Entry from July 7, 2009

There are only two subjects on the Washington Post op ed page today: Robert S. McNamara and Sarah Palin. And the difference in the treatment they get from the Post, as from the rest of the media, ought to tell us something. Governor Palin, of course, hasn’t died, as former Secretary McNamara has, but she might just as well be dead, as far as the media are concerned. Her resignation as governor of Alaska is variously described as an “implosion” or a “meltdown” to compare with Governor Sanford’s unnecessary public announcement of his affair of the heart, and is widely supposed to have killed her political career, at least, as stone dead as his is now presumed to be. This means that she is given the same sort of retrospective treatment as McNamara, but what the retrospectators are looking at couldn’t be more different.

To Jim Hoagland McNamara was “the remorseful , melancholy ex-president of the World Bank” and, though “flawed,” still “the brightest of John F. Kennedy”s New Frontiersmen.” Joseph Califano, a fellow cabinet secretary in the Johnson administration, says that he was “known for his extraordinary intelligence,” but “was also a shrewd political manager.” David Ignatius says that “the memory of this brilliant and tragic man will keep us from being too certain of our own judgment” — though he offers us no examples of being less than certain of his own. All three would presumably agree with the Post editorial which saw him as “a figure out of Shakespeare.”

Sarah Palin, by contrast, was evidence to Richard Cohen that the Republican party “has lost its mind,” while her resignation has “settled” his mind once and for all into that certainty of which his colleague, Mr Ignatius, warns us to beware, namely that “she is unfit for office.” Senator McCain’s picking her for the national ticket “was the most reckless decision any national politician has made in the longest time,” he says, which puts him on the same page with his colleague, Eugene Robinson, who thinks that “John McCain should publicly apologize for putting the nation he loves at risk by choosing Palin as his running mate.” Only William Kristol has a good word to say for the soon-to-be former governor, and he seems to damn her with faint praise with his opening paragraph:

I like Sarah Palin (though I don”t know her well). I respect her (though I”m aware of some of her limitations). I wish her well (though I”m not convinced she should be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee).

But Mr Kristol also notices, as I do “the panic among mainstream media commentators” — such as his fellow Post op ed columnists — “and the GOP establishment” which

suggests real worry that if she does, she might pull off an upset. Why else the vehement assertions that she’s clearly made a terrible mistake? Why else the categorical insistence that her political career is finished? Aren”t they all protesting too much?

Perhaps we are simply driven to the conclusion that “for psychological and sociological reasons too deep for me to grasp, a good chunk of elite America hates Sarah Palin and what they”ve decided she stands for.”

Far be it from me to plunge into those depths where Mr Kristol fears to go, but there must be some relevance to the fact that that “good chunk of elite America” could be said to correspond with the media culture, where so much of the Palin-hatred is concentrated. The contrasting ambiguity about McNamara — who actually did things that were disastrous for the country, as opposed to mangling a sentence or two — seems to me to be owing to his subsequent confession of error over Vietnam. There’s nothing the media like better than this kind of self-abasement, particularly when it confirms their own views. And of course McNamara not only accepted the media viewpoint, he joined their side as a director of, er, the Post itself. Correspondingly, Governor Palin’s position, marked as it is, by defiance of the media’s scorn and hatred for her, couldn’t be better calculated to send her critics into Cohen-like or Robinsonian hysterics. I think I like her all the better for it.

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