Sunday, September 7, 2008

Reflections on Palin

Let's grant that Palin's selection was, in fact, a spur-of-the-moment decision on the part of John McCain, based on an inadequate search and interview. Yet if some master manipulator had tried to pick someone to focus the question of neo-conservative ideology vs. progressivism, they could hardly have done a better job than to seek out and select Sarah Palin and stand her against Barack Obama. We progressives say we want to make our case. Well, now's our opportunity. In fact, now we must make it. We say we know something better than neo-conservatism. We need to figure out what it is, and get it out there. Or we're going to lose. The real problem that Palin poses for us is that she discredits Democratic conservatism. Why vote for the copy when you can have the real thing, at least as VP? But, you perhaps object, perhaps, that she's not the real thing, that the thing doesn't exist, can't exist. That she's corrupt and self-serving. Well, yes. And W. Bush is even moreso. But he's president. We need a truth--or at least a compassionate story--that enough of the public wants to believe so much that they're willing to abandon their belief in figures like Bush and Palin. And we need Obama to tell that story.

"Change". OK, good. The problem is, the rest of the platform is bollocks. (All right, maybe 75% of it is bollocks.) There's no economic quick-fix for manufacturing; the USA is not going to build a modern manufacturing base in four years, not even in eight. It also probably requires a national health-care system. There's no such thing as clean coal and carbon sequestration is a very questionable idea. Even if the engines were 100% efficient and clean as a whistle, an automobile-based transportation system would still be inefficient and an ecological problem. And so on, and on. We've got to have something real, or at least be willing to seek something real. We can't win anyone's heart by being corrupt--the Republicans have the corner on that market.

In our favor: progressives don't have to be saints. People want something better. Give them a little hope they can believe in, and they'll grab on and start leading us. Isn't that what Obama has been saying all along? But we have to give them something, and we have to be willing to be led. Oh, the parties are not the same; that's false, and the counsel of despair. Even before Palin came on the scene, Obama and McCain stood for different things. But the parties are, in different ways, both part of the problem. The parties aren't willing to be led.

In different words, this is a criticism that has been heard before: the parties are unresponsive to the voters. Which most thinking people already know. There's hope out there, there's things we can do. There's even people who know what those things are and can articulate them. But if the party leadership is busy protecting the auto industry, the insurance companies, the oil industry, MBNA, the radical-right christians, the god-knows-what that broken John McCain will listen to, then they can't listen to us, or do the things we need to do.

Progressives need to pull Obama along. Sarah Palin is going to do the feet-to-the-fire job, better, probably, than any progressive can. She has already forced him to come out firmly pro-choice. So I think progressives need to advocate and hold out an alternative, one that can win. It might be our moment--let's try to seize it.

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