Tag Archives: sarah palin

Truffle Hunting with Lib Dig

Over on Lib Dem Voice, I’ve started a new column called Lib Dig Pig.

Why Lib Dig Pig? Well, frankly it came from a old gag about “Lib Dig on a Pig” about having the section on the website dedicated to Sarah Palin and I just like the sound of it. But I do like the visual metaphor of snuffling around hunting for rich, smelly webpages lying there beneath the surface.

I think it is a karma thing. This is probably what I did in a past life (not that I believe in such things you understand – before the Boyce Thought Police descend on me).

Is UK politics institutionally racist?

Trevor Phillips thinks it is:

The public in this country would, he believes, embrace a black leader but the system would prevent it happening. “Here, the problem is not the electorate, the problem is the machine.” It was no coincidence that there were only 15 ethnic-minority MPs, he said. “The parties and the unions and the think-tanks are all very happy to sign up to the general idea of advancing the cause of minorities but in practice they would like somebody else to do the business. It’s institutional racism.”

I actually disagree with Trevor Phillips in as much as I don’t accept that the UK political system is any more institutionally racist than the US system. The House of Representatives does relatively better than the House of Commons, but the Senate does far worse than either the Commons or the Lords: Obama was the only black senator and he’s now out of the door. Meanwhile, in terms of gender balance, we do significantly better. But Adam Afriye does have a good point when he says:

“In the US a fresh face like Obama can make it in one electoral cycle. In Britain it’s generally a gradual process of service and promotion over many years, and often decades, before leading a political party.”

If we had a presidential system, it is certainly true that we would create within our own system a similar opportunity for an anti-establishment candidate such as Obama to come out of nowhere. But would we want a presidential system? I can see strong arguments either way, although my mind opposition to directly elected mayors has hardened over the past two years after seeing London’s gradual shift towards post-Livingstone politics. The same system that would prevent the meteoric rise of a “British Obama” also prevents the meteoric rise of a “British Palin.”

But we should also be mindful of the fact that neither Obama or Palin did, in fact, come from nowhere. Obama had been a state senator for eight years before entering the US Senate in 2005. Palin also made it in local and state politics first. The difference between these levels of government and their UK equivalents is that they wield far more influence and power. In the UK, even the Scottish Parliament has very few tax-raising powers; in that respect it is no different from a local authority which can only control how it allocates the cash not make strategic decisions about the level of that cash and how it should be raised. As Mayor of Wasilla (pop. 10,000), Palin had powers that Alex Salmond would hanker for. If we don’t have proving grounds such as these, how can we expect our stars to rise (indeed, I made this point about the London Assembly last year)? Currently the only real avenue is the House of Commons, and that is where there is also the most party control.

The UK Parliament and the system we use to elect its members institutionally favours candidates who are capable of running their own campaigns and working extremely long hours for years before polling day. Inevitably, this tends to favour rich people, successful entrepreneurs and lawyers, who tend to be (but are not exclusively) white, middle class and male. The Labour Party has an additional category of standard candidate background – the trade unionist – but these days these too tend to be white, middle class and male. For every Dawn Butler there are dozens of Tom Watsons and Sion Simons. Labour these days may be unlikely to foster an Obama, but it is unlikely to foster a Keir Hardie either.

Getting elected to the UK Parliament is, currently, an extreme sport. You have to be ever-so-slightly insane to want to put yourself through it. The serious question is whether this is actually healthy? Scrutiny certainly is, but in most parts of the country where we have safe seats, we have patronage in place of that. Fundamentally, we have a system that puts parties, not the public, in control.

Some have argued that the solution to all this is to have primaries, but for reasons I have already rehearsed, I don’t think that will work (nor do I think it works well in the US outside of presidential candidate selections). No, if we are serious about putting the people in control, we need a system like STV which combines a fairer electoral system with a more open system for selecting party candidates. If the Equality and Human Rights Commission are serious about exposing institutional racism (and sexism and all other forms of discrimination for that matter), then they should come out in support of electoral reform.

From Smallville to Metropolis: how Obama represents the American Dream

I sincerely hope this post isn’t seen as being disrespectful to someone who was clearly a remarkable woman, but Madelyn Dunham’s death today has a weird kind of appositeness. I’m hardly the first person to point out the almost fictional-feeling narrative of Barack Obama’s election campaign. He has a background that is almost too perfect, pretty much ticking every box going. He is almost a living cliche. The death of his grandmother just hours before polling (formally) begins sort of caps that off.

The similarities to the West Wing Seasons 6-7 narrative have been well rehearsed (and of course, that plot features an emotionally charged death in the finishing stages as well – which again was a case of reality and art getting mixed up). What is less clearly recognised in the UK are the surreal similarities to the Superman narrative, although this is clearly something not lost on Obama himself. A strange visitor from another continent (work with me here, I’m paraphrasing), who never knew his father yet lives in his shadow, raised by an elderly couple in Kansas, who goes to the big city to make himself… just watch Superman: The Motion Picture (still the best telling of the origin story) to see what I mean. In fiction, everything has a price. It is necessary for Jonathan Kent to die so Clark can become Superman. If you believe in a creator, it is a pretty cruel one who makes Obama pay a similar price on (hopefully) the eve of his victory.

But of course the Superman narrative is about as American as it gets – the outsider who not only integrates into the culture but becomes its paragon. It’s the story that makes non-American cynics like myself capable of forgiving the young country every time. That same optimism that makes Donner’s film so evocative (and which Bryan Singer got so horribly wrong in his poorly-conceived sequel) is what fuels the Obama campaign. By contrast I can see nothing of the American Dream in the McCain-Palin campaign, just something much darker. Even Bush didn’t so self-consciously set out to divide his own country in the way that certainly the Palin camp has done. It is truly scandalous.

I have to admit that at the start of the summer I would enjoy going around winding lefties up by saying I really didn’t particularly mind who won; McCain or Obama. I wasn’t entirely joking – McCain really did represent something different: finance reform, respect for human rights, economic liberalism. At a stroke however he reversed all that by appointing Palin at the end of August and I was able to not so much come off the fence, but leap off it.

So good luck from me Barack. I still have my doubts about your substance, but what you represent is something pretty damn important. You really must win today.

In defence of Sarah Palin (sorta)

Bloggers have been lining up to expose the “hypocrisy” and “stupidity” of Sarah Palin calling Barack Obama an evil socialist for calling for redistribution, while supporting it herself:

“And Alaska – we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.”

Hat tips all round to Stephen Glenn, Jennie Rigg and Andrew Ducker, but they all got it from Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, and his delivery is quite entertaining so why not enjoy it for a few minutes?

But I feel the need to defend Palin here because it is just possible she is making a distinction between redistributing income and redistributing wealth. Alaska’s system works by redistributing the revenue raised from Alaska’s natural resources, specifically oil and other minerals, while Obama’s proposals are to switch taxes from people on low and middle incomes to taxes on high incomes.

Obama’s plan sounds very moderate and reasonable to these European ears, but it has to be said that it is very different to the Alaskan system that Palin is referring to. What’s more, it would almost certainly be a good thing if the Alaskan system were used more widely.

Of course, McCain isn’t campaigning on such a promise, and Palin and her Republican colleagues have repeatedly attacked the very concept of “redistribution” as leftwing and “totalitarian,” so we can safely say they themselves fail to understand the difference. But there is a fine distinction and we should give Alaska credit for having a sensible policy.

Pallin’ around with sexists?

So is the left condoning sexism against Sarah Palin? Kira Cochrane thinks so, and cites numerous examples. I’m less convinced.

Is there sexism out there about Sarah Palin? Absolutely. But what is so remarkable about Larry Flynt making a Sarah Palin film, as opposed to all the other porn films he has produced over the years?

The more serious charge is that progressives are indulging in misogyny to attack Palin. Here, Kira has an ally in Peter Hitchens who was making such claims as early as late August, loudly applauded by Iain Dale (Iain has since changed his mind about her), and it is certainly true there have been the odd attack that sneaks into sexist territory. I’ve been looking through the Sarah Palin Sexism Watch pages on Shakesville and some of them are on the money while others, not so much. But here’s the thing: people have been openly discussing Palin and misogyny pretty much since the day she entered the world stage. It’s one of the most hotly contested subjects out there at the moment. Cochrane’s article implies somehow that there is a conspiracy of silence to not talk about it; I simply don’t accept that.

We also get into very murky territory; where does legitimate criticism end and sexism begin? It is surprising for an article on the subject for Cochrane’s not to mention the whole lipstick on a pig/pitbull debacle, yet this was one of the iconic moments of the campaign so far. Is “Caribou Barbie” sexist? Yes, actually, although it is something Palin herself referred to on her SNL appearance. What about the reports that she has spent $150,000 on clothes for the campaign? On one level, this is a simple story of a grasping politician. On the other hand, it feeds into the “Caribou Barbie” sentiment. So should we not mention it, or that she spent the money on clothes? For feminists, Palin’s attitude towards abortion is a particular talking point. Somehow the fact that it is a woman expressing those views is more provocative than if it was a man (cf. Nadine Dorries). How to do ensure that criticism of the candidate is entirely ungendered without muting that criticism? This is a more interesting discussion in my view than a handful of anecdotes of people clearly crossing the line.

When it comes to Palin and sexism, what I don’t see is any particular trend. By contrast, when it comes to discrimination I have seen far more ageism in the media (both MSM and amateur variety) about McCain. Regarding Palin herself, I’ve been uncomfortable on more than one occasion by the way she is attacked not for being a woman but for being a hick. From this side of the pond, the US looks like a pretty divided nation at the moment – something which Palin herself is particularly responsible for. But her opponents have been happy to go for the bait. And again, is it really fair to say that the attacks on her intellect are gendered when we have just had eight years of abuse heaped upon the current US President, who happens to be male?

Finally, Cochrane writes that one of her interviewees has received emails from women who were considering entering politics who have been put off by the attacks made on Palin. But how many women will have seen Palin and been inspired? We don’t know and it is an entirely moot point at the moment, but I do think we are seeing a sea change. Even twelve months ago, the idea of having a male-female ticket was not even on the agenda. Despite failing to secure a place for herself, Hillary Clinton changed this (irrevocably? We’ll know in four years). I simply refuse to believe that any woman worthy of political office could not have seen that, and the obstacles that Obama has overcome, and not find some inspiration. Whatever happens on 4 November, history will be made. The question is, will attempts be made to capture that inspiration, or will key opinion formers and campaigners purely focus on the negative? The history of the political women’s movement suggests that there will be a bit of both.

Louise Bagshawe – from chick lit to book burning?

Are you serious?

How do I love Sarah Palin?

Let me count the ways…

I love the excitement she brings to the base. I love how her rallies outdraw Barack Obama. And, for that matter, Joe Biden in his hometown. I love how she handles hecklers: “Bless your heart, sir, my son’s in Iraq fighting for your right to protest.”

I love her politics. And this morning I especially love her hilarious appearance on Saturday Night Live, bopping along to an hysterical rap by nine months pregnant Amy Pohler (go Amy!)

I don’t really know what to add to that. I can understand how people can admire Sarah Palin – damnit, even I admire her gumption. But to love her politics?

A former Labour Party member, Bagshawe was being held up a couple of years ago as proof positive that Cameron had changed the Conservatives. Now she is expressing love for a set of social policies that make Nadine Dorries look like a moderate. Somebody at CCHQ, take action quick! You’re candidates’ masks are starting to slip!

Sarah Palin: are the democrats worried?

That’s Iain Dale’s rather improbable analysis, over a series of increasingly aerated posts this weekend, based on the fact that, erm, a lot of people on the left are talking about her surprise nomination in its immediate aftermath. Who’dathunkit? The most surprising political event in months has happened and people are actually talking about it? They must be pooing themselves!

More hilarious is Iain’s transformation into a feminist, citing Peter Hitchens as a fellow traveller. According to Iain and Peter, the left hates women because the left like anti-women policies such as abortion. Genius analysis there. Suddenly, the brains behind “it’s DD for me!” has become super-concerned about how sexist the coverage of Sarah Palin is in the sunday papers. Funny that I don’t recall him having similar concerns about the media’s portrayal of Harriet Harman, Jacqui Smith and Hillary Clinton.

As for the claim that “[the left] cannot stand it when a black person becomes famous as a Conservative – remember Ray Lewis?” – it wasn’t the left that took down Ray Lewis but the Church of England. And despite having defended him here in the past, what I’ve heard since suggests that they were right to do so. Can’t Iain think of a better example of the left’s alleged racism? And you simply can’t imply that Ray Lewis must be innocent on the basis of his skin colour (and political views), and expect to be taken seriously, whilst simultaneously writing this.

Speaking personally, I think appointing Sarah Palin was a mistake which smacks of panic. I think Iain thinks that too, given that a week ago he was citing Mitt Romney as a dead cert. Iain’s subsequent attempts to tar Obama with the Palin inexperience brush simply doesn’t wash: she has been governor of one of the US’s smallest (population-wise – Alaska has roughly the same population as Glasgow) and certainly most isolated states for two years.

Her appointment comes across as too calculated – to be blunt, she ticks far too many boxes. It is too ‘cute’. And many of these boxes are mutually exclusive – how many disaffected Hillary supporters are likely to be wooed by a shootin’, fishin’ and anti-abortion candidate? How many sanctity of marriage obsessives are likely to be convinced that a woman with five children is fit for the job? They certainly have the anti-corruption line in common, but if I were running McCain’s campaign I’d be worried that she reminds voters about what McCain is not, and not in a good way. Do the democrats really need to do more than show the screen of a heartbeat monitor superimposed with her face to get their point across?

I didn’t read any of the allegedly sexist stuff out there about Sarah Palin this weekend, but I did read a perceptive piece by Michael Crowley in the Observer. However much they might try to keep open the rapidly healing Clinton-Obama wound, it is the Republicans who are divided in this election, not the Democrats. Sarah Palin’s appointment on Friday very briefly looked like a masterstroke, but the shock of the new is already diminishing and she has just been dropped in at the deep end. Things like the Daily Kos’ allegations over the maternity of her fifth child may be unfair (the picture of her daughter Bristol does look incriminating but I’m not so sure that the pictures of Palin herself are that convincing – Alaskans tend not to walk around in bikinis in spring), but surely in this post-Rove era no McCain supporter can really convincingly put on the ingenue act? After eight years of humiliation, the Democrats are in to win this thing and at the moment Palin looks like a pretty big target. They might cross the line occassionally, but going for the kill is not a sign of desperation, but rather indicate that the gloves have come off at last. And based on Iain’s rather hysterical reaction, the right just won’t be able to take it.