily in that order." He became a Republican, he said, not because he wanted to get rich but because he didn't want to stay poor waiting for the government to save him.

Huckabee closed with a nearly Kafkaesque narrative that he claimed was a true story. In fact, it is a true story, according to this source, that Huckabee first spoke about last year. Back in 2005, he related, a schoolteacher named Martha Cothren had the desks taken out of her homeroom, leaving each class standing before her. She said she'd allow any student to have a desk who could tell her how to earn one. Good grades? Good behavior? These were expected, but insufficient to earn a desk. The day went by, students called parents, word spread, and TV news crews came. The last class was as perplexed as the first, but the teacher finally explained that hers had been a trick question. They did not have to earn the desks, she said as she opened the door. She had arranged for a group of veterans, in uniform, to appear bearing the desks. Each placed a desk back in the classroom. The moral? They, the veterans, had earned the desks for the children. From this, Huckabee deduced that McCain's suffering in Vietnam had earned Huckabee his own desk, so he owed it to the Arizonan to try to get him a nice desk in the Oval Office.

I despise such parables. I question whether any Founding Father would agree that Americans owe everything to the military. Indeed, on the assumption that Huckabee attended a public school, I question which war, exactly, was fought to establish those schools? He owes his desk to specific political decisions by his predecessors in the governor's chair of Arkansas, none of which depended on political force. For that matter, to the extent that America was ever in danger of conquest, who among our possible conquerors would have denied Huckabee an education. Totalitarians were all about public education; that's how you started indoctrinating people, after all. On the other hand, had the South won the Civil War, he may have had to do without. Maybe Huckabee wants to thank McCain for the fact that he didn't have to pray to Ho Chi Minh for candy in his classroom, but I expect that McCain would think him an idiot if he ever confessed that thought.

Worse, the usual reason for telling such stories, for indoctrinating the notion of our infinite debt to military sacrifice, is to intimidate us into acquiescence in current military adventures. The perversely paradoxical argument goes: because they bought your freedom with their blood, you have no right to complain about what they do. The further implication is that freedom is always in danger, and always dependent on military force, and thus depends upon our acquiescence in any military action undertaken by the government. Call me old fashioned, but this sounds like a profoundly un-American line of thinking.

Huckabee may just be a more mellow version of Lonesome Rhodes, the hobo troubadour turned TV demagogue portrayed by Andy Griffith in the movie A Face in the Crowd. Lonesome embodies a liberal nightmare of folksy fascism while the movie provides the reassurance that he doesn't really believe in his doctrines and can be exposed as a cynical fraud. Huckabee looks like a true believer, and that makes his authentic-seeming folksiness and friendly demeanor maybe more dangerous than any fictional scarecrow.

I still can't help but be more scared by Rudy Giuliani. I was determined to ignore his speech, but I happened to hear the bit when he complained that the Democrats in Denver didn't talk about "9-11" enough. He really does have only one thing to say, and I've heard it too often by now.

* * *

The following is a running real-time commentary on Gov. Palin's acceptance speech.

Here comes Governor Palin. She discusses her son heading for Iraq, and notes another son in the Navy on an aircraft carrier. After name-checking her daughters, she mentions the new baby. "Our family has the same ups and downs as many others," she says, giving a shout-out to families of special-needs children. She identifies her hubby as fisherman, snowmachine racer, union man and Eskimo. Enough with the personalities, already! In America, she insists, "every woman can walk through every door of opportunity." She equates comparison of herself with Harry Truman as a similar product of similarly virtuous soil. A dig at Mrs. Obama comes when she mentions that people in her town are "always proud of America." She jokes about herself: "What's the difference between a pit bull and a hockey mom? Lipstick!" She details the duties of a small town mayor as a lesson to those who look down on her "inexperience." She equates it with being a community activist, "except that you have actual responsibilities." MSNBC shows a protester being taken out of the hall at this point, while Palin moves on to denounce candidates who "talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco," invoking Obama's infamous remarks on "bitterness." She disclaims membership in the "permanent political establishment," but doesn't that reflect poorly on veteran Senator McCain? She presses on to boast of standing up to the establishment and "good old boys" of Alaska. As governor, she did without the gubernatorial jet, the chauffeur and chef, though her kids miss the last one. She claims to have fought "oil-company lobbyists." She then calls for more drilling, claiming that Alaska has plenty, to insure the country against forms of blackmail from Russia, Venezuela, the Arabs, etc. She notes that Obama has authored two memoirs, but no major legislation at any level of government. What will he do, she asks, besides turning back the waters and healing the planet? Expand government, of course. And negotiate with terrorist states. And tax the bejeezus out of us. That means businesses will fail or not get started and farms will go belly up, but I wish that she or ANY OTHER REPUBLICAN would name a SINGLE PERSON who went out of business because of taxes. Meanwhile, veteran Senator McCain "does not run with the Washington herd." She cites Senator Reid's endorsement of the Republican nominee; he said "I can't stand John McCain." She says McCain can get no higher accolade. She adds: "For all that Senator Obama and Senator Biden talk about 'fighting for you,' [makes scare quotes in air], there's really only one candidate in this election who has actually fought for you!" Well, FYB. Next comes another display of McCain's POW pals and a final contrast of rhetoric with action. I'm sure she made a hit with the Republican rabble, since she hit all the every-man-for-himself and warmongering notes. I'd like to tell her to go live in the woods, but I can't claim that satisfaction because she already does. I have to content myself with telling her to stay there.

And here's Senator McCain, asking, "Dontcha think we made the right choice?" Actually, if you can follow my logic, I think he did.


crhymethinc said...

Attacks, praise stretch truth at GOP convention
By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press Writer – Wed Sep 3, 11:48 pm ET

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her Republican supporters held back little Wednesday as they issued dismissive attacks on Barack Obama and flattering praise on her credentials to be vice president. In some cases, the reproach and the praise stretched the truth.
Some examples:
PALIN: "I have protected the taxpayers by vetoing wasteful spending ... and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. I told the Congress 'thanks but no thanks' for that Bridge to Nowhere."
THE FACTS: As mayor of Wasilla, Palin hired a lobbyist and traveled to Washington annually to support earmarks for the town totaling $27 million. In her two years as governor, Alaska has requested nearly $750 million in special federal spending, by far the largest per-capita request in the nation. While Palin notes she rejected plans to build a $398 million bridge from Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents and an airport, that opposition came only after the plan was ridiculed nationally as a "bridge to nowhere."
PALIN: "There is much to like and admire about our opponent. But listening to him speak, it's easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform — not even in the state senate."
THE FACTS: Compared to McCain and his two decades in the Senate, Obama does have a more meager record. But he has worked with Republicans to pass legislation that expanded efforts to intercept illegal shipments of weapons of mass destruction and to help destroy conventional weapons stockpiles. The legislation became law last year. To demean that accomplishment would be to also demean the work of Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a respected foreign policy voice in the Senate. In Illinois, he was the leader on two big, contentious measures in Illinois: studying racial profiling by police and requiring recordings of interrogations in potential death penalty cases. He also successfully co-sponsored major ethics reform legislation.
PALIN: "The Democratic nominee for president supports plans to raise income taxes, raise payroll taxes, raise investment income taxes, raise the death tax, raise business taxes, and increase the tax burden on the American people by hundreds of billions of dollars."
THE FACTS: The Tax Policy Center, a think tank run jointly by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, concluded that Obama's plan would increase after-tax income for middle-income taxpayers by about 5 percent by 2012, or nearly $2,200 annually. McCain's plan, which cuts taxes across all income levels, would raise after tax-income for middle-income taxpayers by 3 percent, the center concluded.
Obama would provide $80 billion in tax breaks, mainly for poor workers and the elderly, including tripling the Earned Income Tax Credit for minimum-wage workers and higher credits for larger families.
He also would raise income taxes, capital gains and dividend taxes on the wealthiest. He would raise payroll taxes on taxpayers with incomes above $250,000, and he would raise corporate taxes. Small businesses that make more than $250,000 a year would see taxes rise.
MCCAIN: "She's been governor of our largest state, in charge of 20 percent of America's energy supply ... She's responsible for 20 percent of the nation's energy supply. I'm entertained by the comparison and I hope we can keep making that comparison that running a political campaign is somehow comparable to being the executive of the largest state in America," he said in an interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson.
THE FACTS: McCain's phrasing exaggerates both claims. Palin is governor of a state that ranks second nationally in crude oil production, but she's no more "responsible" for that resource than President Bush was when he was governor of Texas, another oil-producing state. In fact, her primary power is the ability to tax oil, which she did in concert with the Alaska Legislature. And where Alaska is the largest state in America, McCain could as easily have called it the 47th largest state — by population.
MCCAIN: "She's the commander of the Alaska National Guard. ... She has been in charge, and she has had national security as one of her primary responsibilities," he said on ABC.
THE FACTS: While governors are in charge of their state guard units, that authority ends whenever those units are called to actual military service. When guard units are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, for example, they assume those duties under "federal status," which means they report to the Defense Department, not their governors. Alaska's national guard units have a total of about 4,200 personnel, among the smallest of state guard organizations.
FORMER ARKANSAS GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE: Palin "got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States."
THE FACTS: A whopper. Palin got 616 votes in the 1996 mayor's election, and got 909 in her 1999 re-election race, for a total of 1,525. Biden dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses, but he still got 76,165 votes in 23 states and the District of Columbia where he was on the ballot during the 2008 presidential primaries.
FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOV. MITT ROMNEY: "We need change, all right — change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington! We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington — throw out the big-government liberals, and elect John McCain and Sarah Palin."
THE FACTS: A Back-to-the-Future moment. George W. Bush, a conservative Republican, has been president for nearly eight years. And until last year, Republicans controlled Congress. Only since January 2007 have Democrats have been in charge of the House and Senate

Samuel Wilson said...

Thanks for sharing. Of course, conservatives will dismiss Kuhnhenn as one of the "elite media" and automatically reject his comments. In this they'll echo their idol Reagan who, trying to say something else, once declared that "facts are stupid things."