September 04, 2008

Sarah Palin's Clichéd Acceptance Speech

After the American Century

Many people felt that Huckabee was an inexperienced, right-wing, findamentalist Christian who would be completely unsuited to be President. Sarah Palin is Huckabee with less experience and wearing a skirt. But in her acceptance speech last night she downplayed her more extreme views to appeal to the mainstream. She did not say much in her 38 minutes, and indeed there was not a single idea in the first 17 minutes, as she introduced her children, her parents, and her husband, and presented herself as a typical "Hockey Mom" who got into politics at the local level.

She also presented herself as an opponent of the oil companies, who nevertheless pay most of Alaska's expenses. It is quite a good joke for the Republicans to pretend they are against big oil companies, who contribute to their campaigns. Both Bush and Cheney are former oil executives with close ties to the industry. But the current administration was erased from the speech. Were it the only document of these years to survive into some distant age, a historian would not be certain who was president or vice-president.

Palin presented herself as a fiscal conservative who kept the budget balanced. News flash: Alaska, like oil-rich Norway and Kuwait, has long had a budget surplus. She came close to claiming that the US could produce enough of its own oil and gas to avoid dependence on unstable foreign supplies. Not true, of course. As is typical of Republicans, her claim was that all the US needs to do is produce more and more power of all kinds. This failed "policy" has been the Republican mantra since Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Republicans always focus on enlarging the supply, forgetting about the far more easily achieved possibility of reducing wasteful demand.

Palin also attacked Obama, of course, the usual task of vice presidential nominees being to attack the other side. She said that having run a small town of 6,000 was more valuable experience than being a community organizer, because she had real responsibility. She did sink to a new low, however, in ridiculing the idea that people of accused of terrorism have legal rights. This sounds like the Bush approach to human rights. Of course she did not mention that she has at best a sketchy idea of law, having never been the law school. Obama has taught constitutional law at one of the finest law schools in the United States, the University of Chicago, and he was editor of Harvard Law Review. McCain finished in the bottom 2% of his undergraduate class and has no further education.

Palin accused the Democrats of preparing to raise taxes. She managed to avoid mentioning anything about the Bush Administration's large and unfunded reductions in taxes, most of which went to the wealthy. She managed to avoid any admission that the largest dificit in American history was created under the present Republican administration. Listening to her, it seemed that the Democrats actually were responsible for the deficit and unbalanced tax system.

In a particularly Orwellian moment, Palin presented McCain and herself and the Republicans in general as the enemies of special interests! But which candidate has accepted their contributions and filled his staff with lobbyists? Which candidate has voted with George Bush more than 90% of the time? It is absurd to pretend that McCain is an outsider who is against the establishment, against lobbyists, against Washington. His father was a 4 star admiral, he went to the Naval Academy, he has been a Senator for decades. McCain is the insider in this election, though you would not guess it from Palin's speech. And indeed, that is one of the reasons she was selected, because she is from the place farthest away from Washington. (Except Obama's Hawaii, of course.)

There was little content in Palin's 38 minute speech, often punctuated by wild cheering and sign waving, as is the custom. At the end she stood on the stage with all her children, holding her baby. The crowd loved it, and went completely wild when McCain made a surprise appearance on the stage.

Conclusion: this was a successful speech for the party faithful, but an empty Orwellian moment for anyone who thinks about it. There was not one new idea anywhere in that speech. Palin made it sound like the Republicans had not been in the White House the last eight years, and that she was running against the party in power. She scarcely mentioned the terrible state of the economy. She wrapped herself in the flag and ran against Washington. The old cliche is that when a politician has nothing else to offer, then it is time to campaign on God, the flag, family values and apple pie. That is all we got from Surah Palin.

Palin's speech illustates once again H. L. Mencken's aphorism, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the Ameican public." Palin will appeal to many precisely because she has no new ideas, because she repeats clichés with enthusiasm and apparent conviction, and because she has five children.