Thursday, October 02, 2008

Affirmative-action. Debate-style.

Last night when I wasn't watching ball games, I was wearing out my remote trying to soak up every last bit of punditry I could find with regard to tonight's debate, whichI have a feelingwill draw an audience rather larger than the 52 million who watched last week's Obama/McCain affair. America en masse will tune in to see which Sarah Palin shows up: the one from Convention, or the one who burbled several "sentences to nowhere," as Bill Maher called them, under (not-very-belligerent) questioning from Katie Couric. GOP loyalists will watch, hoping that she survives the event without swallowing her tongue and/or misidentifying Alaska on a map. Democrats will tune in wishing for those exact things, of course, but also to see if Biden weathers the event in gaffe-free mode, and is able to set exactly the right tone in dealing with his adversary. That last part is what's mostly on my mind this morning.

The sentiment yesterday was universal that Joe Biden is in a tough spot. Normally in a debate, your taskstripped of all the handshakes and other nicetiesis to shred your opponent, to leave him and his positions in philosophical tatters. But the him in the previous sentence is key, because in this case, given that one of the debaters is a her, those rules apparently don't apply. Last night I heard intelligent people like Bay Buchanan and Paul Begala (who usually can't even agree on whether or not they're agreeing) caution that Biden must be wary of making Palin look too bad, otherwise America will recoil at the fact that he "took advantage of a woman."

He took advantage of a woman? This is an event that's supposed to help America decide who should be the next president of the United States. Can we really be saying that if, somewhere in the course of debating, the male candidate reveals the female candidate as a flake and a fraud, then, instead of eliminating the female candidate from contention, we will rally to her defense and reject the male candidate for "taking advantage of a woman"?

Yes. That's precisely what we're saying. Another female pundit averred quite specifically that if Biden is too rough on Palin, "women will turn on him" and we'd see it immediately in the polls. Think about that, because it implies that there are women in America who are leaning towards Obama-Biden, but who would jump ship and vote a ticket with an entirely different political agenda if Biden is insufficiently chivalrous tonight. If that's true, then any such women should have their voting privileges revoked (in the same way that any lawmakers who voted against the first bailout because they think Nancy Pelosi is a bee-yatch should be recalled from Washington).*

It would seem that regardless of what we say about gender equality and all that, we still inhabit a society wherein men are supposed to treat a woman extra-nicely in public settings. Certainly more nicely than men treat each other. Part of that has to do with the gallantry that's such an ingrained part of American culture. But there is an uglier connotation as well, and it's a connotation that women themselves should stand up and set right: There is the unspoken notion that women can't quite keep pace in an intellectual realm, so you have to cut them some slack; "make allowances." And if you don't do that, you're being "unfair." (This goes to a point I've made often on this blog, which is that women, at least in some settings, continue to benefit from a one-sided vision of equality: They get the protections but are not necessarily burdened with the same standards and expectations. That not only penalizes men, but patronizes women.) By the way, none of this is Palin-specific. This same gender-touchiness took center-stage back in 1984 when Bush Senior was accused of patronizing Geraldine Ferraro during their own v.p. debate, and again in 2000 when Rick Lazio debated Hillary Clinton (see photo) during her first Senate campaign, and he (in)famously walked over into Clinton's "space" to make a point. Some women actually wrote afterwards that Lazio had "violated" Clinton.

It also floors me the way conservative apologists are stepping outside their usual personas in order to make excuses for Sarah Palin. I heard some truly bizarre things said yesterday. I heard pundits say that America likes Sarah because "she's just like us, she screws things up occasionally!" (You'd think we'd had enough of that in the White House during the past eight years.) I heard pundits say, with a straight face, that America doesn't want someone who's "smarter than them." I even heard a pundit, female, say that women in particular are more "comfortable" with someone of Sarah's modest gifts, which I'd think would be an inherently and deeply offensive remark. (Question: Why aren't more women standing up and saying This lady doesn't represent me or my "modest" level of intelligence, and don't you DARE set her up in that way!) Bay Buchanan herself, who can be savage when it comes to attacking liberals whom she thinks aren't up to snuff, said on Larry King that Palin's goal tonight is to just "be herself, be warm and friendly," and not sweat the details or worry about knowing important Supreme Court decisions or having a firm handle on policy issues. The key for Palin, said Buchanan, is to be "likeable," because "that's what Americans want" in a candidate.


There is one final thing working in Palin's favor tonight, and it's the overarching sense that 2008 is The Year of Women and Minorities, therefore we're all supposed to be properly respectful. Under this theory, Sarah Palin isn't just a woman, any more than Obama is just a black dude. They're archetypes, both of them, the embodiments of two separate but related social crusades. And one must be careful in the way one handles the embodiment of a social crusade. (Perhaps this is why, though John McCain appeared to make a few stinging points against Obama in their debate, such tactics backfired.) Conservative columnist
Kathleen Parker learned this, too, after she came out against Palin and saw her inbox fill with uncivil suggestions.

At the end of the day, I guess some of us still expect a man to open the door for a woman. Even if it's the door to the White House.

* Understand: I'm not saying that I think it was un-American to oppose the bailout. But I'm saying that being mad at Nancy Pelosi was an unacceptable reason for opposing the bailout.


Elizabeth said...

(Question: Why aren't more women standing up and saying This lady doesn't represent me or my "modest" level of intelligence, and don't you DARE set her up in that way!)

Hm. On this blog at least, two women (at least) have consistently been saying pretty much that. It does not escape one's attention that both of them have been chastised for being too critical and too "mean" (not sympathetic and compassionate enough) to Sarah -- by at least one man, LOL.

And again, Steve, I don't see any women (I'm talking about the women I know personally and those who are my favorite writers and journalists) defending Sarah or identifying with her or screaming sexism when she is (rightfully) criticized. I think some of these pundits live in insulated worlds and/or attempt to make opinions (by pulling ideas out of their hats) rather than reflect reality. That's not to say that there are women who indeed would vote for Sarah just because she is a woman, no matter what she represents or how she acts (I assume they exist, though I have not met one personally), but I wonder whether they represent such a large voting bloc as we are led to believe. I doubt it (though I may be wrong).

Elizabeth said...

Steve, I think that the ire Parker earned with her (belated) criticism of Palin was not coming specifically from women and was not due (at least not that much) to dissing Sarah as a woman. Parker was actually quite supportive of Palin as a GOP female candidate and very much gung-ho about her prospects in this election and beyond. But she was vilified because she broke with the party line; she is supposed to champion all things conservative and she "failed" in this here, so she was punished.

An aside, I caught, with one ear last night, some conservative pundits musing on making Palin the leader of GOP, the sooner, the better (in their opinions).

Kratos said...


I pray each day that your genius be included in the political decision making process. If only the average American had a shred of your critical thinking ability, we might not be in the mess that we are in.

I sincerely hope that Biden shreds Palin TO PIECES!!!! Why?!! Because, call me crazy, but the debater who is well prepared, has concrete logical, cogent and rational ideas and is able to EFFECTIVELY AND RIGOROUSLY communicate them to a massive televised audience is the one who wins. Regardless of gender. Think about this, if either Palin or Biden were to take up their offices, IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE DEBATES, who would be more prepared? The White House Staff is going to be around for everything. I want the candidate that is BEST PREPARED AND HAS THE BEST AND MOST RELEVANT EXPERIENCE. After all the champagne and confetti and false hopes and lies, the presidency and vice presidency are JOBS. I, as a voter, am an employer and I can tell you that Palin's wobbly position and inability to form coherent and cogent thoughts as well as express ideas and creative thinking in solving our national economic crisis wouldn't cut it for me. You try to bring those inabilities into the workplace, and you will be IMMEDIATELY fired, tears and all. Thanks, Steve, for continuing the good fight. Be blessed.

Faithful reader,


Steve Salerno said...

Eliz, that was sloppy phrasing at the end there (mine, not yours). I read Parker's column and I agree that the ire she inspired was not motivated by Year of the Woman backlash--but again, it's this notion of "being a traitor to a cause" that I do think applies. We can't even speak our minds anymore--even on the obvious--without having people paint our thoughts in moral/grandiose terms.

Elizabeth said...

Yeah, I got that, Steve.

Speaking of sloppy phrasing, the sentence in my first post should have been: That's not to say that there are no women who indeed would vote for Sarah just because she is a woman,

Writing with no coffee has its consequences.

Steve Salerno said...

Writing without coffee?

Is that like running with scissors? I hear somebody published a book with that title and made a few bucks... (At least one of us is. Making a few bucks, that is.)

Anonymous said...

One man's gallant is another woman's condescension.


One man's fairness is another woman's belittling?


RevRon's Rants said...

I fully agree that Palin should be shown no special "mercy" in deference to her gender. If she gives a showing in the debate that bears even the slightest resemblance to her performance in her interviews with even the profoundly gentle Katie Couric, she should have the grace to concede immediately (but certainly would not do so).

If, however, after the debate, she again (still) becomes the target of petty personal attacks that bear no relationship to her (admittedly meager) governing abilities, I certainly believe that the individuals (pundits and smug bloggers alike) deserve to be called on their behavior. And while I have a pretty good sense of humor, I just don't see this as a laughing matter.

At some point, we need to look at our priorities, and decide what is most important and appropriate: electing the most qualified individuals to handle the task of governance, or to hold those candidates we don't favor up to ridicule. Our decision - and our ensuing actions - will define us as either conscientious citizens or juvenile game players.

Steve Salerno said...

I tell ya, though, what worries me here (i.e. in terms of Palin being revealed for the lightweight she is) is the format tonight. As I understand it, the "debate" for the most part will reduce to a series of separate mini-speeches, none longer than maybe 2-3 minutes, allowing for very little engagement and follow-up between the candidates. (Who'd-a-thunk I'd actually miss Jim Lehrer exhorting anyone to "talk directly to him!") If that is so--and perhaps I misunderstood the description--then Palin should be able to get away with bridging to her talking points time and again, coercing every response into one of maybe a half-dozen sound bites she's already committed to memory during her sessions-by-the-creek.

Anonymous said...

How about:

'One womans engagement is another man's ego-massage.

'then Palin should be able to get away with bridging to her talking points time and again, coercing every response into one of maybe a half-dozen sound bites she's already committed to memory during her sessions-by-the-creek.'

Now that's what I call education.

Elizabeth said...

Okay, Steve: let's get this straight -- Palin wins tonight, no matter what. Seriously. She can do no wrong, whether she really does well or not. It does not matter, the jury is in already. Unless she really, really seriously screws up (which I think is unlikely); but even then it'll be all Biden's fault (and/or the hostile liberal media's).

RevRon's Rants said...

I don't think Biden will let her get away with that, even if it means stretching the guidelines established to protect Palin. Of course, that is based upon his ability to not say something off the wall, which he has been known to do. :-)

Anonymous said...

If you got in the game instead of watching so much from the sidelines Steve, maybe Mr Chicken Soup would not have such an easy ride next time.

We all learn, if we have that capability, best from experience, hard knocks being the best experience there is.

You can publish this or not under any name you choose.
Consider it my gift-in beatties terms-to you.

Anonymous said...

Silence? from such masters of wit and debate?

Call it---
An instant pot noodle, then.

Steve Salerno said...

OK Anon. I'll bite. Who is supposed to be replying to what?

Anonymous said...

As my old buddy Guatama once said:

'Light your own lamp, work out your own salvation with diligence.'

to paraphrase another old buddy,

'To avoid the SHAM you have to keep on being SHAMMED until you see it.'

Steve Salerno said...

God, I just grow so weary sometimes. Tell you what, Anon; I wrote you a limerick:

There once was a nameless chap
Who posted anonymous crap
We met in an ally
I changed him to Sally
And then wore his ‘nads on my cap.

Have a good one.

RevRon's Rants said...

Methinks some school librarian needs to be more diligent in the supervision of his/her students' Internet access, Steve! :-)

And now, for something completely different...

On a grade-school limerick note... When my son was in the third grade (and I had recently divorced his mother), I was dating his honors program teacher. She had assigned the students the task of each reciting a poem from memory in front of the class.

When it was his turn, he stood up and started, "There was a young man from Nantucket..."

The teacher *immediately* jumped in and told him that was enough, whereupon he told her, "That's all of it!"

Needless, I got a call from her that night, laughing, and asking if that was for her benefit (though she knew the answer). And yes, we did continue seeing each other after that.

Just a little something to lighten things up a bit...

Steve Salerno said...

You mean my literary flair went unappreciated? And to think, Ogden Nash made a career out of that stuff--though I don't recall too many gonad references.

Debbie said...

I must admit, it will be hard to choose between watching the VP Candidate Debate (definitely more interesting) in the US or watching the English language Leader's Debate (not as interesting, but more relevant) here in Canada tonight. Thank goodness for PVR.

I've been able to observe the US Presidential race with (I hope) a good deal of objectivity. Is it easier to be objective when you don't actually have to make the decision?

Sarah Palin's position as potential VP (and hence, by extension, potential President) scares me. From all I have seen she strikes me as narrow-minded and absolute. I don't think her intelligence or world experience is sufficient for a second-in-command.

I keep reading & hearing that some Americans like that she is "just like them" in terms of intelligence and experience. Isn't that a scary thought? Would that make her "average"?

Do Americans want "average" people leading them? Or do they want the best and the brightest?

Steve Salerno said...

Debbie, if you asked most people that question, they'd probably say "we want the best and the brightest." That's the rational response. But if you look at the way many people--perhaps most people--act, you'd have to conclude that we tend to be most comfortable with people who are "just like us," even if we're selecting leaders. I'm willing to bet that there's a fair number of people--whites in particular--who are vaguely uneasy about Obama because he's obviously so smart...and he's black. For a lot of whites, it's bad enough to be out-thought by someone else--but a black dude?

Anonymous said...

If I am in a debate with a man or woman, he or she better give me all they got. I would be insulted if I was coddled due to being a woman. Palin can't even handle Couric so what is she going to do with Biden? It will be an interesting debate indeed.

I agree Steve. The general population does not like smart people. I give you the hero Forrest Gump as an example. Of course, a lot of smart people are annoying too. I remember a guy saying to me (about a prospective date) "who does she think she is with her Ph.D?" I answered, "someone with a Ph.D."

On a similiar vein, I got into a discussion about Jimmy Carter versus Bill Clinton. In quite a few circles, Carter is considered the smartest president we have ever had. I think Clinton was, because he knew how to make his brains work for him. In my view, our society (American) has a dismissive air to those whose intellect travels more to the humanities, in the case of Clinton, compared to Carter who was a nuclear engineer.

Steve Salerno said...

"who does she think she is with her Ph.D?"

That's hilarious. That's almost like going into surgery and turning to your mate before they put you under and saying, "Who does this guy with the scalpel think he is, anyway...?"

RevRon's Rants said...

"Do Americans want "average" people leading them? Or do they want the best and the brightest?"

It becomes pretty obvious that the populace is on the fast train to stupid when the word "elite" becomes a pejorative. When I was in the military, I felt proud to be part of a unit that was considered "elite." If I'm going to undergo surgery, you better damn well believe that I want to entrust the procedure to someone who is considered a member of the elite. And I'd really prefer that the person making the decision whether or not to hit the red button be the smartest, most conscientious and even-handed SOB walking the face of the earth. Yeah... one of the elite.

Perhaps some folks just have the word confused with effete, as in an "effete corps of impudent snobs." :-)

Elizabeth said...

"who does she think she is with her Ph.D?"

I guess that date did not go well, huh?

Steve Salerno said...

"Who does Obama think he is with all that knowledge!"

Steve Salerno said...

Incidentally, I should mention that for some reason I can't begin to explain, we're coming up on 800 hits already today, which is a lot for an "ordinary Thursday on SHAMblog." I don't know what it is that would've attracted the extra interest, unless someone posted a link somewhere that got it a lot of attention. Anybody notice anything? No biggie, just curious.

literary lioness said...

Remember Bush II got the job, because a majority of voters felt they could have a beer with him on his Texas ranch. Gore went to Harvard and no one got his joke about Socks, the first cat. Kerry was demonized for being able to speak French. I think Clinton got the job, because a lot of people thought he was a redneck. If look at the voting history of America in the last fifteen years, "we likes 'em dumb."

Steve Salerno said...

Uh-oh. President Palin, then?

Steve Salerno said...

So the McCain camp says that Palin is going to give us a show tonight. She's going to go on the attack, challenging Biden on foreign policy, taxes, etc. I'm a little surprised. Not so much that she'd attempt to do that--she's got to do something to stop this ongoing train wreck--but that her people would raise the bar that way, and at the 11th hour. Right now she benefits (in both the public's and the media's minds) from extraordinarily low expectations. Why change that perception NOW, just hours before game-time, and build anticipation for excellence that she may be unable to provide? Unless they've simply adopted the strategy I mentioned earlier: She has memorized a half-dozen little "set pieces" that she knows as well as she knows her kids' names (which presumably she does), and she's going to stick to her script and deliver them in an unending rotation regardless of the questions, or any comebacks from Biden. I tell ya, I can't wait.

Anonymous said...

"Why change that perception NOW, just hours before game-time, and build anticipation for excellence that she may be unable to provide?"

Palin is going to try to irk Biden. Biden's Achilles' heel is his short fuse. I bet her strategy is to put him on attack.

Steve Salerno said...

I thought of that too, but then it doesn't make sense to hint at it. If you were going to do that, you'd go into the debate with everyone thinking you're a dim-bulb, then come out swinging and hope to provoke a reckless response. But don't you undercut the possible effectiveness of that by serving fair warning on the Biden camp? Don't you think that right now his handlers are telling him, "Listen now, Joe, whatever she tries, don't let it get to you..."?

Elizabeth said...
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Elizabeth said...
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