I didn’t watch Palin’s speech last night. I probably would have, but I was on a plane at the time.
I’ve been reading the reactions in the blogosphere, and in general people seem to be impressed. Bloggers on the right are delighted —
I am smitten and impressed and just altogether over-the-moon. Congrats to Scully [the speechwriter] and congrats foremost to Palin, for a tremendous performance under pressure. Masterly, by any standard.
— while bloggers on the left are alarmed:
A lot of Dems will go to bed nervous tonight. They should. Palin is still a political lightweight who is in no way qualified to be second in line for the presidency. But she is a charming lightweight. And if George W. Bush taught us anything, it is exactly how far that can take you in American politics.
In exceedingly plain English, I think there’s a pretty big who the fuck does she think she is? factor. And not just among us Daily Kos reading, merlot-drinking liberals. I think Palin’s speech will be instinctively unappealing to other whole demographics of voters, including particularly working-class men (among whom there may be a misogyny factor) and professional post-menopausal women.
(Silver is a pollster — he knows what he’s talking about when he categorizes voters demographically.)
My response is this: Palin’s speech tells us nothing. It strikes me as bizarre to read a series of excerpts from the speech — Palin said this and then she said that — knowing that she wrote not a word of it.
All those words tell us nothing about how Palin’s mind works, how she expresses herself, or what her own opinions are. It was a generic speech, originally written with a male running mate in mind, and tweaked to make it less “masculine” when McCain selected Palin.
There’s a very silly debate underway about whether Palin is more qualified than Barack Obama. It’s silly because it focuses attention in the wrong place.
The real issue isn’t experience, but knowledge. On that metric, it will emerge in due course that there’s no contest between Obama and Palin: he’s far more knowledgeable than she is.
The evidence for that? Obama writes his own speeches. When he talks about environmental policy, or economic policy, or how quickly the USA should withdraw its troops from Iraq, or whether the USA should talk to Iran, he is sharing his opinion on topics he has personally thought about in some detail.
Palin, on the other hand, delivered a speech written by Matt Scully.
In due course, it will become evident to any objective viewer that Palin’s knowledge is extremely narrow. It’s clear that she knows something about oil and perhaps energy policy more generally. But what else does she know?
Of the literally hundreds of blog posts I’ve read about Palin by now, I think James Fallows has summed things up best:
Unless you have seen it first first-hand, as part of the press scrum or as a campaign staffer, it is almost impossible to imagine how grueling the process of running for national office is. Everybody gets exhausted. The candidates have to answer questions and offer views roughly 18 hours a day, and any misstatement on any topic can get them in trouble. Why do candidates so often stick to a stump speech that they repeat event after event and day after day? Because they’ve worked out the exact way to put their positions on endless thorny issues — Iraq, abortion, the Middle East, you name it — and they know that creative variation mainly opens new complications.
If someone is campaigning for the presidency or vice presidency, there’s an extra twist. That person has to have a line of argument to offer on any conceivable issue. Quick, without pausing in the next ninety seconds, tell me what you think about: the balance of relations between Taiwan and mainland China, and exactly what signals we’re sending to Hamas, and what we think about Russia’s role in the G-8 and potentially in NATO, and where North Korea stands on its nuclear pledges — plus Iran while we’re at it, plus the EU after the Irish vote, plus cap-and-trade as applied to India and China, and what’s the right future for South Ossetia; and let’s not even start on domestic issues.
Since McCain announced his pick, Palin’s handlers have kept her secreted away at a safe remove from the media. But eventually she has to emerge to answer questions. And then we’ll find out (not how much experience she has but) how little she knows.