Palin’s Speech Reax
Most of the analysis of Sarah Palin’s vice presidential acceptance speech has, predictably, divided on party lines. Republicans tended to love it, thinking it struck the right tone, while Democrats think it was mean-spirited and full of lies.
If one reads through the text of the remarks, thereby ignoring the delivery and optics, one sees a pretty standard party convention speech. The characterizations of the opponent were clever but unfair. The record of the speaker and her party were embellished. Promises were made.
Palin Lied About Palin
The most problematic charge, because it cuts against the “reform” image Team McCain is trying to craft for her, is that this line is untrue:
I told the Congress “thanks, but no thanks,” for that Bridge to Nowhere. If our state wanted a bridge, we’d build it ourselves.
This is, at best, political pandering and, at worst, an outright falsehood. She supported, as one would reasonably expect an Alaska politician to do, all sorts of earmarks for her state. As Steven Taylor reminds us, Palin supported the so-called Bridge to Nowhere during her 2006 campaign for governor.
Who finally killed the Alaskan bridge projects? The Republican Congress, back in November 2005, well before Palin became governor.
Straining to show new dedication to lower spending, House and Senate negotiators took the rare step of eliminating a requirement that $442 million be spent to build the two bridges, spans that became cemented in the national consciousness as “bridges to nowhere” because of the remote territory and small populations involved.
The change will not save the federal government any money. Instead, the $442 million will be turned over to the state with no strings attached, allowing lawmakers and the governor there to parcel it out for transportation projects as they see fit, including the bridges should they so choose.
And spend it she did. She did cancel Gravina Island Bridge last September. But she approved funding for a road that was supposed to go to it (I’m not familiar enough with Alaskan infrastructure to know whether it’s therefore a Road to Nowhere). Oh, and she’s still building the less infamous of the bridges to nowhere, the Knick Arm Bridge.
Palin needs to explain herself on this and stat.
Palin Lied About Obama
The most talked about line this morning has been this one:
And there is much to like and admire about our opponent.
But listening to him speak, it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform – not even in the state senate.
My colleague Alex Knapp details the response. In his short Senate career, Obama has had his name on at least two laws and was a sponsor of many more. He was more accomplished as a state senator. And he has worked on ethics reform issues in both places.
Was this a “lie”? No, since one can hide behind the word “major” here. Indeed, it would be hard to characterize two laws that virtually no one has ever heard of as “major.”
This is well within the bounds of political puffery and it’s an effective line. First, it pokes fun at Obama’s self-importance and reinforces the “elitist” meme. Second, it effectively rebuts the attacks on her as being unqualified because she’s a mere small town mayor.
Palin Lied About McCain
This is the weakest of the “lies” charges. Hilzoy and others seem particularly vexed by this line:
As for my running mate, you can be certain that wherever he goes, and whoever is listening, John McCain is the same man.
It’s true, as Steve Benen has documented, that McCain has had more than his fair share of position changes over the years, some of them curiously timed for political advantage. It’s also true that McCain has maintained some unpopular positions, notably on the Iraq War and immigration, which many of us thought would kill his chances of getting the nomination.
Palin Was Too Mean
Bernard Finel, writing in the comments of my instant reaction post last night, wrote,
Perhaps the nastiest, most divisive speech on a national stage since Pat Buchanan’s culture war speech in 1992. Amazingly contemptuous. The Democrats did nothing like that last week. You need to go someplace like DailyKos to find a similar level of venom.
Or, you know, her counterpart Joe Biden’s acceptance speech. Both he and Palin told their own life stories and that of their running mate in glowing, rose-hued tones. Both he and Palin spent large parts of their speeches attacking the top of the other ticket. That’s what VP speeches do.
TNR’s Franklin Foer dubbed the speech “Disrespectful, Angry, and Effective”
Tonight, [McCain] presided over an unending stream of raw right-wing populism: attacks on the ivy leaguers and cosmopolitans and media and Washington and elites. Welcome back to Nixonland. To their credit, they were disrespectful and angry with humor, albeit a sophomoric humor. (Giuliani would have done a splendid job at a Dean Martin roast.) But it’s clear where they are headed. They will respond to the Democrats’ economic populism with cultural populism. Where Obama talked about “One America,” they will run in the polarizing mode of Rove and Atwater. In an election where they don’t have much of an economic case, this was their best card to play. I have a sinking feeling that it will work and we’re in for an ugly eight weeks.
I only caught the tail end of Rudy Giuliani’s speech owing to a TiVo glitch (let’s just say that I didn’t also need the Spanish language version of “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Dallas Cowboys”) but thought it was flat and mean until it softened at the end. Palin’s speech, by contrast, was surprisingly warm. She delivers attack lines with a surprising charm, mocking without sneering.
Foer’s colleague Sacha Zimmerman hated the cheap shot against community organizers.
Since when is a “community organizer” such a big bad thing to the Republicans? I mean, aren’t delegates essentially–nay, actually–community organizers? And shouldn’t Republicans, along with all Americans, encourage all citizens to be community organizers?
She’s not down on community organizers; rather, she’s making a somewhat sneering rebuttal to the Obama campaign’s assertion that she’s a mere “small town mayor” and, yes, attacking Obama’s presidential experience.
Politics ain’t beanbag and convention speeches aren’t objective analysis. Palin’s speech, like Obama’s, was good political theater that accomplished its goals.