Saturday, August 30, 2008

Andrew Sullivan, Obama and Palin

I've long been an admirer of Andrew Sullivan and a reader of his blog. One of the things I admire about Mr. Sullivan is that, in addition to having a formidable intellect, he is generally devoted to what might be called—if faux news hadn't ruined the term—a fair and balanced approach to political reporting. He consciously tries to avoid rank partisanship and dogma. He is a conservative who is appropriately outraged at the nationalistic thugs who call themselves conservatives in this country, who take their orders from Rush Limbaugh and have never heard of Burke. Given Mr. Sullivan's political viewpoints, his support of Barack Obama is a testament to his willingness to look beyond party lines and ideologies.

Over the last year, however, I have watched Mr. Sullivan's support of Obama grow increasingly intense, to the point where I now feel that he has abandoned any pretence of neutrality and has become almost a mouth piece for the Obama's campaign. How else would you explain his take on
McCain's selection of Sarah Palen as a running mate? Says Mr. Sullivan

"The first criterion for a veep - and I'm simply repeating a truism here - is that they are ready to take over at a moment's notice. That's especially true when you have a candidate as old as McCain. That's more than especially true when we are at war, in an era of astonishingly difficult challenges, when the next president could be grappling with war in the Middle East or a catastrophic terror attack at home. Under those circumstances, we could have a former Miss Alaska with two years under her belt as governor. Now compare McCain's pick with Obama's: a man with solid foreign policy experience, six terms in Washington and real relationships with leaders across the globe. One pick is by a man of judgment; the other is by a man of vanity."

Now, there is much I agree with here. McCain's pick could probably be described as "unserious." But this is an awfully strange argument coming from such an ardent Obama supporter. After all, Obama had been in the Senate for less than two years when he announced his candidacy for President. If Palin's thin resume makes her ineligible to lead the country, doesn't Obama's do the same? To Mr. Sullivan's credit, he posts several reader responses that make this point and he responds in an interesting way:

"ask yourself: could Sarah Palin have run a national election campaign against, say, a machine as powerful as the Bush family, and won? Does she have the skill set to construct a campaign that would actually have brought her to the nomination herself?"

It seems that, to Sullivan, Obama's skill as a campaigner qualifies him to be president. Palin, it seems, is unqualified in part because she was chosen and did not run herself. This argument is not entirely ridiculous. The Obama Machine is huge and well-oiled and Barack is at the center of it all. It's evidence of his considerable management skills. But I think that campaigning is very different from governing.

Bush had one of the best run campaigns in history: I think that's all we really need to know about that. Sullivan's argument is particularly puzzling if you consider that his main gripe with Palin seems to be her lack of experience in foreign policy and national security. I'm not sure setting up a brilliant on-line fundraising operation prepares you for dealing with Iran.

I have no doubt that Andrew Sullivan is smarter and better informed than I am. If we were ever to debate about anything he would probably demolish me. However, a strong mind can be used to deceive as well as enlighten and the world is full of people who use their intellect to deceive themselves. I'm not sure that's what Mr. Sullivan is doing now, but he has surely lost his commitment to even handed analysis.

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