Palin’s Nonanswers

During the negotiations for the formats of the debate it was agreed to simplify the vice presidential debate for Sarah Palin, reducing the risk that she will be asked follow up questions or have to directly debate the issues with Joe Biden. The current format plays to her strength–evading answers. This has been often been seen during the rare interviews with Palin. Katie Couric was successful in demonstrating that Palin had no understanding of most issues when she pressed her for answers, or at least some clue that she had thought about the issue before. Former Alaska state representative and gubenatorial candidate Andrew Halcro has described Palin’s debate strategy and it sounds just like her strategy of evasion in interviews:

Palin is a master of the nonanswer. She can turn a 60-second response to a query about her specific solutions to healthcare challenges into a folksy story about how she’s met people on the campaign trail who face healthcare challenges. All without uttering a word about her public-policy solutions to healthcare challenges.

In one debate, a moderator asked the candidates to name a bill the legislature had recently passed that we didn’t like. I named one. Democratic candidate Tony Knowles named one. But Sarah Palin instead used her allotted time to criticize the incumbent governor, Frank Murkowski. Asked to name a bill we did like, the same pattern emerged: Palin didn’t name a bill.

And when she does answer the actual question asked, she has a canny ability to connect with the audience on a personal level. For example, asked to name a major issue that had been ignored during the campaign, I discussed the health of local communities, Mr. Knowles talked about affordable healthcare, and Palin talked about … the need to protect hunting and fishing rights.

Unfortunately it will be difficult for Biden to confront Palin on this considering the format of the debate. He will probably be best off in just showing he is able to answer the questions, and leave it to commentators afterward to hopefully point out deficiencies in Palin’s answers.

Foreign Policy Advice From Sarah Palin

An interview with John McCain on Morning Edition has a strange passage:

MR. INSKEEP: Given what you’ve said, Senator, is there an occasion where you could imagine turning to Governor Palin for advice in a foreign policy crisis?

SEN. MCCAIN: I’ve turned to her advice many times in the past. I can’t imagine turning to Senator Obama or Senator Biden because they’ve been wrong. They were wrong about Iraq, they were wrong about Russia. Senator Biden wanted to divide Iraq into three different countries. He voted against the first Gulf War. Senator Obama has no experience whatsoever and has been wrong in the issues that he’s been involved in –

MR. INSKEEP: But would you turn to Governor Palin –

SEN. MCCAIN: — I certainly wouldn’t turn to them, and I’ve already have turned to Governor Palin, particularly on energy issues, and I’ve appreciated her background and knowledge on that and many other issues.

Putting aside the fact that Obama was right and both McCain and Palin have been wrong on these foreign policy issues, when exactly has McCain turned to Governor Palin for advice? After all, he only met her once before he chose her to run with him.

McCain is obviously saying what he believes will help the ticket politically rather than speaking the truth in the interview. I’m not even certain he is helping himself by trying to build up Palin by claiming he seeks advice from her. With fewer and fewer people regardless of party having any confidence in Palin, I would think that McCain would want to minimize thought of any actual influence from Palin on policy should he be elected.

As ridiculous as it is considering how many times he has been wrong on foreign policy, McCain might be better off returning to his capmpaign’s earlier story that Palin “going to learn national security at the foot of the master for the next four years, and most doctors think that he’ll be around at least that long.”

Political Decision Making Survey

I have been asked to post a link to a survey regarding electoral decision-making. A research team from the Psychology Department at New York University, headed by Professor Yaacov Trope and supported by the National Science Foundation, is investigating the cognitive causes of voting behavior, political preferences, and candidate evaluations throughout the course of the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. This stage of the study focuses on the information people use to inform evaluations during the last few weeks before the election. They seek respondents of all political leanings from all over the country (and from the rest of the world) to complete a 15-minute questionnaire, the responses to which will be completely anonymous. In order to avoid influencing responses to the survey, comments have been turned off for this post.

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Palin On The Constitutional Right to Privacy

The much publicized clip in which Sarah Palin is unable to name any Supreme Court cases other than Roe v. Wade has bee released. While this is the worst part, there are also problems in her other comments on the topic. From the interview:

Couric Why, in your view, is Roe v. Wade a bad decision?

Sarah Palin: I think it should be a states’ issue not a federal government-mandated, mandating yes or no on such an important issue. I’m, in that sense, a federalist, where I believe that states should have more say in the laws of their lands and individual areas. Now, foundationally, also, though, it’s no secret that I’m pro-life that I believe in a culture of life is very important for this country. Personally that’s what I would like to see, um, further embraced by America.

Couric: Do you think there’s an inherent right to privacy in the Constitution?

Palin: I do. Yeah, I do.

Couric: The cornerstone of Roe v. Wade.

Palin: I do. And I believe that individual states can best handle what the people within the different constituencies in the 50 states would like to see their will ushered in an issue like that.

Couric: What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?

Palin: Well, let’s see. There’s, of course in the great history of America there have been rulings, that’s never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but …

Couric: Can you think of any?

Palin: Well, I could think of … any again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level. Maybe I would take issue with. But, you know, as mayor, and then as governor and even as a vice president, if I’m so privileged to serve, wouldn’t be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today.

What is unexpected here is that Palin agrees that there is an inherent right to privacy in the Constitution. Conservatives generally deny that this exists and in conceding this point Palin undermines the conservative argument against abortion rights. There’s no doubt that an argument against abortion rights might be made while conceding a general right to privacy, but it is doubtful Palin could make such an argument. It is much more likely that she simply has not paid very much attention to specific conservative beliefs on the subject. As with most of her answers, she is winging it without really understanding the issues being discussed.

Once one states that the Constitution grants a right, such as the right to privacy, then one cannot consistently leave it to the states to handle this. Extending Constitutional rights, which originally only applied to the federal government and not the states, was a point of the Fourteenth Amendment. It is also nonsensical to turn such decisions over to “the people.” The point of Constitutional restrictions on the power of government is to prevent the “tyranny of the majority.” Just as we cannot have a majority vote in any state restrict freedom of speech or freedom of the press, it makes no sense to both acknowledge a Constitutional right to privacy and then allow voters in a  state to infringe upon this right.

Obama Increases Lead in Swing States, Among Women Voters, And New Voters

The latest polls coming out of the swing states provide bad news for John McCain. Obama is solidifying leads in battleground blue states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania. In recent days Obama had already taken leads in several states which had voted for Bush in either 2000 or 2004: New Mexico, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Colorado. While victory in none of these states is guaranteed, if Obama can just maintain leads in all four of these, along with holding all the other blue states, he would win a narrow victory in the electoral college. In addition polls have shown that several red states are competitive, with Obama leading or coming close in states including Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, Missouri, Florida, and Ohio.

The last two red states have received considerable attention from their roles in the 2000 and 2004 elections. The latest Qunnipiac Polls show increasing leads for Obama in both states as well as in Pennsylvania:

  • Florida: Obama up 49 – 43 percent pre-debate and 51 – 43 percent post-debate;
  • Ohio: Obama up 49 – 42 percent pre-debate and 50 – 42 percent post-debate;
  • Pennsylvania: Obama ahead 49 – 43 percent pre-debate and 54 – 39 percent post-debate.

McCain is in denial about these results:

These polls are laughable. We hope Obama thinks they’re true. The national tracking is clear: Some polls have us down 2 percent, some 4, some as high as 6. How could you have national numbers like that, but have those kinds of numbers in three of the largest, most competitive states in the country? These states are bellwethers because they closely mirror national demographics. Given the volume of campaigning in those states, we expect that they are close to the national track – if not tighter.

Obama is certainly not going to accept these results as indicating a sure victory and the campaign has expressed skepticism. Still, there are major problems with McCain’s logic. He is further behind in the national polls than he indicates, and it is certainly possible that Obama could have greater leads in battleground states where he is concentrating attention. Obama’s campaign certainly showed an ability to concentrate on delegates as opposed to worrying about the national totals in the primaries and is showing the same concentration on the electoral college. In contrast, McCain’s campaign often does not appear to know what it is doing, such as recently coming under criticism for the time spent in Iowa. McCain’s heavy leads in the south and other strong Republican states might result in the national polls showing the race as being closer than it actually is.

The Quninpiac numbers could either be an outlier or the first signs of a trend. Various other results suggest advantages for Obama going into the final month. Pew Research Center shows an improvement in Obama’s leadership image, negating McCain’s earlier advantages in facing a less experienced candidate. Time finds not only that Obama is increasing his lead but that he is picking up more woman voters:

Obama now leads McCain 50%-43% overall, up from 46%-41% before the parties’ conventions a month ago. Obama’s support is not just broader but sturdier; 23% of McCain supporters said they might change their mind, while only 15% of Obama’s said they could be persuaded to switch.

Among the poll’s most dramatic findings: McCain is losing female voters faster than Sarah Palin attracted them after the Republican National Convention. Obama leads McCain by 17 points with women, 55%-38%. Before the conventions, women preferred Obama by a margin of 10 points, 49%-39%. After McCain picked Palin as his running mate, the gap narrowed to a virtual tie, with Obama holding a 1-point margin, 48%-47%.

In a stark indication of just how much the political landscape has changed over the past four years, white women now favor Obama by three points, 48%-45%; in 2004, George W. Bush won the same demographic by 11 points against John Kerry. Where Bush carried married women by 15 points in that election, 57%-42%, Obama now leads by 6 points, 50%-44%, a 21-point shift.

McCain came back from behind in the national polls after the Democratic convention with the attention from choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate. While the novelty of the choice helped short term, there is the possibility that making such an absurd choice will ultimately make John McCain unelectable. Marc Ambinder finds Palin to be a reason for McCain’s drop in the polls. He also cites the advantages of the choice, including fund raising and drawing more attention to McCain’s campaign.This is consistent with my view of the Palin pick. By energizing the far right, choosing Palin improves turn out and prevents the landslide loss which otherwise would occur, but also makes it more difficult for McCain to actually win in many swing states or win a national election.

Perhaps the worst news of all for Republicans in the long run is that new voters and those who didn’t vote in 2004 back Obama over McCain 61% to 30% in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News/ MySpace poll. The big question with such voters is how many will turn out, but Obama has showed an ability to get young voters to turn out in the primaries.