Monday, February 21, 2011

Palin Jeopardy

[February 21, 2011: As you’ll see from my preface dated August 3, 2009, this has been written for a long time. I got as far as writing this; putting together what I knew about some of the Palin stories; and putting some of my existing posts about Palin into the “Palin Jeopardy” category; but I never really closed the deal. Life intervened; polishing up the posts seemed like a lot of work; whatever.

Then over the weekend I wrote a post about Kathleen Parker's assumption that the Palin type of women would never call herself a “feminist” and I realized I was, once again, writing a Palin Jeopardy post. So I decided to resurrect this and to call my Parker post “I’ll take Feminism for $200, Alex”. Whether any of the other Palin Jeopardy posts I wrote back in 2009 ever see the light of day depends on what they look like when I review them; the time I have; and whether my interest in blogging flags again.

This isn’t strictly about Palin, of course. The eagerness to believe the worst, to let things that seem awfully unlikely pass the smell test, occurs on both sides of the political divide with regard to all kinds of issues and people. What is interesting about the Palin case is that it seems to me to be extreme; it often involves actually ignoring facts rather than simply interpreting them in a particular way; and it is so, so prevalent among a group I hoped would treat Palin decently - liberal women. That they would hate her politics is expectable; that they would be so eager to believe the worst about her is sad and, even after all this time and all the theories offered up, inexplicable to me.]

[August 3, 2009: I started writing this several weeks ago and put it aside when other issues caught my interest. Even when I wrote it I wasn’t sure I’d post it; after all, Sarah Palin is gone from the political scene (right?) and who really cares if the old stories about her are true or not.

However, one of the things I set this aside for was taking a look at Section 1233 of the House health care bill. Realizing how determined people were to believe the worst about that, regardless of evidence to the contrary, made me decide to go back to the Palin stories. They’re the same thing, really: stories spun from flimsy evidence (no evidence in the case of Section 1233 and many of the Palin stories) that both fit a preconceived notion of reality and serve a useful political purpose. In fact, some of the concepts I wrote about in my posts on Section 1233 were born here, especially the idea of “emotional” truth and the willingness - nay, eagerness - to believe those we oppose are first monstrous and then simply monsters.]

Reclusive Leftist has noted a post over at I Blame The Patriarchy that began as a discussion of the feminist issues at work in the Letterman/Palin brouhaha but ended up spending a lot of comment pixels arguing about whether or not Sarah Palin was awful and, if so, how awful. The IBTP comment string fascinated me for a couple of reasons, not least because the commenters managed to regurgitate so many of the Palin attacks launched over the last 10+ months. It was stunning to see them all trotted out and arrayed like a virtual battalion of scarecrows to keep that terrible, terrible woman away from decent feminists.

I’ve repeatedly started to comment at IBTP but once I start explaining why what some of the commenters there believe isn’t exactly so, I end up with way, way too many words for a blog comment. So I figured I’d cover the ground here - and maybe post a link to this post over there. We’ll see.

I already had a lot of background on the rape kit smear which was a major bone of contention in the comment string and I had information on some of the other issues that were raised. In addition, some of the attacks - like the Wayne Anthony Ross one - were ones I always meant to find out more about one day. However, once I started digging through the comments at IBTP, finding all the Palin attacks that were buried in there, and figuring out which ones were valid and which ones were simply nonsense, I realized I’d taken on a huge task - there were a lot of attacks baked into those comments and the information trail is quite cold on some of them. Thus what was originally planned as a somewhat lengthy single post is now going to be a series of posts.

I originally planned to call the single post “I’ll take Sarah Palin for $200, Alex” hence the name of this post. Instead, I’m creating a category called “Palin Jeopardy” and each post in the category will cover a particular Palin attack or a group of related attacks. I don’t imagine I’ll hit them all but I’ll see how far I get.

Besides the volume of Palin attacks in the IBTP comment, I was also fascinated by a couple of particular comments. One was this:

i always just assumed that the story conflated several actual facts - that it conflated the fact that Palin is *very* anti-choice and anti-woman, and the fact that Alaska has a *horrible* track record when it comes to rape.

*shrug*. it seems like the sort of story that is meant to be “true” at an emotional level. and while that means that the story is, in fact, a lie - it is a *very* used, overused, tactic. look at the fact that so many people are still agitating to see Obama’s “real” Birth Cert! Obama wasn’t born outside the US, but the story is really that he “is different”, and that is true, so “truth” to some people becomes NOT “Obama is an america who isn’t white” but rather becomes “Obama isn’t an American”.

It is an actual fact that Alaska has a horrible track record when it comes to rape (although that’s hardly Palin’s fault) and it is an actual fact that Palin is very anti-choice (opposed to abortion). That Palin is anti-woman, however is an opinion that probably rests on three legs: her opposition to abortion (an actual fact); her opposition to contraception (an actual falsehood); and her billing for rape kits (an actual falsehood). You see the circularity here: the rape kit story is “true” emotionally because it supports a preconceived notion that rests partially on the very story to which it imparts emotional truth.

More generally, this comment seems to me to sum up much of the reaction to Palin. For some reason, people became convinced that she was a monster. After that, any monstrous story was accepted because it fit what people believed about her.

It’s interesting this commenter compares the “Palin billed for rape kits story” to the “Obama isn’t a United States citizen story” since the level of support for both stories is about the same; that is, enough for a determined opponent to spin into a narrative that falls apart when examined closely. I’ve written about why people might want to believe that Obama is not a United States citizen and I think it fits in with the idea of finding dubious “facts” to support preconceived notions. What this commenter does not make clear and what I believe is vitally important is this: facts matter. They matter morally because it is simply wrong to lie about, slander, and libel actual living breathing human beings. They matter politically because when we are deciding who is to run our governments, we will make better decisions if we have more information and more accurate information. I would argue that facts are the basis of a working democracy. Most importantly, facts matter individually because rationality is better than blind belief.

The final reason the IBTP comment string interested me so much was this comment by the blog holder:

Is Sarah Palin a politician who unequivocally embraces the radical feminist worldview? No. Does she publicly support the liberation of women from patriarchal oppression? No. Does she support a woman’s right to an abortion? No.

All true and surely that's enough reason for any like-minded feminist to oppose Palin. More generally, Palin does oppose abortion both personally and politically: she has said she would like to see Roe v Wade reversed and decisions about abortion made by voters in the individual states. For anyone who believes supporting abortion is a must for a politician that should be enough reason to oppose her. More generally still, Palin is a rock-ribbed conservative Republican. Her positions on the economy, the environment, the Second Amendment, global warming, energy policy, and a whole host of other issues should be enough reason for any liberal/progressive to oppose her.

All of this is why I find it so puzzling that those facts do not seem to be enough. In some cases, the attacks on Palin are based on information that is ambiguous at best; in other cases, they are outright lies; in still others, they rest on the unsupported testimony of one person who is - by their own admission - anti-Palin. I simply do not understand why so many people who have so many perfectly legitimate reasons to oppose her are so eager to seize upon reasons that are shaky at best and untrue at worst.

I oppose Obama's policies and his tactics and that's sufficient for me. I do not need to believe all the dubious claims about his birthplace, his religion, his allegiance to Alinsky, his narcissistic disorder, or any of the other stories that have been spun about him with little or no basis in order to justify my opposition. I have no need to make Obama a monster simply because I disagree with his politics. Why make Palin one?

Finally, let me make it clear that I have no illusions my going through the exercise of examining each Palin attack, assessing its truth or falsehood, and providing sources for my assessment will ever change the mind of anyone who is determined to believe the worst about Sara Palin - any more than people refuting the Obama birth certificate story has changed the mind of those determined to believe it. No, the reason I stuck with my sifting and sorting was for my own benefit. Partly to sort out fact from fiction in stories I had never researched before; partly to collect together all the little scraps of information I’d been accumulating over the last 10 months. Mostly, though, to help me understand how these stories started, how they grew and - usually - mutated, and how they spread.

The hatred of Palin and the adulation of Obama, the willingness - even eagerness - to ascribe all evil to her and all good to him, are two sides of the same coin, two symptoms of the same unbalanced emotional state. However this amalgam of bandwagon effect, black-and-white thinking, groupthink, and confirmation bias originated, the cure for it - and for the somewhat milder Obama hatred and the possibility of Palin adulation - is having the facts, being willing to consider them with an open mind and an unclouded eye, and understanding that everyone has both virtues and vices.

If we cannot accept this cure then we will find we are truly living in a postmodern world where - as Brad Holland - put it:

Postmodernists believe that truth is myth, and myth, truth. This equation has its roots in pop psychology. The same people also believe that emotions are a form of reality. There used to be another name for this state of mind. It used to be called psychosis.

Or, more pithily, reality-based, my great aunt fanny.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Will the real President Obama please stand up?

I was amused to read two rather contradictory analyses of Obama’s acumen on the same day. According to Lexington Green at Chicago Boyz (via TigerHawk):

Obama has sent a budget to Congress. Obama’s budget makes no effort whatsoever to cut spending.

Obama is not “failing to lead” as some people are claiming. That is all wrong.

All suggestions to that effect are all wrong. Obama knows exactly what he is doing.

Obama is setting up a confrontation and he plans to win. [snip]

It is that serious. Obama’s brazen, no-cuts budget proposal is not a sign of weakness.

It is a bold chess move that demands a strong response.

Here we have the brilliant Obama, the Obama who is always three moves ahead of his opponents, the Obama who is always thinking, always has a plan, always knows what he’s doing.

According to Niall Ferguson at Newsweek, writing about Obama’s handling of the revolutionary wave in Egypt:

The consensus among the assembled experts on the Middle East? A colossal failure of American foreign policy.

This failure was not the result of bad luck. It was the predictable consequence of the Obama administration’s lack of any kind of coherent grand strategy, a deficit about which more than a few veterans of U.S. foreign policy making have long worried.[snip]

“This is what happens when you get caught by surprise,” an anonymous American official told The New York Times last week. “We’ve had endless strategy sessions for the past two years on Mideast peace, on containing Iran. And how many of them factored in the possibility that Egypt moves from stability to turmoil? None.”

I can think of no more damning indictment of the administration’s strategic thinking than this: it never once considered a scenario in which Mubarak faced a popular revolt. Yet the very essence of rigorous strategic thinking is to devise such a scenario and to think through the best responses to them, preferably two or three moves ahead of actual or potential adversaries.

This is quite a different Obama: not merely clueless but unaware clues even existed; not merely not three steps ahead but three steps behind; not merely not thinking but unaware there was anything to think about.

Is it possible that Obama is Lexington Green’s Grandmaster in domestic politics and Ferguson’s incompetent in foreign affairs? Sure. But I doubt it. As I’ve made clear, I don’t think Obama has a coherent world view of any kind:

Obama cannot be politically ideological because he lacks an integrated world view. His beliefs are simply items on lists, plucked out of the air around him and jotted down hastily. Obama has not thought about how these ideas tie together, how they might conflict with each other, what they say about how the world as a whole works or can work. He has no overarching ideology; he simply has lists.

So Ferguson’s analysis of Obama’s handling of Egypt rings true to me: he is simply working through items on his list, trying one after the other to see what kind of reaction he gets.

By contrast, Lexington Green’s analysis of Obama’s handling of the budget does not ring true to me. I don’t believe Obama has any grand scheme; he simply doesn’t have an item on his list that says, “Sometimes you have to reduce spending” and is thus literally unable to present a budget that makes any effort to cut spending.

Obama is not a brilliant strategist; he’s a liberal being mugged by reality.



This comment from Ferguson made me laugh:

The president himself is not wholly to blame. Although cosmopolitan by both birth and upbringing, Obama was an unusually parochial politician prior to his election, judging by his scant public pronouncements on foreign-policy issues.

Yet no president can be expected to be omniscient. That is what advisers are for. The real responsibility for the current strategic vacuum lies not with Obama himself, but with the National Security Council ...

I laugh because I remember Candidate Obama’s response to questions about what he wanted in a Vice-President:

Last night at a fundraiser in San Francisco, Barack Obama took a question on what he's looking for in a running mate. "I would like somebody who knows about a bunch of stuff that I'm not as expert on," he said, and then he was off and running. "I think a lot of people assume that might be some sort of military thing to make me look more Commander-in-Chief-like. Ironically, this is an area--foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain."

And I laugh at the idea that a President who does not know what he does not know is somehow “not wholly to blame” when his lack of knowledge results in poor policy by his Administration. I would argue that if Obama was getting poor advice from his advisers that is absolutely his responsibility. Who would Ferguson hold responsible for picking the advisers, if not Obama himself?

Oh, I like this

Cardinalpark is pushing for Medicare and Medicaid to become defined contribution plans rather than defined benefit plans, citing the success his company has had in doing that with its own health insurance. This is a sort of variation on the types of plans I discuss here and, obviously, I think it’s a great idea.

However, what really caught my attention was this idea from one of the commenters:

I think HSA for medicare would be a great way to go. In addition we should do away with the current estate tax and replace it with an end of life health care bill. So that the heirs receive a bill for a % of the medical cost for the last three years of life up to a % of the estate. Combining these two would go a long way to reduce health care costs as families ration their own care. Dr visits & MRI's with HSA's and massive end of life care with the estate bill.

I really like this. It lets the person who is at the end of his life decide whether he wants to spend his money on extreme measures or would prefer to leave a larger estate to his heirs.

We would need to build in safeguards of course; we don’t want a greedy heir to be able to take control of his infirm grandmother’s finances and decide to preserve his inheritance by consigning Grandma to the tender mercies of Shady Farms CutRate Hovel for the Aged. In a mild bit of irony the best safegaurd would be detailed end of life instructions like, oh, I don’t know, maybe an expansion on the basic Order for Life Sustaining Treatment?