A Post on Palin (with apologies to Dave)

Despite Dave’s complaints about political blogging, I figured that in light of Dan’s post on Palin I would throw in my three cent’s worth. Much has been made of the way in which picking Palin undermines McCain’s argument that his experience is superior to that of Obama. This, I think, is a fair criticism. The partisan leap that then gets made, however, to Republican hypocrisy rests, I think, on a misunderstanding about elections and McCain. First, it is a national election and the fact that the party faithful rally around their standard bearers in the months before the election is evidence that…shockingly…presidential elections are largely about political mobilization rather than some idealized mass public policy seminar. Are Biden supporters from the Democratic primaries — I’ve heard rumors that there were some — now hypocrites because they rally around Obama, notwithstanding Biden’s attacks on his inexperience? No, it just means that they are Democrats, which is hardly something to be ashamed of.

The real questiion is why McCain would pick Palin given the fact that she clearly undermines his experience argument against Obama. The important thing to see here, I think, is that the whole I-am-the-tested-and-seasoned-candidate narrative was thrust on McCain by accident. It is not, I think, all that central to his self-conception. It is a good argument to make given Obama’s resume, but I don’t think that it is ultimately what drives his own sense of why he should be president. Rather, McCain ultimately sees himself primarily in terms of his personal narrative and his personal character. He is the heroic prisoner of war who went into politics as a maverick and has repeatedly bucked the party establishment on this or that issue. He is Invictus. Ultimately, I think that McCain was not drawn to Palin because she was a woman or because he thinks that her experience will complement his. (The speculation about Palin’s appeal to Hillary voters, I think, tells us more about those voters’ need for self-reference than it does about any serious GOP strategizing.) He chose Palin because she has a compelling personality and a compelling personal story. She is the unconventional maverick hockey mom that took on the corrupt GOP establishment in Alaska and won.

What you are seeing with Palin is not a cynical or irrational move by McCain. Rather you are seeing a choice that reveals much about his authentic conception of himself and of politics. This fact simply gets obscured by the rhetoric spawned by the accident of Obama’s inexperience. The choice reveals both what is appealing about McCain — his personal independence and cussedness and his commitment to a particular notion of character as the highest political virtue — as well as what is less appealing, namely his insistence on the primacy of his personal narrative over competing concerns that are not connected to the image of John McCain as maverick.

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4 Responses

  1. Being a “hockey mom” doesn’t by itself say anything about her character, and neither does winning the gubernatorial election. There are good and bad mothers, and good and bad governors. So far, I read your analysis merely as pointing to things that McCain could claim as positive character traits, not things that actually are.

  2. Deven says:

    Nate,

    Do you really think the V.P. complements any President?

    And how do you explain the evidence that Leiberman was McCain’s choice so much so that there was little internal vetting of Palin at all?

    As I stated in my post, both sides make tactical and perhaps cynical moves. You are suggesting, I think, that this choice is somehow pure. There seems to be no evidence for that position.

    Best

    Deven

  3. Nate Oman says:

    Deven: I certainly don’t mean to suggest that the choice of Palin was “pure” in the sense of being unconnnected to considerations of poltical tactics, etc. For example, Palin’s choice clearly is meant to help McCain with religious conservatives. On the other hand, I do think that it reveals something about the status of the “experience” argument in McCain’s own political conception, namely its largely accidental character.

    To put it is simple terms, Palin reminds us that McCain was a personal narrative politician before he was an I-have-experience politician.

    (For someone who was an I-have-experience politician in their core see George Herbert Walker Bush.)

  4. Guessed says:

    “The important thing to see here, I think, is that the whole I-am-the-tested-and-seasoned-candidate narrative was thrust on McCain by accident. It is not, I think, all that central to his self-conception. It is a good argument to make given Obama’s resume * * * ”

    “To put it is simple terms, Palin reminds us that McCain was a personal narrative politician before he was an I-have-experience politician.”

    Presumably you’d accept that we’re entitled to take a politician’s statement of their values at face — or you’re about to provide us with a template for determining what is sincere or genuine, and how far back we need to go to get at the roots (before our reaching is dismissed as missing vital aspects of the candidate’s evolution).

    In any event, with due respect, your account is hard to square with the facts. McCain himself has been muttering about Obama’s experience, so that it isn’t just the party, AND his preoccupation does not seem simply to have an accident of Obama as you suggest. (E.g., on January 30, 2008 McCain attacked Mitt Romney at a Republican debate by saying: “We’re in a time in our history where you can’t afford any on-the- job training.”) And as noted above, McCain’s genuine self seemed to motivate him to selected Lieberman, and the conventional wisdom is that he received too much pushback from the party — so much for the rival, maverick depiction.

    I think it’s still fairer to see that he sees himself as an experienced maverick to be preferred on those hybrid terms, or doesn’t have a pure conception of himself. (Who does?) Beyond that, the only things you can say are that the Veep is different, or that McCain was convinced of Palin’s experience (and was right), or that he changed his mind because of electoral considerations. Who could differ, though, with the claim that this is “a choice that reveals much about his authentic conception of himself and of politics”?