The Magazine

Thanks, Guys

The media's attacks on Sarah Palin backfire.

Sep 15, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 01 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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The editors of THE WEEKLY STANDARD believe in giving credit where credit is due. The presidential race looks a whole lot better today than it did two weeks ago. For this, thanks are owed to two men--Barack Obama and John McCain--and to that herd of independent minds, the liberal media.

First: Thank you, Barack Obama. He lacked the confidence or the strength to ask Hillary Clinton, recipient of some 18 million votes, to join him on the ticket. Such a ticket, uniting and exciting the Democratic party, would have been hard to beat in this Democratic year. Having ruled out Clinton, Obama then lacked the nerve to double down on the theme of change, by selecting, say, Virginia governor Tim Kaine or Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius. A change versus experience election wouldn't have been a bad bet for Obama. Instead, he settled on an unimpressive vice presidential pick, a long-time, long-winded overrated senator from a safe state, who gave him no lift at all in the polls, and offers no prospect of doing so.

Second: Thank you, John McCain. He showed guts with his pick of Sarah Palin. He also demonstrated a shrewd strategic sense. He knew that running on experience would carry him only so far--most likely to a respectable defeat. He understood the implications of Obama's passing over Hillary--not that Clinton voters would vote for McCain-Palin (though if even a few do so, it could make a difference), but that his pick of Palin when compared with Obama's shying away from Hillary would show McCain as a bolder and more confident leader. And he had the sense that Palin's anti-establishment conservatism, pro-family feminism, and tough-minded reformism would add something important to his campaign.

Third: A special thank you to our friends in the liberal media establishment. Who knew they would come through so spectacularly? The ludicrous media feeding frenzy about the Palin family hyped interest in her speech, enabling her to win a huge audience for her smashing success Wednesday night at the convention. Indeed, it even renewed interest in McCain, who seems to have gotten still more viewers for his less smashing--but well-received--presentation the following evening.

The astounding (even to me, after all these years!) smugness and mean-spiritedness of so many in the media engendered not just interest in but sympathy for Palin. It allowed Palin to speak not just to conservatives but to the many Americans who are repulsed by the media's prurient interest in and adolescent snickering about her family. It allowed the McCain-Palin ticket to become the populist standard-bearer against an Obama-Media ticket that has disdain for Middle America.

By the end of the week, after Palin's tour de force in St. Paul, the liberal media were so befuddled that they were reduced to complaining that conservatives aren't being narrow-minded enough. Thus, Hanna Rosin--who has covered religion and politics for the Washington Post, and has also written for the New Yorker, the New Republic, and the New York Times--lamented in a piece for Slate: "So cavalier are conservatives about Sarah Palin's wreck of a home life that they make the rest of us look stuffy and slow-witted by comparison." I suppose it was ungenerous of conservatives, in our broad-mindedness and tolerance of human frailty, to have let Ms. Rosin down, just when she was counting on us to bring out the tar and feathers. But she gives us too much credit when she suggests we make the liberal media look stuffy and slow-witted. They do that all by themselves.

For instance, what in the world can she be thinking when she refers to "Sarah Palin's wreck of a home life"? The only "domestic irregularities" (to use Ms. Rosin's loaded term) she cites are "two difficult pregnancies--Palin's with a Down syndrome baby and now her unmarried teenage daughter's." The second of these is a situation that the young woman and her family seem to be dealing with appropriately by their own lights. "Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family," the Palins said. But what is "irregular" about bringing to term a Down syndrome child? Is Rosin suggesting--without having the courage to say so--that Mrs. Palin should have aborted the baby? Is it upsetting to her to have a prominent woman choose not to do so?

Some may think we should also thank Sarah Palin for coming through, under pressure, with flying colors. But we're looking forward to expressing those thanks personally, at the vice presidential residence here in Washington.

--William Kristol