Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin: The triumph of ideological purity

What the ----? That was my first reaction to hearing that Sarah Palin was John McCain's choice for VP. You have got to be kidding me. Did he really choose her?

I honestly did not think that John McCain could be this stupid. I even blogged about this back in July. One of the rare comments left on this blog was a prediction that McCain would pick Palin. I thot that was ridiculous; guess I was wrong. Ted, whoever you are (not, apparently, my brother Ted), you were right, although I still don't get your point about why she has more experience than Obama.

The reaction has been intense. Andrew Sullivan, who used to be a McCain fan, has become progressively more disillusioned. And that's just over the course of this first day.

The good folks over at Daily Kos have had a field day. Trapper John has a particularly inspired list of comparisons - Sarah Palin is your New New Coke!

It took a bit of thinking for me to classify this decision - bad decision? stupid decision? or worst possible decision imaginable?

I settled on "worst possible decision imaginable."

After that, I enjoyed some profoundly unfortunate, but funny, comparisons with Hillary, along the lines of "Governor, I know Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is a friend of mine. Governor, you're no Hillary Clinton." Ha!

Then I noticed that there are some Republicans who are really excited about this. Seriously. Are these people on crack?

This is from a reader email to National Review's Mark Hemingway:

Kathryn J. Lopez said this may be the day the conservatives reclaimed our party.
The initial reactions to this choice, at least among the mainstream and liberals, focus on the fact that she's a woman, her lack of experience, etc. It's obvious that McCain choose her because she's a woman. She's a token, and many women are going to be insulted by that. Big mistake there, in my opinion.

But for conservatives, she is one of them, particularly on the subject of abortion. I haven't heard much about her position, except that she's pro-life, and apparently opposed to abortion even in cases of rape and incest. I'm not sure that's the case - haven't seen hard proof of it, just a rumor of it at this point.

If that's true, and if that is a primary reason why she was chosen, it represents the triumph of ideological purity in the Republican party. Every political movement/party has a natural tension between people who are obsessed with certain issues to the point of demanding blind loyalty, and people who want to get things done, and are willing to compromise. That tension is good for democracy.

Invariably, however, one side wins out after a while. For the Dems, ideological purity in the late 80's/early 90's took on the name "political correctness." The Democratic Leadership Council was formed in part to counter that in the Democratic Party; Clinton's election was partially a reaction to the PC police. And then the Ralph Nader campaign in 2000 was a reaction yet again, by hardcore liberals, to Clinton's willingness to compromise, or to "triangulate."

So now the Republicans have their own problems with demands of ideological purity. They always have, of course, but now it has affected the presidential race.

The great problem with ideological purity is that it just doesn't work as a model for efficient governance. When ideology meets reality, ideology occasionally has to bend. If it doesn't bend, it breaks. That's what we are witnessing here: conservatives are very happy that one of them has been chosen to be VP, electability be damned. It is more important to them that McCain choose someone who agrees with them than that he chooses someone who is, you know, actually qualified to do the job, and will, you know, attract more voters.

Welcome to the dance, Governor Palin. I am looking forward to Tina Fey imitating you. Also, just curious: any relation to Michael Palin?

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