Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Some Must Reads

Sarah Palin wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post today.  I was originally planing on writing a short rebuttal, but after reading Conor Clarke's response (and follow-up) over at the Daily Dish, I don't see how I can really add anything to the conversation.  In the article is one of the better (if not best) non-technical summaries of externalities that I've read in quite some time:

The point of cap and trade is to solve a problem of social cost: As an energy consumer, I am imposing a cost on society (pollution) that I do not take into account when I make the original decision to consume.

In this quote,  Clarke is cuts through the political obfuscation of Palin's article, gets to the definition the words being used, and how these words apply to the topic at hand.  As Palin's op-ed illustrate, political arguments in America consistently rely on emotional appeals driven by charged vocabulary; vocabulary which is embedded in decades old culture war debate.  For example, inside language of Palin's article—the "Cap and Tax" epithet—is itself part of a clear attempt to 're-brand' the proposed energy plan with the 'tax-and-spend-liberals' narrative of American politics. 

This is what is so frustrating about our nation discourse, not just on energy bills or general politics—this is an element of the country and culture as a whole. We place a greater emphasis on the appearance of things, and how these things fit into our pre-determined narratives and understandings; than on the realities and facts of a situation.  It is because of this emphasis on appearances that Sarah Palin can write an opinion piece on energy policy, have it published in one of the country's major national newspapers, even though, as Derek Thomson (in another excellent appraisal of the op-ed) points out:

"Palin wrote a 700-word takedown of cap-and-trade that did not include the words pollution, emissions, carbon, or global warming."

It seems one doesn't need data, facts or a solid argument.  Just a reasonable appeal to the traditional monsters that lie under the bed.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Politicians (Really) Are People Too

Sarah Palin was a flashpoint for me, and I think many people, during the 2008 campaign.  She crystallized a lot of what the right of the Republican party was about; she fought the battles of the culture war, she recalled the Richard Nixon's contempt of the (liberal) elite.  At the same time Governor Palin personified the GOP's patten of emphasis of winning over governing, as well highlighting politics over policy.  Because of this, I've spent some time reading about her resignation-the commentary, the analysis and the theories behind her decision.  The speculation is exciting, but is monotonous as it is empty.  A series of 'maybes' without answers is the daily parade of modern news, yet has no real meaning to the reader.  Ellen Goodman, in her column today, gets to the heart of why Palin's resignation is so compelling, and places a human emphasis on the soon-to-be-former Governor:

"What fans loved about Palin was her perceived authenticity. She was repeatedly described as “real.’’ I think it’s what Palin believed about herself. Even after her resignation, she described her role as governor, saying “This is who I am. This is what I am.’’ But, forgive that gosh-darned empathy, this is a woman who hit a moment when she doesn’t really know who she is. Or what she wants."

Goodman is pointing out the very obvious, but often forgotten point that politicians are human beings; they have thoughts, feelings, needs, goals, passions and failures.  This is lost in the noise of the 24/7 news cycle and the political games the country plays every 2 and 4 years.  After the crucible of American media and politics; CNN's candidate tracking, 538's daily poll updates and RealClearPolitics' daily aggregate, candidates lose their humanity—slowly they become abstractions.  Cardboard cutouts for supports to fill with expectations and values.  Times like these, Palin's resignations as well as Mark Sanford's personal meltdown, remind us that politicians are dynamic—living and feeling beings just like everyday people.  So it is ironic, yet ultimately fitting, that Sarah Palin's final show show of authenticity is her political undoing.