About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Take off the white gloves, please

I keep hearing that Democrats do not want to criticize Sarah Palin. Obama threatened to fire anyone on his campaign who goes near the “teen pregnancy” issue; his vice presidential pick, Joe Biden, had nice things to say about Palin the other day; and Hillary Clinton, though campaigning for Obama in Florida today, refused to attack the governor of Alaska.

What the hell is wrong with these people? Sarah Palin doesn’t seem to have any problem not only viciously attacking Obama, but making up stuff as she goes along, like claiming that Obama is concerned only with reading their rights to the terrorists (he called for fair trials in Guantanamo). And of course she keeps lying straight through every time she brings up the infamous “bridge to nowhere,” which Palin claims she was against while the record plainly shows that she supported the idea of getting federal money to build it until the bill was dead -- and then kept the money for her constituents anyway.

Let’s take the issue that Obama won’t touch with a mile long pole: the pregnancy of Palin’s 17-year old (unmarried) daughter. Why on earth should that be off limits? Of course Obama should not criticize Palin’s daughter, who is going to have enough trouble in life as it is. But he should expose Palin’s hypocrisy for wanting to deny to other Americans, if elected, their privacy about reproductive choices.

Moreover, please let us not forget that the same Grand Old Party that has suddenly discovered feminism has been accusing Democrats until the other day of fostering the corruption of American Morality because of their social programs aimed at helping teenage unmarried mothers and their historic condemnation of working mothers in general. Somehow, now that the unmarried teenager is the daughter of the Republican vice presidential nominee the same exact behavior is no longer immoral and certain to damn someone to hell, but is in fact a paragon of family strength and at any rate “a personal matter.”

I most certainly do not want the Democrats to turn as mean, vindictive and lying as the Republicans have been for too many years. But the stakes for the country and the world are simply much too high to play the high minded clean guy who wishes to win only on the basis of issues. Issues matter very little during election campaigns, and Obama already has a built-in disadvantage because of the still widespread racism in this country. He doesn’t need to make things worse by adopting the same strategy of non-responsiveness that got Kerry swiftboated four years ago.

The Democrats need to attack and counter-attack, as steadily and as pointedly as the Republicans are doing. They can do so while still not debasing themselves to the point of lying or pandering outrageously. But time is running out, Obama. Yes, we can, but we don’t want to wait another for years to do it.


  1. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/09/obama_too_cool_to_put.html

    Thank God for Sarah Palin. Without her jibes, her sarcasm, her exaggerations, her smug provincialism, her hypocrisy about family and government, her exploitation of mommyhood and her personal attacks on Barack Obama, the Democratic base might never be consolidated. This much is certain: Obama could never do it.

    Not, anyway, the Obama who appeared Sunday on ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos. That Obama was cool, diffident, above it all -- unflustered, unflappable, unexcitable and downright unexciting. These "uns" ran on, a torrent of cool that frosted my flat-panel TV and had me wondering if, as a kid, Obama ever got a shot in the mouth on the playground, he'd glare at the bully -- and convene a meeting.


    What Obama does not understand is that he is being Swift-boated. The term does not apply to a mere smear. It is bolder, more outrageous than that. It means going straight at your opponent's strength and maligning it. This is what was done in 2004 to John Kerry, who had commanded a Swift boat in Vietnam. Kerry had won three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star and had emerged from the war a certified hero. It was that record his opponents attacked, a tactic Kerry thought so ludicrous that he at first ignored it. The record shows that he lost the election.

    Now Obama's opponents are going straight for his strength. At least twice at the GOP convention, speakers mocked Obama's service as a community organizer. "He worked as a community organizer," Rudy Giuliani said. "He immersed himself in Chicago machine politics."

    And then Palin herself followed up with one of her aw-shucks low blows: "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities."

  2. Good post, Massimo.

    I've been horrified at the lack of sustained criticism of Palin and the Republican positions.

    Susan Campbell says is well when she writes:

    "When does an unmarried, pregnant 17-year-old merit the attention of the media?

    "Rarely, unless the young woman's mother is the Republican candidate for vice president, who, as governor of Alaska, opposes federal funding for sex education classes, a position she shares with the presidential candidate on the same ticket.

    "Rarely, unless your mother believes that abstinence is the only birth control that's suitable for public discussion.

    "And then? Well, it's completely valid as a topic. Both John McCain and Sarah Palin are on record opposing comprehensive, federally funded sex ed in schools. But the discussion goes beyond theory in the Palin household. This weekend, McCain's choice of a running mate announced that her daughter is about five months pregnant, and that she intends to carry to term, and marry the child's father...

    "This raises the question of why one would cling to public policy that didn't work in one's home. And it reflects a broader societal disconnect in regards to talking about sex."


    You can't run a campaign that claims that "abstinence only" education is the only effective way to prevent teen pregnancies, have a running mate whose daughter has had *every* advantage imaginable (stable home life, education, educated parents, money, etc.) and is unmarried and pregnant, and claim that family is "off limits."

    The Jon Steward clip of the contradictions in the claims by Republican pundits


    should be watched by everyone, over and over again.

    No, even if it would be a mistake for Obama to be nasty, someone has got to be. Someone has got to start airing adds that make it plain that Palin lies, that McCain is *not* a "maverick" but a party-insider who voted with the Senate Republicans in support of Bush's policies about 90% of the time, and that Palin is completely out of touch w/ the reality of life in most of the U.S.

    Sigh. Here's hoping...


  3. I completely appreciate what you are saying here. It is time to really lay into the Republicans. And we can do it without stooping into their personal lives. We can lunge, parry and thrust at their horrific policies, their vicious lies and their proclivity to do whatever they can to help their oil company string-pulling masters.

    And we can surely point out the hypocrisy of wanting to keep Bristol's story off-limits.

  4. >"I keep hearing that Democrats do not want to criticize Sarah Palin."

    I have to say she's cute and she's well spoken, if misguided, but I saw this over at Pharyngula it gave me a chuckle:

    Q: What's the difference between Sarah Palin and a Muslim fundamentalist?
    A: Lipstick.

    And as far as I can tell from watching some of the YouTube videos of her at church, it's actually true.
    For me of course, her religious aspects are more than enough to turn me off without even mentioning other political stances but for (too) many Americans it either enhances her value or is of no consequence. I would think though that the bridge-to-nowhere issue and the earmarks for Wacilla could damage her with conservatives but so far it doesn't seem to be. Our best hope is for her to be so outclassed on some national TV debate that she brings McCain down (ala Ross Perot's choice of James Stockdale).

    May you live in interesting times.

  5. Very good post Massimo. You have succinctly articulated what I'm thinking and most of my Democrat friends too.

    It would be one thing if voters made their choice based on critical thinking skills, whereby they assessed the candidates (and party's) record, their qualifications and experience, their plans, and how they will deal with the country's problems. But they don't - the majority of the populace are going to make an emotionally-driven decision based on their fears, on how much they like the candidate, and whether the candidate share their own values (which will mostly be social values of course).

    (This process should be familiar to anybody who works in the corporate workplace).

    Obama and co therefore need to play the same game as the Republicans and make an emotional connection to voters - not simply point out their opponents failings but how those failings are going to personally impact the voter. Bush and Rove did this brilliantly in 2004 with their fear-mongering and blatant false claims that a terrorist attack was imminent. It was dishonest, immoral, disgusting, and unethical but it worked beautifully.

    Fortunately for the Democrats they do not need to resort to dirty tricks, they just have to paint the picture of what four more years of Republicans will be like. Something like "It's 2011 and we're at war with Iran and another 4000 US service men and women have lost their lives in yet another pointless war..."

    I hope you pass on your thoughts to the Obama campaign. I'm not sure they are listening but perhaps if there is a groundswell of feedback it's possible they might wake up to what's going on.

  6. Fran,

    yes, I have passed the same comments to the Obama campaign. Whether and how they'll react remains to be seen. Today, however, Obama finally denounced the silliness of the McCain campaign with no half-words:


  7. The MSNBC clip is good - it might not be good for his blood pressure, but we need Obama to be in a permanent angry state between now and November!

    And I can't get enough of 'Enough!'

    Here's a link to an ad the Democrats want to air:


    Not sure if it packs the same punch as the Swift-boat ads, since it is only one person and anecdotal - they also need to show examples of how he has been erractic and reckless in office - but it's a start.

  8. G'day

    Thats good stuff on that Jon Stewart link.

    I heard on radio here in Australia a report on a Dems ad that did attack the nonsensical idea that McCain is a maverick or that he has a bunch of mavericks, which is of course a contradiction in terms.

    You mob have the same problems with your conservative pollies as we do in Australia. That is that the Dems play nice and honest and the Republicans play dirty and misleading and flat out lying that is so blatant it is gob smacking. The conservatives in Australia do the same thing, but at the last election, the Labor Party took the conservatives on and called their bluff on their lies and misrepresentations. They did this by owning prior mistakes they made and pointing out the same mistakes the conservatives did and repeated this over and over again. This meant that the conservative stopped telling lies about interest rates and deficits under Labor and had to find other lesser points to get misleading about.

    Labor demonstrated that it was their economic management that had laid the ground work for the past fifteen years of economic sunshine and forced the conservatives to acknowledge this and pulled the rug out from under a lot of their arguments. In the past the ALP had played nice and ran scared from its past acheivement cause it was worried about being pinged for its past mistakes. Not any more and it made a difference.

    I still can't believe that in 2004 the Dems let Kerry be portrayed as a coward and Bush as a war hero when the opposite was the case. It was so Orwellian. Kerry should have called Bush on the way Bush wouldn't fight in a war he supported.

    There is no substance to Palin, she's fluff on a honeymoon but that unfortunatley appeals to people who get by on soundbites rather than solid information.

    I think this Presidential election is going to show just how rascist the USA is. I'm gobsmaked that Hillary voters would even consider voting Republican, voting for people who hold views that Hillary doesn't. The only reason they would vote McCain instead of Obama has to be because they are rascist, you can't be that persoanlly peeved that your candidate didn't get up that you would throw her politics out the window.

    The breakdown of votes is going to be interesting. If there is a large change to Democrat voting patterns that have been consistent for 100 years, then it will be because people didn't vote for a black man.

  9. The last two paragraphs, specially, are perfect in my not-so-humble opinion.

    Democrats, grow some spine and some teeth while you're at it!

  10. By the way, the Jon Stewart video was, predictably enough, taken down from YouTube. Copyright infringement, of course.

    I don't know exactly which video you guys were linking to, but you can see them all at http://www.thedailyshow.com/ and I believe that particular one is in the Friday Sept 5th episode.

  11. You've said pretty much what i was thinking in this post. Obama's campaign are crazy to let McCain and Palin launch any number of false attacks on them without hitting back on Palin's and McCain's own record.

    Palin's minister has said that critics of President Bush will "burn in Hell' and that people who voted Kerry won't go to heaven. Palin herself has said she believes the Second Coming of Jesus will take place in her life-time and that she prays for the Iraq war to be a Mission from God. How right-wing Christian fundamentalists square 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' with their fanatical support for the Iraq war is something none of them have explained yet either.

    As you've pointed out she's also been in denial about man-made climate change for a long-time - and her last minute conversion on it doesn't really fool anyone.

    Given McCain's age and health this woman could end up President of the US if too many people vote for her and McCain.

    I can understand Obama not wanting to make personal attacks relating to Palin's daughter - but all this other stuff needs to be brought up.

    I would ask why Fox News isn't giving Palin's minister's views the same coverage they gave Obama's - but then their 'Fair and Balanced' slogan has always been a joke.


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