A bit more about Palin

Byron asked me if my views on Palin had evolved in the last couple of weeks. Short answer is ‘not a lot’, although what I’ve read about the Couric interview (which isn’t a lot, and I didn’t watch it) has led to some self-questioning.

Various thoughts:
– it seems, as with the Charlie Gibson interview, to have been a hatchet job. However, that goes with the territory and should be expected;
– she seems to have been stitched up by the campaign, in the sense that she has lost confidence, and she gives the media too much importance;
– relying on folksy comments in a set-piece media interview is an error of judgement;
– if Palin had come out with a comment like Biden’s on Roosevelt then she would have been crucified – but this isn’t to defend Palin, it’s simply to point out that Biden is a moron bit of a buffoon;
– the job of a politician is not to know the facts but to exercise judgement upon facts, and then to make decisions. Obviously there are limits to this – a certain amount of general knowledge about the world is essential, along with a basic analytical capacity, which Palin undoubtedly possesses – but politicians in an advanced democracy are functionally dependent upon civil servants to provide information, and those civil servants will – with extremely rare exceptions – know much more about the subject than the politician;
– the exercise of political judgement is the essential quality that needs to be assessed at the time of an election, and the raw material for that judgement is not the words that the politicians speak but the choices that the politicians have made in their previous positions of responsibility;
– which begs the question about the politicians having actually been in positions of responsibility. I maintain the view that Palin beats Obama hands down in this respect – that is, she actually has a record that is worth investigating, with real decisions made (for better or for worse). What has Obama ever done? When has he ever gone out on a limb for something that he believed in?
– a large part of assessing the candidates is about ‘smell’, by which I mean a non-rational, ‘blink’ type assessment about how far any candidate shares values with the person making the assessment; this, in turn, is essentially answering the question ‘will this candidate advance my values in office?’ – so on that count, I am undoubtedly still a Palin fan;
– barring an ‘October surprise’ I’m now, contrary to my earlier post, expecting an Obama win, which I’m seeing as a poisoned chalice.

I have great feelings of nervousness with respect to the forthcoming debate. I hope she has a storming, break-out performance; I worry that the opposite will happen.

Some political confessions

I thought I’d throw up some bullet points on my political perspectives, because, although I would describe myself as a conservative, there are various ways in which that might be misleading, particularly in the US context.

  • I was (with caveats) in favour of the invasion of Iraq, and on balance I still think it was the right decision
  • I think the Bush administration has been culpably incompetent (and radically anti-conservative) and Bush and Cheney should be impeached
  • I think the Bush administration has been actively evil in its support for torture and that Bush should be excommunicated from the church
  • I firmly believe that the truth about 9/11 has not been told, though I am not persuaded that Bush was personally involved in that (I have only come to negative conclusions about this subject, not positive ones)
  • I do believe that radical Islam poses an existential threat to Western Civilisation. I see the standard left-wing consensus – such as it is – as manifestly inadequate for defending western civilisation, and this is one of my main objections to Obama (for an example, see the treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali)
  • By the way, in case it isn’t obvious, I believe very strongly in free speech
  • I believe that the Bush administration, whether by active design or inadvertence, has laid the foundations for a new feudalism in the United States
  • I think there is a non-trivial possibility of a far-right Christian fascist autocracy forming in the United States within the next ten years, and a similarly non-trivial possibility of Civil War. My main reason for thinking that those things won’t happen is that the suffering will hit the cities more than the countryside, but I could easily be wrong
  • I find Obama’s vote on abortion abhorrent, unconscionable and unfathomable
  • I am in favour of stem cell research
  • I find McCain’s position on Georgia (shared by Obama) unrealistic and seriously frightening. I would certainly not invite Georgia to be a member of NATO (an institution that is now past its use-by-date)
  • I think the United Nations is, by and large, a waste of space
  • I am strongly in favour of full secular equality for homosexual couples (and I’m phrasing it that way because ‘marriage’ raises theological questions that are a red herring here)
  • I don’t expect any politicians to be saints; it’s just a question of the degree of corruption. I find it remarkable how little investigation there has been of Obama’s background, competence and voting record which seem to me to be much worse than Palin’s
  • I don’t think either candidate has a clue about the nature of the storm engulfing the US economy, nor do I think there is much that either candidate can do about it. I still think the fourth turning is a very good guide to what we are seeing
  • For all his faults – and his faults aren’t lonely for long – I see McCain as more able to exercise an independent perspective than Obama. I’m not convinced that there is anything there with Obama, that is, anything which marks him out as something other than a product of his context
  • I think that George Romero is a prophet, particularly of the US

Palin on global warming

Looks like I was wrong about Palin being a global warming denier:

“Many scientists note that Alaska’s climate is changing,” Governor Palin said. “We are already seeing the effects. Coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, retreating sea ice and record forest fires affect our communities and our infrastructure. Some scientists tell us to expect more changes in the future. We must begin to prepare for those changes now.”

Alaskan values and the character of leadership

Following Monday’s paean to Palin I’ve been musing a little bit further about why I think she is a good thing, despite having serious disagreements with some of her political stances (NB the creationism allegation seems to be a bit of an untruth – see “When reporters attack”).

The biggest potential problem that I see does in fact lie with the issue I emphasised before – energy. Palin is clearly someone saturated with Alaskan values – the hunting, shooting, fishing, Moose-burger-eating red-in-tooth-and-claw element of US society. You could say that these values are frontier values, and what I would point out is that these values were formed where there was no sense of a limit to abundance, where nature could cope with whatever humanity threw at her. This is clearly the ground from which Palin offers scepticism about anthropogenic global warming, because such values don’t meet immediate counter-evidence in the Alaskan context (despite Alaska suffering from the melting of the permafrost). This value set is not viable or appropriate in the context of a politics of scarcity, which is what Peak Oil and the associated problems will induce.

However, I think that Palin shares these values with a significant element of the US electorate and there is another set of values which I see as even more important, and still relevant to a position of leadership. One of the features of being heavily involved in these various outdoor activities is that you become quite attuned to reality. For example, if you are careless about the weather you can end up getting stranded and exposed; if you are careless about sea conditions when sailing you can end up getting capsized; if you are careless about hunting your bear then you risk your own life – and so on. There is, in other words, a more fundamental orientation towards reality which is cultivated by this outdoor lifestyle, which provokes important spiritual values such as humility and the Old Testament Heart.

In other words, whilst I can see her present positions on issues such as global warming and energy as being typically under-informed (typical for a US politician that is) I see her as having the character to respond correctly to better information – and I have no doubt that this better information would be conveyed to her if she gets elected, both through briefings and through regular intrusions of reality.

Which really points out the principal reason why I think she is a good choice – she has displayed character, and I continue to maintain that the contrast with Obama strongly reinforces the arguments in her favour. Both in her personal life and her political life she has taken risks and absorbed costs in order to maintain her own reformist agenda. Where, for example, has Obama taken on his own party in order to bring reform? Where, for example, has Obama shown courage in investigating wrong-doing in his own party? Where, for example, has Obama, shown leadership in initiating legislation to clean up the political process?

Obama is a machine politician with a fresh face and fancy words. Palin has walked the talk. And remember – this is a contrast between a Presidential candidate and a Vice-Presidential candidate! On the question of who has displayed the most character between the presidential candidates, Obama isn’t even in the race.

UPDATE: someone else saying something similar: Obama, in short, is long on brains and short on guts.

Hurricane Gustav, Sarah Palin and why McCain will win the General Election

I gave a cheer when I discovered that Palin had been chosen by McCain as his VP candidate. A while ago I came across an article talking about ‘outrider’ candidates for VP and Palin seemed a really good choice, mainly along the lines of a) being a breath of fresh air, b) being a classical conservative, especially on the fiscal front, and c) had shown character and courage by taking on vested interests.

It’s a choice that has made me a bit more comfortable about hoping for a McCain victory (I don’t have a vote, tho’ occasionally I ponder the steps I would need to go through to gain one). I felt McCain’s response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia was unrealistic, and if he had chosen someone like Romney for VP – as he was rumoured to be considering – then I’d have not been bothered whether he had won or lost. Choosing another middle aged man in a suit would have represented politics as usual – rather as Obama’s choice of Biden does.

The canard about Palin being inexperienced is meaningless. As a VP candidate she has more relevant experience – and has done more with that experience and shown greater competence – than the Presidential candidate of the Democratic party. One of the beauties of this choice is that the argument about experience, and preparation for office, which will continue all the way through to the election, is now going to be comparing Obama to Palin – which elevates McCain above the fight and makes him untouchable on this front. In other words, anyone who is worried about Palin being inexperienced as a VP will end up being more worried about Obama as a President.

I also suspect that, whilst there is a short-term attraction to it, there isn’t much mileage in ex-Hillary voters from choosing Palin. Their characters are just too different (and, again, to Palin’s advantage). I see Palin as primarily chosen a) to reinforce McCain’s connection with the conservative base, and get out lots of foot-workers (which she has clearly succeeded in doing) but also b) to reinforce McCain’s credentials as an independent and reformist – a reputation which he has had historically but which has been a little blurred of late. It’s now quite clear that McCain is serious about reforming Washington. (Which is one of the things to bear in mind when establishment figures start criticising Palin – these are the ‘good ole boys’ she will be taking on).

However, all of that is pretty conventional and not an excuse for yet another half-baked political post. I wanted to say something else a bit more specific, which might not have occurred to a great many people. One of the most salient aspects to Palin’s candidacy is that she has developed a track-record as a) an opponent of ‘Big Oil’ and b) an advocate of drawing on the resources of Alaska for oil (eg ANWR). There is a clear distinction between the Dems and GOP on this.

Now the long-term context for this debate is Peak Oil (obviously) but there is a specific short-term context as well, being the run-down in gasoline stocks in the United States this summer. For some time readers of the Oil Drum have heard warnings that any interruption to supply in the southern US (eg imports from Mexico, plus hurricanes impacting the Gulf facilities) could cause physical shortages of gasoline in parts of the US, and even if that doesn’t cause a panic, it does mean that the supply of oil will become a major talking point – possibly even a defining issue – in public debate about the presidency. Now on that issue the electability and credibility of Palin trumps anything that Obama can offer.

So here’s my prediction: due to the choice of McCain and the credibility of Palin on the energy issue, the rise in salience of energy as an issue affecting voters, especially following the damage done to facilities in the Gulf by Gustav, will mean that McCain gets elected in November. Not by a landslide, but not by a whisker either.

UPDATE: obviously the collapse of Lehman brothers two weeks later rather compromised this analysis!!