Archive for ‘James Joyner’

November 9, 2008

James Joyner, elitist?

It ill behooves any graduate of Jacksonville (Ala.) State University to join up with the snob brigade against Sarah Palin, but at least my good buddy isn’t vicious about it. If the other anti-Palinites were as mild and reasonable as Dr. Joyner, maybe I wouldn’t want to punch them in the nose — or sic Charlie Martin on them. Among other things, James says:

[C]onservatives ought to take the criticisms of more centrist Republicans to heart rather than making support for Palin some sort of litmus test. . .

Very good. I don’t make it a litmus test — Quin Hillyer is a conservative, a friend and a Palin critic — and don’t want anyone else to make it a litmus test. My objection is to the tone and content of specific criticisms, and particularly to any attempt to make her the scapegoat whose alleged defects exempts others from blame.

[T]he idea that she didn’t know much about foreign policy or the broader swath of national issues grew steadily starting from Team McCain’s decision to shelter her from the press and then blossomed into full force with horrible performances in the Katie Couric and Charles Gibson interviews.

Agreed. The problem was the “decision to shelter her from the press,” which raised the stakes in the big one-on-one interviews. It is easier for a politician to dodge, or dismiss, a “gotcha” question in a press conference than in a one-on-one. The person at the lectern has more control at a press conference than does the subject of a one-on-one interview, who is really at the mercy of the questioner — and the producers at the editing console.

I stressed, though — drawing comparison with Harriet Miers . . . that her résumé was thin for the office by recent standards.

The “recent standards” being Dick Cheney, Al Gore, Dan Quayle and George H.W. Bush, four names that take us back to 1981. In three of four of those instances (Cheney, Gore, Bush 41) the idea was to get a Washington establishment type to balance the “outsider” candidate (Bush 41, Clinton, Reagan). Quayle was a “movement” conservative intended to balance the un-conservative Bush. We can argue elsewhere the intent and meaning of the Palin pick, but Joyner’s comparison of Palin to Miers is most unfortunate. What made Miers unacceptable was the phalanx of resistance from the Federalist Society, who are our conservative go-to guys for judicial selections. If a Republican appointee to the appelate courts doesn’t pass muster with the Federalist Society, think, “Souter.” Unacceptable.

[Palin supporter Bill Dyer is] much more of a populist and I’m much more of an elitist in terms of credentialing and expertise. . . .
I saw little evidence, though, that she’s very interested in foreign policy or most issues of American domestic policy.

These are certainly legitimate criticisms. Joyner is a specialist in defense policy, and I note that most of Palin’s foes tend to come from the defense/foreign-policy sectors of the conservative — or, as the vogue is, “center-right” — coalition. But given that the GOP foreign policy establishment spent all of 2002 and 2003 up until the first strike on Baghdad telling us that the invasion of Iraq was an emergency imperative, that Saddam’s WMD programs were an eminent danger to vital U.S. interests, I am certainly not the only conservative who now has a jaded view of the “Vulcans” and their vaunted expertise.

Furthermore, and I’m not sure I’ve argued this explicitly elsewhere before, I think it generally a political mistake to make foreign policy such an overwhelming emphasis in conservative politics as was the case after 9/11. Wars end, alliances shift, new threats emerge, but except in emergencies, it is difficult to get American voters to concentrate on foreign policy.

We saw how the conservative consensus of the Reagan years fell apart once the Soviet threat crumbled (and after Bush 41’s tax hike and minimum wage increase caused a recession), and we’ve seen something similar during the Bush 43 presidency. In 2002 and 2004, Republicans made the fight against terrorism the fulcrum of the campaign, and succeeded. But by 2006, the trick didn’t work any more, and it is possible to see the nomination of the war hero McCain this year as another failed attempt to re-run the “patriot hawks” vs. “traitor doves” game. If nothing else, people grow bored with that message eventually.

Domestic politics is permanent. The economy is always relevant. The ceaseless growth of the Washington bureaucracy continues to intrude into the lives of ordinary Americans. The Department of Education is still an unconstitutional travesty that ought to be abolished. Social Security is still a disastrous Ponzi scheme. The entitlement mentality is still an insult to the Tocquevillean spirit of the nation. These arguments may not be as popular in the short term as pointing at a mustachioed foreign dictator and screaming “Hitler!” but they have the basic virtue of being true.

Now, James can like or dislike Palin as a potential 2012 presidential candidate and it makes no difference to me. We can discuss that in mid-2011. But what some of Palin’s other Republican critics are clearly and most objectionably trying to do is (a) make her the too-convenient scapegoat for the 2008 defeat, and (b) so damage her as to assure that she is not viable for 2012.
There is a difference between merely being mistaken and consciously doing evil. James and I and Bill Dyer can argue about Palin’s merits and demerits, and any of us may be mistaken in our judgments, but the smear-mongers sabotaging Palin from inside the McCain campaign have engaged in something else entirely.

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