Monday, June 7, 2010

She Knew She Was Right

With apologies to the mid-Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, whose He Knew He Was Right is one of the great political novels in English, I don't intend here to engage in literary criticism--well, perhaps I do, after a manner of speaking.

What I refer to is a person, a shibboleth, in fact, by which, if one reacts to her with disdain, one has secured a reputation as cool, hip, politically correct, and caring about all that is important on the two coasts. On the other hand, if one takes her seriously, by which I mean not reacting to her in fear but listening to what she says and then reacting to it analytically, then one has established himself as a rube, retrograde in his thinking about all that currently constitutes sweetness and light. I refer, of course, to Sarah Palin.

And regarding Sarah Palin I wish to make an observation: about the most important political question of 2008--the question of whether or not Barack Obama was ready to lead this nation--Sarah Palin was thunderously right in her acceptance speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention, and all of her critics--the Saturday Nights Live, the Bill Mahers, the New York Timeses, and politically correct snarks of every stripe--were wrong.

To be sure, Presidents often grow in time to exhibit the leadership required of them. President George W. Bush was perhaps when he took office not prepared to lead in a moment of crisis, as shown by his response in the first three or four hours after the strike on the Twin Towers. But within a very few hours after that, he was leading, and in a decisive and inspirational way.

Of course, one could argue that subsequently, after Hurricane Katrina, President Bush did not lead effectively at all. Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether or not he could legally have intervened in a state that did not request his help, he did certainly step in to help the situation--and it did not take him seven weeks (!) to do so. In contrast, President Obama is in a much better situation that was President Bush: he has the example of Bush and Katrina as a guide, and Governor Jindal of Louisiana made it easy for him by quickly specifying what Lousiana needed in order to protect its coast. In taking weeks to respond to Louisiana while the oil was rushing out and moving toward land, and now in making the terrible decision to ban deep-water oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama has managed both not to act when he should have and make a bad decision when he should not have. In light of which, it is worth noting, as recently has, that Karma is not merciful. At the time of Katrina, many warned that it was unfair to judge President Bush by his response to such a disaster; the opportunity, however, was too precious not to seize, and so the media and the pop-culture mavins piled on. In doing so, they set a precedent that's caught a President, as it were, and now many of them don't like the results.

To judge him, then, by their own criteria, I repeat: On the salient question of 2008--whether Barack Obama was prepared to lead this nation--Sarah Palin was correct. Not in the sense that the slick and clever ironists mean who use the term, but in the only sense that matters when one is mugged by reality.

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