Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I Get E-Mail

One of those "I'm a little confused" e-mails, to be precise:
• If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're "exotic, different."

• Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, a quintessential American story.

• If your name is Barack you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.

• Name your kids Willow, Trig and Track, you're a maverick.

• Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.

• Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.

• If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you don't have any real leadership experience.

• If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified to become the country's second highest ranking executive.

• If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real Christian.

• If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a Christian.

• If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.

• If, while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state's school system while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant, you're very responsible.

• If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values don't represent America's.

• If you're husband is nicknamed "First Dude," with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

Everything all clear now?

None of these things are substantive issues, except perhaps the experience one. But these are all things that have dominated our political discourse for the past few weeks. And still, looking at the superficialities, I don't see how McCain-Palin stacks up.

I also think the differences between the two candidates outlined in chain e-mails like this (there are others floating around, too) kinda get at the nut of the difference between modern conservatism and liberalism. Conservative columnist Richard Cohen touched on it today in his piece, "Why Experience Matters." Cohen writes:

Conservatism was once a frankly elitist movement. Conservatives stood against radical egalitarianism and the destruction of rigorous standards. They stood up for classical education, hard-earned knowledge, experience and prudence. Wisdom was acquired through immersion in the best that has been thought and said.

But, especially in America, there has always been a separate, populist, strain. For those in this school, book knowledge is suspect but practical knowledge is respected. The city is corrupting and the universities are kindergartens for overeducated fools.


In the current Weekly Standard, Steven Hayward argues that the nation’s founders wanted uncertified citizens to hold the highest offices in the land. They did not believe in a separate class of professional executives. They wanted rough and rooted people like Palin.

I would have more sympathy for this view if I hadn’t just lived through the last eight years. For if the Bush administration was anything, it was the anti-establishment attitude put into executive practice.

And the problem with this attitude is that, especially in his first term, it made Bush inept at governance. It turns out that governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all, it requires prudence.

I can't say I agree with everything in Cohen's hypothesis: the liberal movement has its classically educated roots and a separate, populist strain as well. But he hits quite a few right notes in his column.

Anyone paying half a bit of attention over the past seven years has to know that George W. Bush was a colossal failure as a president. He put cronies in positions of power, he listened only to a small inner circle of friends, he was incurious about issues that frankly demanded more leadership and in a thousand ways large and small this nation is worse off as a result of what happened in November 2000.

My friends, we can't afford to make a similar mistake.