One Wednesday each month, the leaders of the metro region's small but fiesty conservative movement gather at the Airport Shiloh Inn. Known as the Executive Club and led by Don McIntire, best-known as the author of 1990's Measure 5, the group gathered last night to watch the Biden-Palin debate on a wall-sized projection television.
After the debate, Wall Street Journal political columnist John Fund
addressed the group. After a brief speech in which Fund explored the links between Sen. Barack Obama and Chicago's Daley machine and Obama's ties to the group Acorn (a particular interest of his
), Fund sat down with WW to talk about Gov. Sarah Palin, whom Fund says he first met 12 years ago, and her debate performance.
Here is a transcript of that interview edited for clarity:
WW: How do you think Gov. Palin did tonight?
John Fund: Well I think 100% of political observers would say she did better than expected, that's a safe bet. Now to be fair, the media coverage has been so relentlessly negative against her, that the bar had been set so low at about two inches about the ground, that she frankly would have exceeded that bar unless she tripped over it. Expectations had been driven so low she clearly vastly out-performed those.
How much does that matter?
I think with women voters, with voters in small towns, with heartland voters, with the same people who were attracted to her at first and started to get jittery over the last month, I think this is a rollercoaster. Sarah Palin started at ground zero, there was no altitude with Sarah Palin. She then shot up. Then, there was a relentless fire, but then she gave her speech in Minneapolis and she shot up again. Then there was a relentless fire. And now she's back up.
Is she enough to elevate the ticket?
No. What she does is three things, if she continues this popularity based on the speech and this debate, she energizes the Republican base. I mean you can tell, there may have been lukewarm McCain supporters here [at the Executive Club], but there are enthusiastic Palin supporters here. They will help people vote. Obama has lots of genuine enthusiasm, McCain has less, Palin has a lot. Biden has none. He might as well have been the undertaker on the stage tonight. So she helps energize the base. I think she has helped with some women voters who connect with her on a cultural identity level and also because she's very down to earth, she's unlike most politicians. And then the third thing I think she does, she really does appeal to non-metropolitan area voters.
In a New York Times article yesterday, David Frum [the former Bush speechwriter who shared authorship of the term “Axis of Evil”] said Palin is unqualified to be vice-president. Other conservative pundits including George Will and David Brooks have made similar points. What do you make of that criticism?
I will wait for the next columns after this debate. People change their minds. [Fund was right; Brooks wrote a positive column about Palin today]
So who is the real Sarah Palin? Is she the Palin who spoke in Minneapolis? Is she the Palin we saw tonight or is she the Palin we've been seeing interviewed by Katie Couric and Charles Gibson?
My theory is that no one anticipated the interest in Sarah Palin, and no one anticipated the vitriol towards Sarah Palin. I‘ll be honest with you, I was in Minneapolis and I have a pretty high tolerance level for journalistic snarkiness, I mean I engage in some of it myself. And what I heard informally and formally from journalists' reaction to Sarah Palin was frankly disappointing. I was at a table with journalists' whose names you'd recognize and she was called “white trash,” “moosehead,” “lumber lady,” and other names. There's a class issue there and denigration and a contempt which I think is unbecoming of people who are there to explain the world to others. I'm a columnist, admittedly I have my own opinion, I'm allowed to have my own opinion. But my best columns are when I explain the world as I see it and the world as it is, not the world I imagine it to be or the world that reflects my prejudices, my upbringing or my class. There's one question that liberal journalists can never answer. We've had 40 years in this country of the modern media age in which perceptions and reputations are formed through television and they quickly set. It used to be that a John F. Kennedy would have 10 years to build up a reputation. Now there are first impressions and they hold. Here's what I've noticed: I do not believe that human intelligence and the gene pool is so weighted to one side or the other in the ideological battle and the political battle. I think liberals are as intelligent as conservatives in general and I know many smart liberals and I know dumb conservatives. I don't think conservatives are smarter than liberals. I don't. I've noticed over the last 40 years that there have been lots of people who have developed a reputation for being dim, slow, clueless or out of touch. Gerald Ford. Some guy named Reagan who was an “amiable dunce.” Dan Quayle. Even the first President Bush got a little bit of that. George W. Bush. Lots of people of national stature have had the “dumb” label slapped on them. In that 40 year period, can you name one liberal politician of national stature who ever got that reputation, ever? There isn't one. There isn't one. Now I can name some nominees, but I won't. Questioning someone's intelligence is the cheapest form of political debate. You're stupid or you're evil. That's the cheapest form of political debate and I like to operate at a little higher level. I'm simply saying, Sarah Palin was a victim of the same people that went after Gerald Ford, same group that went after Ronald Reagan, the same thing that went after Dan Quayle, the thing that went after George W. Bush. I'm not saying it was completely misplaced. I'm simply saying, there's this reaction: “oh, the next dumb conservative who's not up to the job.” But you know, if I wanted to string together 30 minutes of Joe Biden, I could make him look like a blithering idiot. The bias in this country is not economic so much, it's not political so much, it's class, and not in the sense of what family you were born into, but your education, your cultural perspectives, the things that you think that all enlightened people believe in, and those who don't believe in them can't be enlightened, they can't really be smart.
How much of the negativity toward Palin is sexism?
Not that much. Except among some women. See I think most men are so traumatized, most men of a certain educational or professional background are so traumatized that they've either surrendered their male superiority complex, at least in public, or they go along with the flow and are silent, or even if they harbor that belief, they'll never express it. I know some feminists who have been vicious against Sarah Palin and it's a sexism of a certain class kind.
I wanted to come back to the comments in The New York Times yesterday that said she's not qualified for this office. What would you point to that would demonstrate that criticism is wrong?
This [points to the television screen]. End of story, next question. David [Frum] has been wrong in the past at times. We've all been wrong in the past.
It's just interesting that some loud voices in the conservative movement have abandoned Palin in the past couple weeks…
I wait for their next columns. And let me tell you, if you think they can literally write that same column after this, I don't think they can.
You said in your remarks earlier tonight that Palin made a few mistakes tonight. What were they?
Well, she clearly is not the most fluid speaker. Parts of her remarks were set speeches. You know if she'd been asked to give a three minute or longer answer on some things, she wouldn't have been able to do it on some issues. It's clear that she's a novice. She mentioned that she's been at it for five weeks. It's also clear that she stumbles around and she also engages sometimes in triteness. I mean, let's put it this way, she gave a great flag-waving series of mini speeches. But flag waving is not a substitute for thought. Still, I think she won over her audience. She was appealing, she appealed exactly to American exceptionalism. Perfect example of how she appealed to the core to people who are proud of America and aren't sure if Obama is as proud as he should be.
Is she a better choice for McCain than Mitt Romney?
In this financial meltdown, do you know what they would have done to Mitt Romney if he were on the ticket? This is the guy at Bain Capital who laid off people, who is the ultimate bean counter, who is a Wall Street insider, who made his money in venture capital. Give me a break: He would have been flayed alive.
A lot of people have tried to make the analogy between Gov. Palin and former Vice President Dan Quayle. Who's the right analogue for Sarah Palin?
I'll answer your question with a question. When was the last time we had a 44-year-old female hockey mom from a small town of 5,000 people in the most remote state in the country with a background as diverse as hers, attending seven colleges of nondescript origin, going to work in a fishing business, marrying a quarter-Eskimo outdoor backwoodsman. If there's anyone who's sui generis , it's her, there is no comparison. And by the way, Dan Quayle did get a bad rap to some extent. A survey of all congressional staffers, Democrats and Republicans of effectiveness and intelligence and ability placed Dan Quayle before he was nominated as Vice President at the midpoint of the Senate. He was no rocket scientist and he was no dummy. He had two unfortunate characteristics. He really did have a tongue-tied problem and he really did look like a dumb Ken doll. He really did, he looked like a dumb blonde Ken doll. And remember the rap against Dan Quayle was never that he lacked experience, he had ten years in Congress. The rap was that he was stupid. But they never said he was inexperienced. You can't be inexperienced after ten years in Congress. They never said Geraldine Ferraro was inexperienced even though she had six years in the House of Representatives. Sarah Palin has 16 years in elected office. Geraldine Ferraro had six. Six. Sarah Palin has been on city council, mayor, head of the largest regulatory body in the entire state of Alaska, a $25 billion regulatory body, she's been governor. You can make a rap on Sarah Palin, that she's out of her depth, you can make that rap. You can't really say that she's inexperienced. If you want to compare her to Barack Obama who, 4 years ago, he was still voting on the removal of license plate tags 4 years ago in the Illinois State Senate.
Would you really argue that you think that Palin is Obama's equal?
I don't believe in the fairness of those comparisons. I think voters get to decide who's qualified, who's not qualified. It's not my job. Barack Obama is intelligent, but has very limited experience. With the exception of Wendell Willkie, no one has had less experience in national government than Barack Obama as a nominee. Joe Biden has lots of experience, a thin record of accomplishment. John McCain has lots of experience, has shown an unfortunate capacity for impulsiveness and improvisation which has concerned even some friends of his lately. Sarah Palin is brand new, she's parochial. I mean, she's more of a Wal-Mart person than a Nordstrom person. You'll never accuse her of being sophisticated. But she's clearly a quick study as we saw tonight, she has experience—it's just not the kind of experience that's recognized in Washington, D.C. And her intelligence? She's not a policy wonk, well, but lots of people have not been policy wonks. Lots of people.
I can't remember in my lifetime a case where people are more excited about the vice-presidential candidate than the presidential candidate.
Well, there are three reasons for that. John McCain is 72 years old. If you ask people, the experts in Washington what the odds would be if he were elected of serving a second term they would probably say 50/50 at best. So we're talking about a new president in four years rather than eight. So that puts the vice presidential race in more focus. Two, she's only the second woman to ever be nominated, and she's certainly a different kind of woman. Dramatically different, so different that she has the ability to polarize people the way she does. Third, there is something Reaganesque about her. She has a populist appeal, she has charisma. You saw that tonight. I mean, Biden didn't know what to do with her. His smile looked almost frozen at times, like, "What is happening to me?" If I were a technical debate coach, I would have rated her a slight winner, simply because she kept attacking Biden, he couldn't attack her because that's being mean to a woman. So on a technical debating point, she won narrowly. But in terms of the appearance, the personality, the image, she dominated that debate, she dominated it. And you know they used to make fun of Ronald Reagan for that, too. I'm simply saying she put a lot of concern to rest tonight.