Monday, October 20, 2008

Politics at 'The New Yorker'

That staid journal that is read more often for its cartoons than its articles (take that, Playboy!), the venerable New Yorker, has three good political reports that are worth a look.

The first is a profile of Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr, written by Raffi Khatchadourian. Here's a sample paragraph:

For many people, including skeptical libertarians, Barr still has the reputation of a partisan, but his self-imposed exile from the Republican Party is representative of a broader disaffection among conservatives who did not immediately rally behind McCain. Republicans in the mold of Barry Goldwater, who believe in small government, minimal constraints on the free market, and expansive civil liberties, have become profoundly uneasy about the direction of the country under President Bush, who has presided over the largest increase in federal spending since the Great Society, raised the national debt to more than ten trillion dollars, suspended habeas corpus for enemy combatants, and recently proposed the seven-hundred-billion-dollar bailout of Wall Street. David Boaz, the executive vice-president of the Cato Institute, and David Kirby, the executive director of America’s Future Foundation, have argued that, because of such policies, the libertarian vote, which for decades has been solidly Republican, “may be the next great swing vote.” According to surveys, as much as a fifth of American voters hold libertarian values, and in recent years more than seventy per cent of them have voted as Republicans. But Boaz and Kirby noticed that in the 2004 Presidential election only fifty-nine per cent of them voted for Bush, and between the midterm elections of 2002 and 2006 three million of them drifted away from the Republican Party—a shift that Boaz and Kirby argue “may well have cost Republicans control of Congress.” In this year’s Republican primaries, Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas and a longtime libertarian, earned more than twenty per cent of the vote in Idaho, Washington, Montana, and North Dakota. “His supporters are the equivalent of crabgrass,” Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist, told Time. “It’s not the grass you want, and it spreads faster than the real stuff.” In August, Newt Gingrich warned that if McCain chose as his running mate Senator Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, Barr would win fifteen per cent of the vote.
Two other articles focus on the major parties' vice-presidential candidates.

Ryan Lizza profiles Joe Biden, who was chosen to be the running mate of his former rival for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama. A sample:

On August 6th, Biden said, the Obama campaign “smuggled” him into Minneapolis, where Obama was campaigning, and the two senators stayed up late in a suite at the Graves 601 Hotel working out the details of a potential deal. Obama told Biden that the vetting had gone well—Biden assured me that it was “very complimentary.” Biden happens to be one of the least wealthy members of the Senate, although his family’s joint income was more than three hundred thousand dollars last year. (His wife, Jill, has a Ph.D. in education and teaches at Delaware Technical & Community College.) His relatively straightforward tax returns and uncomplicated financial situation made the process easier. “All these years and you still have no money,” Obama said to Biden, teasingly.

The conversation in Minneapolis ranged from foreign policy and possible appointments to the federal courts to the legislative strategy that would be needed to pass an Obama agenda. Obama wanted to know how Biden had managed his signature achievements—such as the 1994 crime bill, which added a hundred thousand federally funded police officers to city streets. He also tested Biden’s understanding of how broad his role would be, as opposed to that of another contender—apparently, Kathleen Sebelius, the governor of Kansas and the only woman known to be on Obama’s short list. “He said, ‘Well, you know, if I offered this to somebody’—he named her, a person—he said, ‘That person would be very happy if I assigned them to reorganize the government.’ And he said, ‘They’d be very happy doing that. How about you?’ ” That didn’t sound like much of a job to Biden. “No,” he told Obama. “That’s not what I want to do.”

Finally, Jane Mayer traces how Sarah Palin emerged as the leading contender for the Republican vice-presidential nomination. While Palin's name was known among political junkies for months before the GOP convention, she seemed to the general public to have sprung full-blown from the head of John McCain, who decided, without vetting, that he needed to have a Tina Fey lookalike at his side. Mayer sets the record straight. For example:

While Brickley and others were spreading the word about Palin on the Internet, Palin was wooing a number of well-connected Washington conservative thinkers. In a stroke of luck, Palin did not have to go to the capital to meet these members of “the permanent political establishment”; they came to Alaska. Shortly after taking office, Palin received two memos from Paulette Simpson, the Alaska Federation of Republican Women leader, noting that two prominent conservative magazines—The Weekly Standard, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and National Review, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr.—were planning luxury cruises to Alaska in the summer of 2007, which would make stops in Juneau. Writers and editors from these publications had been enlisted to deliver lectures to politically minded vacationers. “The Governor was more than happy to meet these guys,” Joe Balash, a special staff assistant to Palin, recalled.

On June 18, 2007, the first group disembarked in Juneau from the Holland America Line’s M.S. Oosterdam, and went to the governor’s mansion, a white wooden Colonial house with six two-story columns, for lunch. The contingent featured three of The Weekly Standard s top writers: William Kristol, the magazine’s Washington-based editor, who is also an Op-Ed columnist for the Times and a regular commentator on “Fox News Sunday”; Fred Barnes, the magazine’s executive editor and the co-host of “The Beltway Boys,” a political talk show on Fox News; and Michael Gerson, the former chief speechwriter for President Bush and a Washington Post columnist.

By all accounts, the luncheon was a high-spirited, informal occasion. Kristol brought his wife and daughter; Gerson brought his wife and two children. Barnes, who brought his sister and his wife, sat on one side of Governor Palin, who presided at the head of the long table in the mansion’s formal dining room; the Kristols sat on the other. Gerson was at the opposite end, as was Palin’s chief of staff at the time, Mike Tibbles, who is now working for Senator Stevens’s reĆ«lection campaign. The menu featured halibut cheeks—the choicest part of the fish. Before the meal, Palin delivered a lengthy grace. Simpson, who was at the luncheon, said, “I told a girlfriend afterwards, ‘That was some grace!’ It really set the tone.” Joe Balash, Palin’s assistant, who was also present, said, “There are not many politicians who will say grace with the conviction of faith she has. It’s a daily part of her life.”

Palin was joined by her lieutenant governor and by Alaska’s attorney general. Also present was a local woman involved in upholding the Juneau school system’s right to suspend a student who had displayed a satirical banner—“Bong Hits 4 Jesus”—across the street from his school. The student had sued the school district, on First Amendment grounds, and, at the time of the lunch, the case was before the Supreme Court. (The school district won.)

During the lunch, everyone was charmed when the Governor’s small daughter Piper popped in to inquire about dessert. Fred Barnes recalled being “struck by how smart Palin was, and how unusually confident. Maybe because she had been a beauty queen, and a star athlete, and succeeded at almost everything she had done.” It didn’t escape his notice, too, that she was “exceptionally pretty.”

This issue of The New Yorker also has an article that gives hope to those of us who still have creative ambitions long past the date we might have been considered precocious. Malcolm Gladwell writes about the difference between youthful genius and artists who succeed much later in life in an article called "Late Bloomers."

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