Peggy Noonan: Sarah Palin Is No Ronald Reagan, And She Is A Nincompoop

Whether or not you  like Ronald Reagan, there is a tremendous difference between him and Sarah Palin. Reagan writer Peggy Noonan is receiving a lot of criticism from the right wing lately for pointing out what is rather obvious–Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan, and that Palin is a  nincompoop. Noonan wrote:

Conservatives talked a lot about Ronald Reagan this year, but they have to take him more to heart, because his example here is a guide. All this seemed lost last week on Sarah Palin, who called him, on Fox, “an actor.” She was defending her form of political celebrity—reality show, “Dancing With the Stars,” etc. This is how she did it: “Wasn’t Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn’t he in ‘Bedtime for Bonzo,’ Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor.”

Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin. Reagan people quietly flipped their lids, but I’ll voice their consternation to make a larger point. Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure. Then he was elected president.

The point is not “He was a great man and you are a nincompoop,” though that is true. The point is that Reagan’s career is a guide, not only for the tea party but for all in politics. He brought his fully mature, fully seasoned self into politics with him. He wasn’t in search of a life when he ran for office, and he wasn’t in search of fame; he’d already lived a life, he was already well known, he’d accomplished things in the world.

Here is an old tradition badly in need of return: You have to earn your way into politics. You should go have a life, build a string of accomplishments, then enter public service. And you need actual talent: You have to be able to bring people in and along. You can’t just bully them, you can’t just assert and taunt, you have to be able to persuade.

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BP Oil Spill Provides Opportunities For Obama-Bashers Regardless Of Whether Warranted

The BP oil spill is becoming a litmus test for how people think about Obama. The ability to handle such a matteris hardly a key presidential function (unlike a natural disaster such as Katrina which is a direct responsibility of the federal government.) This doesn’t stop Obama’s critics from trying to find ways to blame him, while generally ignoring all that he has actually done so far in response to the crisis and spreading falsehoods.

George Will even admits that Obama is “being unfairly blamed” for the response to the oil spill but also says “it sort of serves him right.” Will simultaneously admitted Obama is doing all he can under impossible circumstances while also trying to use the issue to raise questions of competence.

I have already responded to other attacks from the right coming from Karl Rove and Peggy Noonan in recent posts. The attacks are not limited to the right. There were also recent attacks from James Carville which made him just came across as another sore loser among the Clintonistas.  It’s not the first time the ragin’ cajun mouthed off before thinking.

The Washington Post has reviewed the politics of the issue and fortunately finds that others are being far more rational in their response. Ed Rogers, who worked in the Reagan and Bush I White Houses is more objective about the limitations on the president:

President Obama’s political managers are all being told that the president needs to “do something.” But when he does he becomes more closely associated with the ugly problem and more responsible for the nearly impossible task of stopping the flow and managing a cleanup that will leave most people unsatisfied…

This is a great American tragedy whose political consequences will linger for years. No one will emerge as a hero, savior or indispensable leader. Instead, the revelation of the limits of our technology, leaders, laws and energy options will leave us all frustrated and in a mood to blame everybody involved.

Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center has some more significant insights:

Until now President Obama has avoided serious political damage from the government’s handling of the spill, but this may be changing. Recent polling finds pluralities or majorities of the public disapproving of the administration’s response or giving it low marks for its handling of the situation. Even among Democrats, ratings of the administration’s performance have been tepid. The spill is unfolding at a time of exceptionally low levels of trust in government, which may make the public even less forgiving.

Still, unlike Hurricane Katrina, where the government had primary responsibility for dealing with the crisis, until now its role has been secondary to that of BP. And the public has been far more critical of BP for its handling of the crisis.

Although the spill may cause Obama political damage in the short run, it could help him in the longer run with key legislative priorities for his administration: the passage of a comprehensive energy bill and efforts to address environmental protection more generally. The spill has spurred an increase in support for environmental protection, which had declined over the past two years as concerns about the economy pushed aside many other public priorities. While polling by Pew Research and other organizations continues to find at least plurality support for offshore oil drilling, the level of support is much lower than before the spill.

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Peggy Noonan’s New Criteria For Presidential Competence

I’m never sure what to think of Peggy Noonan. Sometimes she sounds more rational than the typical conservative columnist writing for The Wall Street Journal. Other times she comes up with nonsense like in today’s column bashing Obama over the BP oil spill. Naturally many conservative sites are lapping it up as it attacks Obama.

It is amusing to see writers who normally claim that the role of the federal government should be limited to the functions specifically listed in the Constitution now arguing that the ability to handle an oil spill is the way to measure a president’s competence. The same bloggers who whine that health care is not listed in the Constitution don’t care that oil spills are not mentioned either. Of course they are totally oblivious to how Republican deregulation and hiring of political cronies and industry shills as opposed to competent regulators  contributed to this disaster as I noted yesterday.

If Noonan is going to judge the success of Obama’s presidency based upon this oil spill then she needs to review her own view after Katrina. Blue Texan provides this comparison:

Nooners, today.

I don’t see how the president’s position and popularity can survive the oil spill.

Nooners, after Katrina.

Is the Bush Era over? No, no, no. It has three more years. That’s a long time. History turns on a dime. There is much ahead, and potential for progress.

Andrew Sullivan has an excellent rebuttal of Noonan’s post:

The premise of Noonan’s moronic column is that the federal government, especially the president, should be capable of ending an oil-pipe rupture owned and operated by private companies, using technology that only deep-sea oil companies deploy or understand. And if such a technical issue is not resolved by government immediately, it reveals paralyzing presidential weakness and the failure of an entire branch of political philosophy. Again: seriously? It’s Obama‘s fault that under Bush and Cheney, government regulation of oil exploration was so poor and corrupt, corner cutting appears to have been routine? And this, Peggy, is what governments do, even when run by crazy-ass liberals. Governments do not dig for oil; they merely regulate those who dig for oil. That the government failed to do so under the previous administration does not seem to me to be proof that this administration has failed. (For a blast of common sense on this, see Clive.)

For Noonan, the American public is concerned only with spending, illegal immigration and the federal government’s inability to stop an oil leak. For Noonan, the steepest downturn since the 1930s never happened. For Noonan, the flaws of the healthcare system – like, er, millions have none – do not exist. For Noonan, the massive debt – almost all of which Obama either inherited or built in the emergency attempt to stabilize a global economy heading into an abyss – is evidence that government does not work and that Obama is incompetent. For Noonan, actual difficult practical tasks most adults understand are complex to grapple with – how to prevent a Second Great Depression, how to police thousands of miles of border, how to stop an oil leak deep in the ocean floor – are easy. Just do it. Or be labeled incompetent and doomed.

This is utterly unrelated to the reality I have witnessed these past two years, or the slow catastrophe of misgovernment that really did unfold in the last ten. Maybe that says as much about my cocoon as Noonan’s. But I doubt it. What I have also learned these past few years is that the right seeks merely a narrative to lead themselves out of the hole they dug for all of us. Reality be damned. The job of the rest of us is to insist that reality matters and that these fools be exposed.

Pete Abel adds two additional points:

1. Yes, there’s an obvious and substantial difference between Katrina and Deepwater Horizon. The first was a natural disaster that required a relief effort tailor-made for government intervention. The second is a man-made debacle, requiring specialized expertise to fix; expertise that apparently no one has, although BP seemingly has more than any other entity. Regardless, the current situation makes me more sympathetic to the Bush administration’s travails with the former situation. Both are complex undertakings and those of us who are not directly involved are too damn quick to judge. At least once, possibly more, I suggested the “incompetent” label for Bush, et. al., in the context of Katrina. Noonan does the same for Obama, et. al., in the context of Deepwater Horizon. Increasingly, I believe both characterizations are unfair.

2. In the midst of the Gulf crisis, the President has performed a Solomonesque move. He has ordered “a suspension of virtually all current and new offshore oil drilling activity pending a comprehensive safety review.” He has also balanced that decision with an unflinching commitment to the fact that we must embrace these ventures until petroleum can be more voluminously replaced as an energy source.

“It has to be part of an overall energy strategy,” Mr. Obama said. “I mean, we’re still years off and some technological breakthroughs away from being able to operate on purely a clean-energy grid. During that time, we’re going to be using oil. And to the extent that we’re using oil, it makes sense for us to develop our oil and natural gas resources here in the United States and not simply rely on imports.”

Given the Republicans’ drill-baby-drill mindset, shouldn’t they be leaping forward to praise this instance of Presidential discretion?

To be clear: I’m not suggesting the GOP should muffle all criticism. To the contrary: Pointed questions — from both sides of the aisle — are appropriate and necesary to the functioning of the Republic, even (especially) in times of crisis. But wrecklessly fanning the flames of criticism — and yes, I believe, Noonan and like-minded Republicans are being wreckless — is irresponsible and potentially detrimental to one of the GOP’s pet positions.

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Rove Blaming Obama For Failing To Repair All Bush Administration Problems

After the major failures of the Bush administration it has been common place for Bush apologists to try to claim that Obama has committed acts of incompetence comparable to those which were commonplace under Bush. On recent effort has been to try to label the BP oil spill Obama’s Katrina. Karl Rove claims this in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

As Think Progress points out  the most remarkable thing about this op-ed is that after years of defending the Bush administration’s approach to Katrina, Rove is now admitting that this was mishandled. There are major differences between the events. Obama didn’t  ignore warnings even before the even occurred as Bush did with Katrina. The two events do have one key factor in common–both were related to the hiring of political cronies and industry shills as opposed to competent regulators during the Bush years. Think Progress notes:

Rove’s analysis would be sharper if he noted that “Obama’s Katrina” actually highlights some very real Bush and Cheney failures. By filling the Minerals Management Service — the government agency responsible for regulating off shore oil drilling — with industry shills who took drugs and had sex with the officials they were supposed to be policing, the Bush administration dangerously eroded the regulatory regime, and missed warnings that could have helped prevent the BP disaster.

If Obama deserves any blame it is for not having repaired all the damage which the Bush administration has done to this country in sixteen months.

Update: Responses to Peggy Noonan’s attack on Obama’s competence due to the BP oil spill.

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White House Responds To Howard Dean’s Criticism of Health Care Plan

The White House has been responding to yesterday’s attacks on the watered-down Senate health care reform bill from the left which I also discussed here. David Axelrod appeared on MSNBC:

Axelrod, responding on MSNBC, said: “I have a lot of respect for Governor Dean but he got on the phone with Nancy-Ann DeParle, our point person on the health care issue, went through point by point. She explained why he was wrong. And he simply didn’t want to hear that critique. I saw his piece in The Post this morning, and it is predicated on a bunch of erroneous conclusions.”

Asked his response to progressives who say “kill this bill now,” Axelrod replied: “I think that would be a tragic, tragic outcome. … I guess if you’re hale and hearty and have insurance, it’s fine to say, ‘Kill this bill.’”

Peggy Noonan, the columnist and former Reagan speechwriter, told Axelrod: “On the issue of health care, you are losing the left, you are losing the right, you are losing the center. That looks to me like a political disaster.”

“When you describe what’s in the bill, there’s strong support for it,” Axelrod replied. “We don’t think of the world in terms of left, right and center. We think of the world in terms of small business people, … senior citizens, … Americans who are looking for help on a problem that we’ve been trying to solve for a century.”

The White House Blog has been busy responding, starting with White House Communication Director Dan Pfeiffer:

Recently, a somewhat perplexing new line of argument has emerged about health insurance reform, with some folks suggesting the Senate bill is a “dream” for insurance companies.

If that’s the case, though, it must be news to them. The insurance industry has been leveraging its considerable resources in a ferocious effort to defeat this bill, including producing a report the day before the Senate Finance Committee vote that was so misleading the firm behind it had to walk away from it. And that’s not surprising, because this bill will finally wrest power away from the insurance industry and put it in the hands of American consumers.

  • Among the many provisions to end insurer abuses, lower premiums, and hold insurance companies accountable:
  • Insurance market reforms will prohibit abuses such as denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, charging exorbitant premiums based on gender, age, or health status, dropping coverage when people are sick, and imposing lifetime limits on benefits.
  • Consumer rights will be enhanced by requiring all insurers to provide effective appeals procedures including outside, independent review of appeals
  • New insurance exchanges will reduce premium increases by lowering administrative costs and increasing the leverage of individuals and small businesses in this insurance market.
  • Competition will also be enhanced by providing consumers comparative information on available insurance options giving them the tools to make more informed decisions and drive competition based on value and service.
  • Insurers will be held accountable for excessive overhead costs fueled by unreasonable executive compensation and profits.
  • Insurers will also be required to compete against cost-effective national plans selected by the federal Office of Personnel Management.
  • Wasteful taxpayer overpayments to insurance companies through private Medicare Advantage plans will be eliminated.

Jason Furman, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, added:

As we move into the final stage of the historic push for health reform, opponents of reform are testing the age old adage that if you only say something enough times you can somehow make it true.  Yesterday, we heard a new version of the old, tired refrain that the health reform bills in Congress would raise taxes on the middle class.

So let’s set the record straight:

  • First, the health insurance reform bill being considered in the Senate does not raise taxes on families making less than $250,000 – in fact it is a substantial net tax cut for American families. The bill being considered represents a substantial net tax cut for middle income families. According to the independent Joint Committee on Taxation, the bill will provide nearly $450 billion in individual income tax cuts over the next 10 years.
  • Second, the excise tax levied on insurance companies for high-premium plans, the so-called “Cadillac tax,” will affect only a small portion of the very highest cost health plans – a total of 3% of premiums in 2013. The vast majority of health plans fall below the thresholds set in the Senate plan and would be completely unaffected by the provision. And those that are above the threshold would only face an excise tax on the generally small portion of the plan that exceeds the threshold. As a result, based on analyses by the Joint Committee on Taxation, only about 3% of premiums will be affected by this provision in 2013. In addition, the Senate plan provides special protections to plans held by workers in high-risk professions – like police and firefighters – as well as by those over 55.
  • Third, for the small sub-set of plans that are affected, the primary impact of this provision will be to increase workers’ wages. Getting a pay raise is not what most people would call a tax increase. Economists agree by taxing the highest cost plans this provision will lead insurance companies to be more efficient and provide quality care to consumers at lower prices (see this endorsement in a letter from a group of prominent economists – including three Nobel laureates and previous members of both Democratic and Republican administrations and this analysis by CBO 2009). Even a report commissioned by the insurance industry’s trade association acknowledged that: “[w]e expect employers to respond to the tax by restructuring their benefits to avoid it.” [PWC, 2009].  As a result, employers will be in a position to increase workers’ take home pay.

Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the Office of Health Reform, described the benefits of the measure and the blog also quoted Bill Clinton:

At last, we are close to making real health insurance reform a reality.  We face one critical, final choice, between action and inaction.  We know where the path of inaction leads to: more uninsured Americans, more families struggling to keep up with skyrocketing premiums, higher federal budget deficits, and health costs so much higher than any other country’s they will cripple us economically.  Our only responsible choice is the path of action.

Does this bill read exactly how I would write it? No. Does it contain everything everyone wants?  Of course not. But America can’t afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  And this is a good bill: it increases the security of those who already have insurance and gives every American access to affordable coverage, and contains comprehensive efforts to control costs and improve quality, with more information on best practices, and comparative costs and results. The bill will shift the power away from the insurance companies and into the hands of consumers.

Take it from someone who knows: these chances don’t come around every day.  Allowing this effort to fall short now would be a colossal blunder — both politically for our party and, far more important, for the physical, fiscal, and economic health of our country.”

Ezra Klein also disagrees with Howard Dean’s evaluation of the Senate bill:

What’s so strange about Dean’s objection is that the exchanges in the Senate bill (pdf) do act as “prudent purchasers,” that is to say, they set limits on the plans that can enter in the exchange to ensure that people are getting good choices. The relevant section begins on page 131 of the Senate bill. “The Secretary shall, by regulation, establish criteria for the certification of health plans as qualified health plans.” A couple of pages of relevant criteria follow, including marketing requirements (plans can be disqualified for focusing their marketing in outlets that would bring them uncommonly healthy enrollees), broad provider networks, coverage of options used by low-income folks (community health centers, say), quality measures, quality improvement strategies, consumer ratings, standardized benefit packages, etc.

And then, a couple of pages later, the language gets stronger. On page 143, the exchanges are given power to certify insurance plans based on whether “the Exchange determines that making available such health plan through such Exchange is in the interests of qualified individuals and qualified employers in the State.” On 144, premiums, and premium increases, enter explicitly into the discussion. Any insurance plan that wants to increase premiums has to submit a written justification for their decision. It will have to post that information on its Web site. And if the exchange is not convinced, it can decertify the plan.

Don’t believe me? In his op-ed, Dean names John Kerry as the senator who has been working hardest on this question. This morning, I spoke to Kerry’s staff, who got me a statement from Kerry himself. “The prudent purchasing provisions in the Senate health bill will lower costs and increase affordable options for consumers,” Kerry says. “It’s strong language that will allow the exchange to deliver competitive prices and offer high quality care, and I’m thrilled to see national reform honor the best innovations already succeeding in Massachusetts.”

John Podesta has also made a case similar to the arguments above.

Update: Richard Eskow disagrees with some of the claims from the White House.

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Book Provides More Stories About Palin

Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe followed Sarah Palin during the 2008 election campaign and have published their account in an upcoming book, Sarah from Alaska. CNN has described some of the items in the book, such as this report about Palin on election night:

According to a copy of the book obtained by CNN, Palin’s speechwriter Matthew Scully had prepared a brief speech for the then-Alaska governor to deliver while introducing McCain, before he gave his concession speech at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. But after conferring in his suite with senior advisers Mark Salter, Rick Davis and Steve Schmidt, McCain nixed the idea of having Palin speak before him.

Schmidt then broke the news to Palin. But she told no one on her staff, the authors write, setting off a series of staff miscommunications that went unresolved until moments before McCain took the stage to concede the election.

Palin did not inform her adviser Jason Recher, who was planning out Palin’s movements that night, about Schmidt’s directive.

“I’m speaking,” Palin told him, according to the book. “I’ve got the remarks. Figure it out.”

Palin’s deputy chief of staff Chris Edwards, meanwhile, was also unaware that Palin had been told she was not to speak. Edwards, ready to load the speech into teleprompter, bumped into Schmidt, who told him McCain would be speaking alone. Edwards relayed Schmidt’s order to Palin, but she once again did not let on that Schmidt had already spoken to her.

The governor could not understand why she was not being allowed to speak. “This speech is great,” she said, according to the authors. “It’s all about how John McCain’s an American hero.”

The confusion continued until the final minutes before the concession speech, when Palin – still shuffling through her speech notes – gathered with McCain, family members and senior staff outside McCain’s villa at the resort.

Sensing uncertainty, Salter finally put his foot down. “You’re not speaking,” the longtime McCain adviser told Palin. “John has decided it’s unprecedented.”

Other incidents mentioned include how the McCain team used flash cards to bring Palin “up to speed on foreign affairs and major national issues.” This included a card to teach her that the Prime Minister of Great Britain is Gordon Brown. During the campaign she wanted to bring up Jeremiah Wright, believing it would help prevent the defeat which had become inevitable the day McCain chose Palin. Apparently Palin wanted very badly to win, on one occasion being quoted as saying, “I just don’t want to go back to Alaska.” Perhaps that foreshadowed her eventual resignation as governor.

November 3, 2009
Posted: November 3rd, 2009 08:03 AM ET
From

Palin was concerned about the cost of the wardrobe that was purchased for her during the campaign, according to the new book.

Palin was concerned about the cost of the wardrobe that was purchased for her during the campaign, according to the new book.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Tensions within John McCain’s presidential campaign boiled over on Election Night last November when Sarah Palin, McCain’s running mate, repeatedly ignored directions from senior staffers who told her she would not be delivering her own concession speech.

Those fresh details on the conflict between Palin and members of the McCain team come in a new book – “Sarah from Alaska” – by Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe, two members of the press corps that traveled with Palin during the 2008 presidential race. The pair spent much of the following year reporting on the campaign turmoil and the vice presidential nominee’s difficult return to Alaska after the election.

According to a copy of the book obtained by CNN, Palin’s speechwriter Matthew Scully had prepared a brief speech for the then-Alaska governor to deliver while introducing McCain, before he gave his concession speech at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. But after conferring in his suite with senior advisers Mark Salter, Rick Davis and Steve Schmidt, McCain nixed the idea of having Palin speak before him.

Schmidt then broke the news to Palin. But she told no one on her staff, the authors write, setting off a series of staff miscommunications that went unresolved until moments before McCain took the stage to concede the election.

Palin did not inform her adviser Jason Recher, who was planning out Palin’s movements that night, about Schmidt’s directive.

“I’m speaking,” Palin told him, according to the book. “I’ve got the remarks. Figure it out.”

(more…)

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Conservatives Against Palin

While there is no doubt that Sarah Palin has many fans on the far right, many more serious Republicans are happy to see her go. The Hill reports that “Republicans facing tough elections in 2010 don’t want Sarah Palin campaigning with them.” Peggy Noonan sums up her problems:

She was hungry, loved politics, had charm and energy, loved walking onto the stage, waving and doing the stump speech. All good. But she was not thoughtful. She was a gifted retail politician who displayed the disadvantages of being born into a point of view (in her case a form of conservatism; elsewhere and in other circumstances, it could have been a form of liberalism) and swallowing it whole: She never learned how the other sides think, or why.

In television interviews she was out of her depth in a shallow pool. She was limited in her ability to explain and defend her positions, and sometimes in knowing them. She couldn’t say what she read because she didn’t read anything. She was utterly unconcerned by all this and seemed in fact rather proud of it: It was evidence of her authenticity. She experienced criticism as both partisan and cruel because she could see no truth in any of it. She wasn’t thoughtful enough to know she wasn’t thoughtful enough. Her presentation up to the end has been scattered, illogical, manipulative and self-referential to the point of self-reverence. “I’m not wired that way,” “I’m not a quitter,” “I’m standing up for our values.” I’m, I’m, I’m.

In another age it might not have been terrible, but here and now it was actually rather horrifying.

Then there’s another view from the far right in an article by Olivia St. John at WorldNetDaily. She warns that “Palin is an avowed feminist”  and urges conservatives not to fall for appearances that she is one of them:

Palin’s history over the past 17 years tells another story. Three years after the birth of the first of her five children, she entered the rough-and-tumble world of Alaska (and eventually national) politics and has never looked back.

Has America become so emasculated that our only hope of getting another Ronald Reagan into the Oval Office is to idolize Palin as a political Madonna? Hardly.

Do we have no men who can match her intelligence, charisma and leadership skills? To the contrary, we have better.

Have conservatives become so desperate for a passionate leader that they forsake their most basic values of home and hearth? Yes, but it’s more than that.

Sarah Palin represents the empirical self of millions of women working outside the home. They live vicariously through her supposed success. Seeing such a woman extolled gives credibility to their frantic lifestyle juggling job, children, husband, church, and housework.

It has been said that part of Palin’s appeal is that her family is like so many other families. She is today’s American woman, who works outside the home and does it all. Whose daughters get pregnant out-of-wedlock. Whose husbands wear the aprons.

Have we gone insane? Is this something to celebrate?

The message is clear that she believes a woman’s place is in the home. If there is any doubt that this is her message, she again makes it clear in the conclusion:

As conservatives continue chanting Sarah Palin for president, are they disenfranchising the men capable of stepping up to the plate in 2012? There are many strong conservative men better qualified to lead the greatest nation in the world.

I pray these men rise to the fore and that Sarah Palin begins to turn her heart toward her home.

I pray America wakes up to realize once again that the hand that rocks the cradle truly rules the world. That is a mother’s highest calling. That is Sarah Palin’s calling.

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My Vote For William Kristol’s Replacement: Megan McArdle

The New York Times made the correct choice in dumping William Kristol. That’s not because he’s a conservative. I would hate to see them do the same to David Brooks, who can write excellent columns on the days when he doesn’t feel obligated to bash Democrats as opposed to dealing with ideas. William Kristol turned out to be a terrible writer whose entire columns consisted of writing which was too much like the portions of David Brooks’ work which I could do without and none of what makes Brooks worth reading.

It certainly makes sense for The New York Times to include conservative or libertarian thought on its op-ed page to provide for a diversity of viewpoints, especially with the current Democratic domination of government. A number of names are now being thrown around.

The worst suggestion was from Patrick Ruffini for Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh shares all of Kristol’s faults and adds still more. William Kristol at least had a chance to promote conservative beliefs before quickly demonstrating that his column was not worth reading. Limbaugh’s reputation, and past work, will guarantee that nothing he writes will be taken seriously.

Some conservatives like the idea of driving liberals nuts, thinking that they derive some benefit from people like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Sarah Palin who liberals (and all other thinking people) will not take seriously. Conservatives would be better off with a conservative columnist who does not immediately turn off a liberal readership, and who has a chance of influencing readers if they should make a strong argument.

Of the names floating around I like Megan McArdle, a blogger at The Atlantic,  the best. To a considerable degree this is because she leans libertarian as opposed to being a social conservative. New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal has said he admires the work of Megan McArdle, along with Byron York (and I certainly prefer Megan of the two).

While writers such as Kristol and Limbaugh (and Brooks on a bad day) primarily seek to demonize liberals, Megan can engage liberals in serious debate as she seeks to understand their views even when disagreeing. Her objection to liberal views can be seen as providing value in forcing liberals to answer tough questions and perhaps refine their views. An example can be seen in yesterday’s post on the stimulus plan.

If forced to move on to other names under consideration and to move to more conventional conservative as opposed to libertarian thought, Peggy Noonan would be a fine choice. While I might often disagree with her, I would never say she is a terrible writer as I did about Kristol. Having a prominent conservative columnist exposing Sarah Palin’s deficiencies is also of value. The biggest problem is that this would just be a lateral move for Noonan from one major New York paper to another. It would not provide another conservative columnist worth reading a national audience.

Among other names being floated which are far better than Rush Limbaugh are David Frum and Ross Douthat (also of The Atlantic).If we are going to consider bloggers from The Atlantic, how about going with a conservative who actually drives many conservatives nuts–Andrew Sullivan?

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Neither Goldwater nor Reagan Would Recognize The Modern GOP

I’ve often pointed out that, while some conservatives claim the conservative movement began with Barry Goldwater, modern conservatism has become a philosophy quite different from Goldwater’s beliefs. Goldwater was so distressed by the direction that conservatism was going, especially with the increasing influence of the religious right, that in his later years he even referred to himself as a liberal. I have no doubt that if he was still alive Goldwater would have actively backed Barack Obama over John McCain, especially after the addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket, as did two of his granddaughters. With the GOP becoming a southern regional party dominated recently by George Bush and now by politicians from the religious right such as Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, the party has also moved away from the views of Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan’s name is repeated ad nauseum at most Republican gatherings primarily because the GOP does not have any old leaders to brag about. Nixon was a crook. Bush was an incompetent who undermined our national security and trampled on the Constitution. Previous Republican presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abe Lincoln would all be Democrats today, and the conservatives would also drive out Gerald Ford.

Many modern Republicans cling to Ronald Reagan’s name and pretend his views were comparable to their own. Many of those who actually worked with Ronald Reagan know better and have recognized that the modern Republican Party has moved far to the right of Reagan. This includes former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein, speech writers Jeffrey Hart and Peggy Noonan, and Colin Powell (see here and here).

Another Reaganite, Mickey Edwards,  describes how Ronald Reagan would not recognize what the Republican Party has become, criticizing the current Republican opposition to virtually all government action (other than for military action, which apparently does not count as big government):

A shocker: The Constitution, which we love for the limits it places on government power, not only constrains government, it empowers it. Limited government is not no government. And limited government is not “small” government. Simply building roads, maintaining a military, operating courts, delivering the mail and doing other things specifically mandated by the Constitution for America’s 300 million people make it impossible to keep government “small.” It is boundaries that protect freedom. Small governments can be oppressive, and large ones can diminish freedoms. It is the boundaries, not the numbers, that matter.

What would Reagan think of this? Wasn’t it he who warned that government is the problem? Well, permit me. I directed the joint House-Senate policy advisory committees for the Reagan presidential campaign. I was part of his congressional steering committee. I sat with him in his hotel room in Manchester, N.H., the night he won that state’s all-important primary. I knew him before he was governor of California and before I was a member of Congress. Let me introduce you to Ronald Reagan.

Reagan, who spent 16 years in government, actually said this:

“In the present crisis,” referring specifically to the high taxes and high levels of federal spending that had marked the Carter administration, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” He then went on to say: “Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it’s not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work.” Government, he said, “must provide opportunity.” He was not rejecting government, he was calling — as Barack Obama did Tuesday — for better management of government, for wiser decisions.

A problem with political labels is that their definitions are not clear, and they change with time. At one time the major differences between left and right might have been over economics but, although many Republicans try to obfuscate this with their claims that Obama is a socialist, the left now supports a capitalist system at least as much as the right. Considering the amount of  collusion between big government and big business favored by Republicans, I often consider liberals to be the actual supporters of capitalism.

During the Bush years liberalism came to be defined more  upon opposing the policies of the Republicans than based upon past definitions. Currently the sets of views which primarily separate liberals from conservatives are 1) support for liberty by the left and opposition to the authoritarian views of the right and 2) having a reality-based viewpoint as opposed to the anti-intellectualism of the right. Edwards concludes his article criticizing both the anti-intellectualism of the Republican Party and its focus on seeking power rather than on promoting freedom:

The Republican Party that is in such disrepute today is not the party of Reagan. It is the party of Rush Limbaugh, of Ann Coulter, of Newt Gingrich, of George W. Bush, of Karl Rove. It is not a conservative party, it is a party built on the blind and narrow pursuit of power.

Not too long ago, conservatives were thought of as the locus of creative thought. Conservative think tanks (full disclosure: I was one of the three founding trustees of the Heritage Foundation) were thought of as cutting-edge, offering conservative solutions to national problems. By the 2008 elections, the very idea of ideas had been rejected. One who listened to Barry Goldwater’s speeches in the mid-’60s, or to Reagan’s in the ’80s, might have been struck by their philosophical tone, their proposed (even if hotly contested) reformulation of the proper relationship between state and citizen. Last year’s presidential campaign, on the other hand, saw the emergence of a Republican Party that was anti-intellectual, nativist, populist (in populism’s worst sense) and prepared to send Joe the Plumber to Washington to manage the nation’s public affairs.

American conservatism has always had the problem of being misnamed. It is, at root, the political twin to classical European liberalism, a freedoms-based belief in limiting the power of government to intrude on the liberties of the people. It is the opposite of European conservatism (which Winston Churchill referred to as reverence for king and church); it is rather the heir to John Locke and James Madison, and a belief that the people should be the masters of their government, not the reverse (a concept largely turned on its head by the George W. Bush presidency).

Over the last several years, conservatives have turned themselves inside out: They have come to worship small government and have turned their backs on limited government. They have turned to a politics of exclusion, division and nastiness. Today, they wonder what went wrong, why Americans have turned on them, why they lose, or barely win, even in places such as Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina.

And, watching, I suspect Ronald Reagan is smacking himself on the forehead, rolling his eyes and wondering who in the world these clowns are who want so desperately to wrap themselves in his cloak.

The Republican Party has turned into primarily a southern regional party based upon authoritarianism and anti-intellectualism. It would no longer provide a home for either Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan.

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We So Rock

We know something big happened this week. The election and inauguration of Barack Obama felt like a combination of New Year’s Eve and the fall of the Berlin Wall. While some conservatives were saying they hope Obama fails, Peggy Noonan observed the inauguration and concluded “we so rock.”

Every time a nation does something big, the members of that nation who are 4 feet tall—the children who are 10 and 12—are looking up and absorbing. Forty years ago, in 1968, that grim and even-grimmer-in-retrospect year of war protests, race riots, taunts and assassinations, our 4-foot-tall citizens would have been justified in thinking that America is a scary place marked by considerable unhappiness and injustice. But the past week they could look up and see either harmony and happiness or peaceful acceptance and resolve. Washington was a town full of families and full of kids this week, and they must have picked up this: Anything is possible in America. We decide to go to the moon and soon it’s “Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.” We decide to cure polio and soon it’s a nation of Wilma Rudolphs, running. We struggle over civil rights and then the young black man raises his hand and says “I, Barack Hussein Obama . . .” We so rock. That’s what 4-foot-tall Americans must have learned this week. A generation that will come to adulthood in 2020 and 2030 and has in their heads this sense of optimism and America-love will likely be stronger for it. It augurs well.

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