A letter to a writer about Palin and the press

The writer in question is someone who I’ve read off and on idly over time and who I disagree with on many fundamentals but who has shown a willingness to say publicly that the political beliefs he stands for are being undercut fiercely by the actions of those in the party that is supposed to represent those beliefs. (No surprise that I am talking about a conservative writer and thinker here.) He and I have exchanged some very brief messages this week — he likely gets tons of mail and I’m only one interested reader of many, so his answers have been short but unfailingly polite — and today I wrote this to him which could easily stand as a blog post on its own, so with some editing, here goes. The addressee’s already written back to say he was working on this very subject, as he too has major misgivings about the choice of Palin, and I’ll be interested to read his thoughts.

[The Bill O’Reilly/Barack Obama interview last night] didn’t happen out of nowhere, and the stories about Ailes and some of Obama’s folks meeting to clear the air or the like beforehand are all interesting, so I’m hardly ascribing sudden outbreaks of altruism on both sides — and it is good to see Obama pressed on points (not merely because it must be done as a matter of course no matter the candidate or party, but because repeated exposure, while running the risk of stock answers, can also help on focusing one’s thoughts — both on the part of the interviewer/interviewee and on the part of the voting viewer or listener). Also, that interview could have been a heck of a lot longer and we all would still be wanting more, I suspect.

The ultimate point is though that that (finally) happened, and that while O’Reilly unsurprisingly is all about O’Reilly first and foremost, he said some positive things about Obama….[while] Obama comes off as being willing to talk about….his public record to a polite [side note — yes, this is O’Reilly but it wasn’t like he was going to spend his time insulting Obama from the word go, nor would Obama have put up with that] but clearly not friendly questioner in a one-on-one context. One would want or expect no less.

So my question lies with that frankly bizarre Nicole Wallace bit from last night:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhgUvX_8Joo

As Jay Carney talked about here:

http://www.time-blog.com/swampland/2008/09/no_questions_please_were.html

Assuming she is speaking what is meant to be the larger approach from now to November, what is the point of this strategy? As a reflexive reaction to the past week’s events, perversely understandable….(but) there are huge gaps of specific knowledge regarding Palin that leave everyone groping. My feelings at this point on her are essentially negative, but my sense is that if the campaign gives no chance to change that negative impression, then they are saying “We’ve made our people happy, we know a lot of you are unhappy, and we don’t care about anyone or anything else.”

An insult, to be blunt. An insult to detractors, supporters and everyone in between. There is scope and breadth to talk about much with Palin — based on larger questions about political beliefs and policy, based on her public record — that can steer well clear of the unavoidably prurient questions that are flying around as well. It can be done collectively, and it can be done individually, and it can be done without limitations on ‘friendly’ questions or sympathetic reporters. Not that I think Olbermann is some sort of saint, but to use him as an example — if Obama can talk to O’Reilly, then seems to me Palin can talk to him.

(I admit, just by my saying that, it shows how much the game *has* changed in the past week but not in the way I’d initially expected, or many other people. When the news first surfaced a week (hell, at this point it seems like a lifetime) ago, the idea was that there was new energy brought to the campaign. But it seems to me that essentially we’re all seeing a part of overt — almost grostequely so — wish-fulfillment on the part of uncritical boosters that Palin needs to be the center of the campaign — and that McCain is an afterthought. That sounds harsh, but how much talk is going around on the right/conservative side about her being ‘the future’ and how McCain’s speech didn’t measure up and so forth? I might overstate this, certainly — but the implications are inescapable now. And given THAT, that makes this purported plan via Wallace’s statement all the more ridiculous.)

If Palin is suppose to be a tough, confident person and politician, then facing reporters is as nothing. The proof is in the pudding and it needs to be demanded, or Palin and the campaign deserves little but mockery.

[EDIT — after having posted this blog entry, I find it interesting to note this Kevin Drum piece pointing out that Palin has magically disappeared back to Alaska, and that Drum figures this:

Howard Fineman, Ben Smith, and Chuck Todd are all reporting the same thing: the McCain campaign is going to whisk Sarah Palin back to Alaska and then have her hole up for a good long while until they think it’s safe for her to talk to the press….These guys are being suckered with misinformation so that the McCain campaign will have yet another excuse to pretend that the media is bent on making up egregious lies about Palin. I don’t think she’s going to be talking to a horde of serious national journalists, but they’ll pick some spots and do a few remotes.

I suspect this is right on track.]

Meanwhile, there’s a last afterecho of that now notorious snippet of Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy letting fly via a live mic the other dayNoonan posted a tortuous equivalent of Bill Clinton’s ‘depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is’ but Murphy, to his credit, is far more blunt in his own talk:

(In an private conversation fragment that landed on the Internet due to a open MSNBC microphone, I made my grouchy feelings about the base centered strategy Palin represents clear in a blunt manner. Sorry Sarah, it’s nothing personal. It’s the just the politics of the choice that I don’t like.)

What I don’t like is the effect I think Palin will ultimately have on the ticket. With all her charm, she is still a pick aimed squarely at the Republican base. In a high turnout Presidential year, I am not worried about turning out the base. I’m worried about everybody else we need to win and I fear that among those voters, Sarah Palin will be a dud.

I know, I know, she’s a “hockey mom” and through the magic of identity politics she is going to make female voters swarm across party lines in numbers that Gerry Ferraro never dreamed of since this identity politics hokum is only a good idea that is certain to work when, um, we Republicans try to do it.

Instead, I think she’ll ultimately be a polarizer. After last night’s smash, Republicans are in deep love. Nothing thrills ‘em like a good “us vs. them” speech. But I’d guess that most Democrats had the opposite reaction. In a year where the Democrat generic numbers are 10+ points better than the Republican, I don’t like the math of a strategy that just polarized the election along party base lines. Among the vital sliver of voters in the middle, I think Palin’s rock solid social conservatism will be a turn off.

Yup. And while numbers are always things to fudge, if (if) this is an accurate detailing of what happened on Thursday, I think the fact that the RNC reported getting a million dollars in donations after Palin’s speech while the DNC reported getting $10 million shows that, indeed, she rallied the base. The other one.

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8 Responses to “A letter to a writer about Palin and the press”

  1. Marc Says:

    Ned,
    If you want to see more of the O’Reilly interview it is in fact only part 1 of 3, so you’ll get your chance.

  2. Ned Raggett Says:

    Yeah, I should be clearer — even after three parts I’d like to see more!

  3. 4leslie Says:

    Do you not see that McCain picking Palin is a cold, calculated move by Rick Davis of the same ilk as Bush 41 picking Quayle?
    I think my post on this is quite clear.

  4. Alfred Says:

    Surprisingly, I had little problem with the O’Reilly interview! The smug way in which he wanted his audience to realize that he’d used a Big Word like “pusillanimous” notwithstanding, he didn’t let Obama get away with boilerplate; he actually gave some blunt answers. I’m not sure why he waited so long to accept O’Reilly’s invitations; he’s surprisingly easy to coddle if you say the right things.

  5. Ned Raggett Says:

    Sounds like you haven’t read this yet, m’friend — skip to page two and read down.

    (But also note this from up that page:

    For a long time [Murdoch] was in love with the Fox chief, Roger Ailes, because he was even more Murdoch than Murdoch. And yet now the embarrassment can’t be missed—he mumbles even more than usual when called on to justify it; he barely pretends to hide the way he feels about Bill O’Reilly.

    About right.)

  6. Rutherford Says:

    I watched Nicole Wallace go off on Jay Carney on “Morning Joe” and I could not believe my eyes. It looks like the Republican party is looking to destroy the Fourth Estate. Never before have I heard political figures so arrogant as to say that the press has no right to inquire into matters of public importance.

    Folks like Howard Fineman (usually pretty unruffled) are getting mightily pissed off. The ‘pubs better get with the program fast or the press will be just that more inspired to uncover the real Sarah Palin.

  7. Ned Raggett Says:

    Entirely possible, all this — but there was an interesting (and to my mind v. apt) point made by Glenn Greenwald here that should be considered:

    http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/09/06/carney/index.html

    I think the truth lies somewhere in between, but more on that another time…


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