Blogs > HNN > Partisan Myopia Test: Who is Willing to Denounce both Sarah Palin and Al Franken as Unqualified?

Oct 26, 2008 6:22 pm

Partisan Myopia Test: Who is Willing to Denounce both Sarah Palin and Al Franken as Unqualified?

The “experience” argument has had a funny track record this campaign. Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to float her way to the White House based on her supposedly considerable experience – and lost. Barack Obama may be one of the least politically experienced politicians since that other Illinois pol, Abraham Lincoln, captured the White
House, but most voters don’t seem to mind. In fact, the candidate who has been repeatedly denounced as inexperienced and unqualified to be president is the only national candidate with actual executive experience in the race, the former mayor and current governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

All this goes to show that a resume only tells part of the story. Any fair observer who has watched Palin’s interview with Katie Couric should admit to some reservations about Sarah Palin’s readiness to lead. Couric asked fair questions in a straightforward manner, and Palin often responded like an unprepared undergraduate who tries to reframe a question or sling broad generalizations about America to substitute for specific answers. Similarly, in her debate with Joe Biden, Palin came on strong but by mid-debate was sidestepping too much and repeatedly invoking her McCain-and-me-are-Mavericks mantra.

Most disturbing of all, Sarah Palin seems singularly unqualified in the field of foreign affairs, even though John McCain’s candidacy rode – and seems to be falling – on the argument of its primacy during these touchy times. I have no problem with Republicans who say “yes, she’s unqualified but I’m still voting for president and McCain is my choice.” I can even accept Republicans who argue that the media has been particularly tough on Palin and soft on Joe Biden, who has made a number of unacceptable factual errors on the campaign trail in addition to his role as gaffe-master general. But I have a hard time accepting those who claim that they have no concerns about Palin’s limited national experience and superficial understanding of foreign affairs.

At the same time, it is extremely disturbing that most polls suggest that Al Franken is about to be elected Senator from Minnesota. Franken is not only unqualified, he has been a destructive force in American politics for years. That Minnesota, a state once known for its calm, constructive, progressive politics, could take this aggressive, mean-spirited, Democratic clown at all seriously shows how far American politics have fallen. We all know that we live in an age of celebrity and that stardom in one field transfers over to another arena far too easily. Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger may have been equally unqualified when they won their respective gubernatorial seats, but at least they had not been harming the system with harsh rhetoric and buffoonery for years. Al Franken is no better than Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, who also should – by now -- have talked their way out of being taken seriously by voters.

It is fashionable to lament that partisanship is blind. Actually, partisanship is myopic. Partisans have a distorted view of the world, wherein they are able to see the flaws in a rival party’s candidate while overlooking similar flaws in a candidate from their own camp. So here is my test for 2008. How many people are willing to denounce both Sarah Palin and Al Franken as unqualified for the respective positions they seek? Even at this late date, it is important to test ourselves and each other for consistency, to see if we have any objective standards – or it is all a matter of partisan positioning.

Parties serve an important role in American democracy, as do hard fought campaigns. But politics is about governing not just winning. Occasionally acknowledging your own party’s missteps is an important step in building those bridges of civility and mutuality that are essential for going forward the day after Election Day, a day that is rapidly approaching.

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Leslie Kitchen - 11/4/2008

This argument should not really fall along partisan lines. Any sentient being should know, should FEEL, that politically inexperienced baseball players (Bunning), bodybuilders (Arnold), WWF types (Ventura), actors(Gopher from Love Boat and Cooder from Dukes of Hazzard), singers (Sonny Bono), plumbers (Joe---possibly running for congress), and talk show hosts (Alan Keyes) are almost always out of their depth when running for and gaining higher office.

Lower office is a different kind of thing. Any politician must start somewhere, but City Council or state legislator might be a more appropriate starting point. This does not mean that they don't have the RIGHT to run for high office. It does mean that we should have the small amount of GOOD SENSE it takes to know that we shouldn't LISTEN.

The issue is not the lack of time spent in office, mind you. At the heart of the matter is how much time has been spent in politics and the degree to which political skill has been built and demonstrated. I know this may be hard to swallow since we are all taught to despise the "political type," but an established, skilled politician is what we need at every level of govenment from, say, U.S. congressman, on up the ladder. We must remember that our president is, after all, our politician in chief. Lincoln would be forgotten today had it not been for his staggering political skills. FDR, Reagan (who had established political skill by the time he ran for president), and Bill Clinton are other cases in point. There is a simple equation: no political skill = no statesmanship. This runs counter to what we are usually taught, but it is as incontrovertibly and demonstrably true as that birds will sing in the spring.

Jim McQuiston - 11/2/2008

Which is precisely why I'll never vote for a Republican again until they clean up their act. They, and particularly Sarah and Fox News, tell blatant lies - lies that have been proven false over and over again, and yet they continue to repeat them. How can anyone trust them at this point? I don't know about the rest of you, but I get a little teed off when someone lies to me. Learned not to lie in Boy Scouts and from the Bible - remember "Thou shall not bear false witness?" Of course the GOP doesn't follow most of the other commandments either - let's see, Thou shall not kill, Thou shall not steal, Thou shall not have other gods before Me (otherwise quoted as "Ye cannot serve God and mammon.") They are in so deep with their dishonesty they can't find their way out. The way out for the rest of us is Obama.

david T - 11/2/2008

Clint Eastwood was a mayor, Ronald Reagan moved all the way up having been the president of the actor's guild, and many, if not most, of our representatives' qualifications are that they are either wealthy or they have the "right" (money and influence) connections. Personally, I think I could do a decent job at either post, and my qualification is that I can read, write, think... I graduated from college and I'd like to have their health-insurance and retirement plan.

Paul Zieger - 11/2/2008

Palin and Obama experiencially have near equivalent resumes. Obama enjoys the Ivy League liberal street cred that gives him a pass with the media. They relate to him so there is no need to investigate him or cast a critical eye upon him. Palin? Educated in western State schools, conservative, mother of 5 (who has 5 kids these days?), former PTA member. She MUST be stupid, all that needed to be done was to investigate and selectively pick the facts and soundbites that support the narrative. Most of her conservative (beltway) critics never met her.

Jim McQuiston - 11/2/2008

Wasn't vetted? - who are you kidding? Obama was among ten entrants for the Democratic nomination, many of them very big names in the Democratic Party. He debated them all, and beat them all. He has been in front of the American public for 21 months, being asked all kinds of questions, having all of his personal life opened up to scrutiny, debating his fellow Democrats and now John McCain. He's appeared on numerous news programs answering the hard-hitting questions of commentators and the public. If you, or anyone, can't see who Obama is by now, you must have a pair of "colored" glasses on. Sarah, on the other hand, was chosen, not elected, did not compete but was picked because the Republicans thought women were so stupid they would shift from Hillary to her without thinking. Palin has done very few interviews, most of which she has screwed up royally. Sarah may have a problem, but if she were ever to be President of the United States, we'd all have a serious problem. Hey, I was dog catcher once, can I be Chief of Staff?

Jim McQuiston - 11/2/2008

Franken, in case no one's been paying attention, has been a student of American policy and politics for many years. He is probably more knowledgeable than George Bush, and certainly more knowledgeable than Sarah Stalin, oops I mean Palin. I voted for Richard Nixon, the first time, and for Ronald Reagan and even for Ross Perot. I always vote the person not the party but this year I hope the Dems sweep everything. America has a lot of damage to undo.

David Holland - 10/31/2008

David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, and David Frum do not suffer from partisan myopia. They render your point moot.

Haven't you been following any of the news?

Gil Troy - 10/28/2008

A quick reply who want to read partisan bias into my plea for non-partisanship. There are other Senatorial candidates who are as liberal maybe more liberal than Franken. But none have his record of harsh, aggressive, shrill attacks -- and I've forced myself to read his books so I know of what I speak. I would be equally appalled by a conservative with his approach to politics -- and I vehemently take issue with the respondent who justified Franken's antics by pointing to what the Republicans did. Barack Obama has come this far with the clear message that salvation will come by transcending not replicating the politics of fear and of personal destruction.

Norman Teigen - 10/27/2008

As a Minnesotan I am quite concerned that Al Franken will ride Barack Obama's coat-tails into the U.S. Senate.

He is not qualified as your writer ably points out. The incumbent Norm Coleman has a solid record of service to the people of his constituency.

I hope that Minnesotans will reject Franken at the polls on November 4th.

Jeremy Young - 10/27/2008

Er, this November. Why wait?

Jeremy Young - 10/27/2008

Not for being inexperienced, because I see that as a plus in both cases (time spent in Washington should be viewed as more problematic than time spent in Attica). But I'll happily denounce them both for being bone stupid. That's a disappointment for me with Franken, since I was prepared to be excited about his candidacy. But having heard him in the debates, he's simply an idiot -- as is Palin. Were I a Minnesota voter, I'd be voting for Dean Barkley next November.

Jim Good - 10/27/2008

You saved me some typing. I'll just say amen to your second post in this discussion.

Steve Hochstadt - 10/27/2008

Gil Troy’s “test for 2008" for objectivity is purely of his own making. To pass one must share both his distaste for partisan myopia and his myopic assessment of Palin and Franken. Troy consistently underestimates the lack of substance in Palin’s words where she is given a chance to express herself as she wishes. Troy appears to argue that her consistent lack of knowledge is equivalent to Biden’s occasional factual blunders. He sees Franken through lenses fogged up with his distaste for anyone too liberal. So he refuses to distinguish between Franken’s professional humor, where he is a deliberate buffoon, and his serious political commentary, such as his dissection of Limbaugh’s mendacious broadcasting methods. Troy does not fairly examine Franken’s work as a candidate, where he is serious about issues, just quite a bit to the left of Troy. So I don’t pass his test. I believe that Franken has shown he can be serious about the issues that I care about and Palin has not shown that she should be taken seriously.

Steve Hochstadt

Oscar Chamberlain - 10/27/2008

The proposed comparison is neither fair nor balanced.

Franken and Palin are running for two very different offices.

A senator is 1/100 of 1/2 of 1/3 of the national government.

A president emobdies 1/3 of the national government. (If one believes Bush and Cheney, that fraction is even higher.)

I think the latter should have a higher bar set for qualifications.

If Palin were running for senator, I would not call her unqualified on the basis of her past political experience. If Franken was running for president, he would be unqualified.

Melvin Small - 10/27/2008

Right On!! I used to listen to Franken on Air America and found him to be extremely knowledgeable and sophisticated in his reporting on and ideas about foreign and domestic affairs. Sure he was also frequently amusing and sometimes even tasteless, and he is a liberal, but I rarely found him to be as relatively uninformed, dishonest, or as mindlessly partisan as his talk-show competition on the Right. In addition, he took yearly trips to Iraq to entertain the troops who were fighting in a war he despised--so he did experience the world outside of the Yukon and the Bering Straits. At the least, I know he could have offered coherent answers to some of the softball questions that Palin had difficulty with on her ABC and CBS interviews. And he is running for the Senate, not to be the vice president of a 72 year-old president.

Oscar Chamberlain - 10/27/2008

If Al Franken is elected--and I just don't trust any poll, anywhere, this time out--his opponent is going to have a lot to do with.

Norm Coleman shifted from the Democratic to the Republican party after being elected mayor of St. Paul as a Democrat in the 1990s. There was no ideological reason behind it; it was simply a time when the Republicans were the growing party and Coleman saw better opportunities over there.

At the time, it seemed to pay off. He was a popular mayor. Since then, he has lost a race for governor (when Jessie Ventura wacked both parties) and would have probably not become senator if Paul Wellstone had not died just before the election.

In short, he is an opportunistic moderate conservative who was a pretty successful mayor but who has never fared well at the state level. Maybe that's why he launched his campaign in the gutter and has, mostly, stayed there. (I get Minneapolis stations in my part of Wisconsin; so I have seen some of the skullduggery of both sides.)

This does not mean that I love Franken. Some of your criticisms are on target, but the question of the week is not, "Is Franken incompetent" but "is he any better than Coleman."

And in that context it is pretty reasonable, and not dishonest, for a Democrat to go, "he may be a dog, but he hunts for me."

Lynda Diane Thomas - 10/27/2008

Sorry, can't agree with your test. Al is a policy wonk and I assure you knows what the Bush Doctrine is and reads lots and lots of material weekly to keep up. Also, while at Air America he had on all kinds of people to talk with and who had written books, some folks even from the Hoover Inst. whom he didn't necessarily agree with, so he knows his stuff,unlike Sarah. But, however I will say that someone, like my governor, Arnie, who is NOT of my party and with whom I frequently do not agree with, can take on the executive job without prior experience. With the new job, Al will be much more congenial. By the way, if you had read any of his books, you would know already that he has many friends of BOTH parties in Washington already, and has for many years.

Michael Green - 10/27/2008

It seems to me that Professor Troy is guilty of several fallacies:

1. He has decided to be "objective" when that is merely another word for using a straw man to set up the argument he wants to make. He should have learned better in graduate school.

2. Any American historian who would make a comparison between the qualifications to be literally a heartbeat away from the presidency and a member of the U.S. Senate is ignoring history and the Constitution to make a partisan point.

3. To blame Al Franken for playing a role in the tenor of partisan politics is to succumb to the idea that Republicans like to circulate: that a celebrity is an idiot who doesn't care about the issues (unless that celebrity happens to be a Republican--not that I want to hear from Democratic celebrities either). The difference between some singer making nasty comments between songs and someone who has written books and taught classes, as Mr. Franken has, is so great that it should be an embarrassment to Professor Troy that he has failed to notice it.

Finally, I would remind Professor Troy and other critics of how Jon Stewart contributed to the cancellation of that vacuous CNN "Crossfire" when he went on and listened to that pompous windbag Tucker Carlson attack him for his coverage of the news, and Stewart's response was that he is a comedian and they are supposed to be the journalists. Further, the best media criticism I see comes not from Howard "Conflict of Interest" Kurtz on CNN, but from Stewart on "The Daily Show." Perhaps Professor Troy should consider that Al Franken was, in writing about the lies of the opposition--and praising some members of it, by the way--doing the job the media were supposed to be doing and failed to do.

Philip Costa - 10/27/2008

Discussion boards, left and right wing media, Blogs, newspaper and TV journakist have a free for all when it comes to making statements, founded or un founded. The Constitution and Bill of Rights have been used to wrap fish in!

Philip Costa - 10/27/2008

Why not give equal time trashing the left wing nuts as the Hollow Suit Obama who wasn't seemingly vetted by anyone before he was chosen for his candidacy. If you took a average of ALL the media, congress, senate and the last 6 presidents added together, it would probalbly be between 67 to 87 percent! With due respect to the last sentence the whole group let Wall Street get by with the biggest Heist in history of the United States and everyone is saying Sarah Palin has a problem!

Jeff Young - 10/27/2008

There is no comparing Palin and Franken in terms of experience. There are other kinds of experience besides elected office. In his bestselling, thoroughly researched and documented books, on his radio show, in debates and on the stump, Al Franken has displayed a through knowledge of policy and where things work and where they go wrong in Washington. He has shown genuine care for the voters of Minnesota, the working class and unlike anyone on the right actual concern for what happens to our servicemembers both overseas and after they return. I've met him three times and look forward to having Al Franken as my senator.

Palin on the other hand has displayed how overmatched she is in interview after interview by hard hitters like Katie Couric. Her disdain for anyone outside her narrow redneck demographic is exceeded only by Michele Bachmann's for anyone outside hers.

Ann Wallace - 10/27/2008

I was surprised to read such a strongly worded objection to Al Franken as a senatorial candidate. To refer to Mr. Franken as a destructive force in politics is to ignore the fact that his writing and remarks were a reaction to the equally destructive, decisive politics of conservative political pundits (since at the time there were no liberal pundits) who seemingly disregarded fact and context in an effort to impress their opinion as truth.

I started to consider, though, what kind of person did our founding fathers consider qualified to be a member of the Senate? Read Adams and Jefferson, and you get the sense that they were looking for intelligent, learned men who had life experience and a broad knowledge; little is said about political experience.

Mr. Franken, while certainly an opinionated progressive liberal, has spent the past several years trying to hold people accountable to fact. He has exhibited a drive to learn as much about an issue as he can, to make an informed choice of opinion; isn't that what we all should do?

The Senate was never meant to be limited to career politicians; the elite (something that can be a good thing) of America come from all walks of life.

Finally, do not blame the disintigration of civility in Minnesota politics on Al Franken -- as a former Minnnesotan I can recall that starting years ago, when Al Franken was still acting and writing in New York. One only need to look at the election of Jesse Ventura as governor, and the aggressive, decidedly un-Minnesota nice campaign waged by Norm Coleman, especially after Paul Wellstone's death, to see that it had already self-destructed.

Al Franken's life experience may make him more qualified than most people to serve in the Senate. After all, he has already hobnobbed with the influential and glamorous, and will be that much less likely to be seduced by the trappings of the office, and be much quicker to accept the limitations of the office.