18 June 2009

Roger Simon's Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Politico Article

I don't know why, but Politico has taken the unusual business model of sprinkling a few great articles amidst a great deal of nonsense. They have a chair in the White House Briefing Room and get called on a lot by Gibbs and Obama, though, so I guess it's paying off. 1

Still, Roger Simon put up a particularly terrible article the other day, and I thought it would be amusing to look at the many ways in which it is awful, both as a piece about politics and as a work of purported journalism.

First of all, it's called "7 Things Sarah Palin Must Do Now". Right away, that should be a tip-off it's going to suck. The only time clever little lists should be masquerading as opinion pieces are when they're lists of World's Hottest Butts or Top Ten Most Gruesome Murders. And while Palin is vaguely attractive when compared to other people in politics (who's her competition - Gillibrand?) she doesn't quite have the caboose necessary.

Then it starts right off talking about Palin, in order to make her interesting and relevant enough for Simon's advice to be interesting and relevant to his poor readers. The only problem is that she's not very interesting or relevant right now, which is why she did an Abraham-and-Isaac with her younger daughter in order to make a few news cycles this past week. So Simons hauls out some numbers:
True, her approval rating as governor of Alaska has dropped to 54 percent, her lowest ever, but it is not that far below Barack Obama’s national approval rating of 62 percent.
So now a popularity of 54% is "not that far below" 62%, eh? I guess that kind of holds up, even though eight points seems like a hell of a lot to me, especially when you note that Palin's popularity has been plummeting. I guess it's time for her to bribe every citizen of her state by redistributing the wealth gained from their natural resources - then she can get back to attacking socialism without worrying about them much more.
There is little doubt that Obama is the most popular politician in America (and probably the world). Yet when voters were asked last week in a Diageo/Hotline poll if they would reelect Obama today or would like to see “someone else” be elected president, Obama got 46 percent, and “someone else” got 30 percent. That’s a nice margin for Obama, but it’s not astronomical.
Nice margin? They asked voters whether they want Obama there, or if they'd like "someone else" - a question that essentially is asking if there's anybody they can think of they would like to see as President more than Obama. It seems to me that means that Obama is thus more popular than any other high-profile politician in the country all at the same time. He's not quite as popular with yours truly, but I'm not fool enough to pretend that beating out every possible other candidate by sixteen points is merely a "nice margin."

Simon's advice to Sarah begins:
1. DUMP ALASKA. She doesn’t need to run for reelection for governor in 2010 for name recognition or to get media attention. And being a governor these days is like having a target on your back. (Republican Tim Pawlenty, who has his own plans for 2012, announced earlier this month that he will not seek election to a third term as governor of Minnesota.) But there is a bigger reason for Palin to give up the governorship: Maybe you can see Russia from Alaska, but you can’t see Iowa and New Hampshire from Alaska. Alaska is too far away from where she needs to be. She can live, skimobile and hunt moose in Alaska, but she needs to spend a lot of travel time in the Lower 48 without having to run back to Juneau every week.
Name the last person elected to the Presidency after quitting a governorship when they were unpopular in their state. W, Clinton, Reagan, Carter... you just can't go up to the bat without your team solidly cheering you. Advising Palin to abandon her home state is incomprehensibly poor advice: imagine every news story summing her up as the "unpopular former governor of Alaska." In a world defined so much by the media, you need to have your highest accomplishment be an unblemished one.
2. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE SMARTER THAN YOU ARE. That shouldn’t be hard, her opponents will say. OK, let them laugh. They laughed at George W. Bush when he ran for president in 2000 and at Arnold Schwarzenegger when he ran for governor of California in 2003. Both benefited from low expectations and smart staffs. I am not one of those people who believe that staffs win or lose elections — candidates win or lose elections — but the Democratic presidential race in 2008 certainly demonstrated the difference that staffs can make. Hillary Clinton assembled a staff of loyal people who were largely inexperienced in presidential campaigning. Barack Obama assembled a staff of loyal people who were very experienced in presidential campaigning. It made a difference.
Hey, guess what: intelligence and experience are not at all the same thing! That kind of makes this point either incomprehensible (is he saying Terry McAuliffe, Clinton's chairman of her cmapaign, was stupid or just inexperience?) or breathtakingly obvious ("CAMPAIGN MANAGER WANTED: MUST BE NOT DUMB").
3. PICK A HANDFUL OF ISSUES AND STICK TO THEM. The increase in the size of government? The increase in the deficit? The increase in the role of Washington in people’s lives? All good issues for Republican primary voters. And all three are things Palin talks about already. And she shouldn’t worry if she gets attacked for being naive or simplistic. Ronald Reagan got pretty far with: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”
Okay, this is actually good advice. No fault here.
4. STUDY UP. Before CBS’s Katie Couric and ABC’s Charlie Gibson interviewed Palin, they studied hard, backed up by excellent research staffs that prepared a lot of material for them. Palin has to do the same before major interviews. While she is not bad at answering direct questions, she falls down on followup questions. She has to do what successful candidates do: Rehearse. The rule is that you have to study at least as hard as the people trying to trip you up.
It seems pretty clear that, whatever her strengths might be, Palin isn't going to wow anyone with her grasp of the issues. It was widely acknowledged by everyone (even Palin herself) that her expertise as a potential leader lies solely in the field of energy management. It's what she's built her career on, with her handling of the oil companies and her hugely ballyhooed pipeline. She doesn't do anything else, and she knew it. She handled herself very well because of this, actually: she memorized her talking points and stuck to them. If she was asked about something she didn't know, she just slid right back to something from a flashcard. The flowchart sums it up pretty well. She shouldn't try to tango when she clearly has trouble walking.
5. DON’T BELIEVE YOU CAN’T DO IT. Palin’s critics point out that she is no Ronald Reagan, and that in tough times, voters are going to turn to potential candidates like Mitt Romney, who stress competence. But Palin has a chance because of what the Republican Party has become: a smaller, more conservative party that has already driven away many moderates and “soft” Republicans. The Republican Party today is like a star that has gone nova and collapsed to its densest core. While some potential nominees will try to sell a big-tent message, demanding that the party moderate its positions to win more voters, primaries are usually dominated by hard-core activists. This is where Palin has the potential to do well.
Of course, everyone knows that you win elections by ignoring the moderate swing voters. Is Simons giving advice about how to win the GOP primary or the Presidency? She could win the former just by chanting "tax cuts" and repeating what the American Enterprise Institute beams into the chip in her brain, but if she wants to attain the latter, she might need to convince some of those who aren't Reagabots.
6. DON’T GO CHANGING. In her debate with Joe Biden, she did far better than most expected by being warm and passionate and by using everyday language like “I betcha” and “heckuva opportunity” and “darn right.” She even winked. It didn’t make her look dumb; it made her look human. She should not be afraid to stick with what has gotten her this far. She showed last week she is not afraid to be a mom standing up for her kid. But she also should not be afraid to take some risks and go back on “Saturday Night Live.” She should not be afraid to make fun of herself, even if plenty of others already are.
Being naive, fresh-faced, and natural worked for her because she was such a newbie in Washington. How long could that be effective? She is pretty good at playing the victim ("lipstick on a pig") but she was going for the #2 job before - it's hard to see anyone wanting a Victim in Chief.
7. DON’T WORRY ABOUT FAILURE. Heck, there’s always 2016.
If Palin takes Roger Simon's advice, she better hope so.


1. Especially for Obama, who gets worshipped by the netroots for being "hip to the New Media."

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