The musings of one Andrew Langer - defender of liberty, passionate protector of individual rights, foodie. (Note: Said Musings of Andrew Langer are his own, and the views represented herein are likewise his views, and not the views of any other people, entities, foodstuffs, etc [unless otherwise specifically and explicitly noted].)

Friday, September 12, 2008

New Column Up: This Time At USNews.Com....

So, I can now add to the list of places that are publishing my stuff. I'd put the following together for National Review Online, but they dawdled a bit. US News took a look at it, and decided they wanted to put it up.

Sarah Palin, Small-Town America, and the Democrats' Ongoing Arrogance Problem

Small towns provide real-world experience—as well as electoral victories

Posted September 12, 2008

There was a map of the United States produced after the 2000 and 2004 elections, showing the presidential campaign victories on a county-by-county basis in blue and red. America was a sea of red, with clusters of blue for the most part relegated to major urban areas in the East, West, and scattered in between. The Democratic Party is an urban one, focused largely on urban problems and constituencies.

But in order to win in 2008, Democratic leaders knew that they needed to woo small-town America. The time was ripe, the theory went, with an unpopular president, an unpopular Congress, and a Republican Party that had somehow lost its way. So the Democratic machine went to work, bringing Barack Obama to places like Montana, hoping that he could build on that dissatisfaction and show that the Democratic Party cares about Main Streets across the U.S.A., no matter how rural or sparsely populated.

Which is why the attack on Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and her prior experience of being the mayor of a town of 9,000, is both strange and troubling. The 2000 and 2004 electoral maps show, and political experience confirms, that America is a place of small towns. So casting aspersions on those who live and govern in Small-Town America seems to be, well, a stupid way of courting those voters.

But it also evinces a complete misunderstanding of the complexities involved with governing a small state or town, a hubris that underscores the dishonest slogans of "change" that have come from the Democratic camp. If you don't understand how public policy actually gets implemented in the real world, how can you possibly work to improve the system? If the belief is that only policy made at the federal level is complex and grants experience to the policymaker, then how can one be trusted to ensure that policies that have to be implemented at the state and local level (i.e., unfunded mandates and the like) are reasonable and limited?

The answer is, they can't. Local government comes with its own set of experience-accruing difficulties. It can be just as complex, the stakes just as high, but without the glamour that comes from being a member of the House, or a senator for two or 36 years. In fact, it has the potential to be much harder, for two reasons.

First, you're governing not just in the public spotlight but in and around and with your constituents. There is no buffer between you and the public if you're a small-town or small-county executive. When you make a decision that people don't like, you hear about it. You get phone calls, you get approached in the supermarket, people walk up to your front porch or back fence. This is just one of the reasons many local political parties have trouble at times finding people to run for office—it is tremendously stressful to be so easily accessible.

Joe Biden sees real people on the train to and from Delaware, and he sees people in carefully scheduled events in the state itself. But when was the last time that Biden made a tough vote to curtail the funding for some project affecting his constituents and then had to go do his family shopping at the local grocery store? When was the last time Obama made a decision to enact some new regulatory scheme affecting small business and got approached while he was weeding in his front yard to hear complaints about it?

These things happen in small towns. And frankly, it makes a politician a lot more sensitive to the impact of what they are doing. It lends an additional air of accountability that people like Barack Obama and Joe Biden simply don't have.

And from a practical standpoint, Obama and Biden have never had to contend with making the hard fiscal choices that small-town mayors and small-state governors have to. They've never had to balance a budget. Local officials do. Every year. They cannot go into debt. And frankly, America would be better off in the long term with more public officials in higher office who have had to grapple with keeping public books balanced.

This talking point about the population of Wasilla, Alaska, is insulting—to the millions of Americans who live in small towns, to those who have done the hard work of serving the public in governance of those small towns, and to the intelligence of all of us by trying to confuse the real issues of experience and judgment with phantom ones.

Those 2000 and 2004 maps told a story, a story with an important lesson. It had appeared as though the Democrats had learned it, but this new bit of arrogance shows that they have not.

Andrew M. Langer is the president of the Institute for Liberty.


Blogger The leftist southpaw said...

I'll repeat my comment to an earlier post- more appropriate here:

a question. In your column you wrote:

"And from a practical standpoint, Obama and Biden have never had to contend with making the hard fiscal choices that small-town mayors and small-state governors have to. They've never had to balance a budget. Local officials do. Every year. They cannot go into debt. "

Yet they do go into debt. Palin left Wasilla $20 million in debt. I realize this was the result of investments in the town for the long term, but it is still debt.

It's just that you seem to be dealing in absolutes. There is a difference between "cannot" and "should not." If they "cannot" go into debt, what happens when they actually do?

Or did I miss your point?

look forward to your response.

September 12, 2008 6:53 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

You understood the statement, Kess. It may have been inartful, but you understood it. You even understand that there's a difference between local infrastructure investment and willy-nilly spending.

On the issue of experience, which you have raised on your own blog, I'll offer the following statement:

"[T]o be shrill is no worse than to be righteous, like the people who insist that the women Vice Presidential candidates so far proposed lack the requisite standing and experience. Why, it is said, none of them is even a senator.

"Where is it written that only senators are qualified to become President? Surely Ronald Reagan does not subscribe to that maxim. Or where is it written that mere representatives aren't qualified, like Geraldine Ferraro of Queens? Representative Morris Udall, who lost New Hampshire to Jimmy Carter by a hair in 1976, must surely disagree. So must a longtime Michigan Congressman named Gerald Ford.

"Where is it written that governors and mayors, like Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco, are too local, too provincial?"

- An Editorial from the New York Times, July 3, 1984

September 12, 2008 10:24 PM

Blogger The leftist southpaw said...

I actually agree for the most part with the sentiment of that piece. Yet McCain appears hypocritical by calling mayors and governors unqualified, then selecting a running mate who served as both.

I have always said that the mayor of New York has a job that is just as tough as the president's. I have never said that, however, about the mayor of a town one- one thousandth the size of NYC!

September 13, 2008 6:45 AM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

There are things said in the heat of a primary that candidates come to regret later on (Obama being "clean" for instance). But I am reminded of something that Phill Gramm said in a meeting, just before he was demoted by the campaign in fact: politics is apparently the only arena in which you get penalized for actually learning something.

September 13, 2008 7:10 AM

Blogger The leftist southpaw said...

along the same lines, a political gaffe is defined as opening your mouth and letting the truth slip out!

September 13, 2008 11:18 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

September 21, 2008 5:19 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Langer, didn't you learn anything when you studied Soviet Studies? How can you support someone as ignorant as Palin?

September 27, 2008 7:02 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

What, I should support someone like Joe Biden, who apparently believes that FDR was President in 1929, and that he went on TV to reassure America after the Stock Market Crash?


September 28, 2008 10:07 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hm, what did Sarah say, something about Putin's head?

I'll bet you:

1) Sarah can't name the last four British prime ministers

2) Sarah can't tell you Putin's *current* position in Russia's government

3) Sarah can't find Abkhazia on a map

4) Sarah can't tell you what the national language of Pakistan is

5) Sarah can't tell you who the most powerful person in Iran is (hint: Obama got it in the debate)

6) Sarah can't tell you where Sri Lanka is

7) Sarah would have trouble picking currently non-existent countries from this list: Czechoslovakia, Lenghizistan, Rhodesia, Sorbia, Myanmar, Vanuatu, Hispaniola, and Namibia

8) Sarah could not name three of the seven United Arab Emirates

9) Sarah could not name the form of government in Saudi Arabia

10) Speaking of FDR and television-Sarah could not tell you whose patents made radio possible!

September 29, 2008 5:38 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

I think it's very easy to make accusations as to someone's breadth of knowledge, and ask a list of questions, when the target of their accusation has no way of defending himself or herself, and that person's accuser has no way of honestly affirming his own knowledge base.

After all, I could raise issues of your own knowledge base, Anon, but without putting those questions to you live and in person, you could simply use the power of the internet to answer them. I could also accuse either Barack Obama or Joe Biden of being unable to answer a host of those questions as well, or 10 other random questions about the world, and it would be meaningless.

Nobody, and I mean _NOBODY_ has the entire sum of human knowledge stored inside their brain, available for instant recall, and it is fallacious reasoning to suggest that simply because someone _MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO_ answer 10 questions that YOU or I have come up with, that they are unqualified to be President or Vice President.

What I'm more interested in is what these individuals have done in their decades of political life. Have they, for instance, taken on entrenched special interests (especially to the detriment of their own political parties, thus risking their own political careers in the process)?

What have they done to strengthen and grow the small business sector?

What have they done to make government smaller, or at the very least, more accountable and transparent?

September 30, 2008 7:11 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Langer,

I'd be happy to debate you on international affairs.

In all honesty, how many of the questions could YOU answer?


September 30, 2008 3:53 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

You name the place and the time, and, schedule provided, I'll be there.

As for the questions, I could answer 8.5 of the 10 offhand - I say "offhand" because I had to double check that Tony Blair was preceded by John Major. I thought that was the case, but just wasn't sure (and, of course, Major was preceded by Thatcher). And I thought the official language of Pakistan was Pashtun, not Urdu.

September 30, 2008 5:43 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

And yes, I am aware that Pashto is the language of the Pashtun people.

September 30, 2008 5:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, you've probably guessed I work for the Obama campaign.

Do you think politicians ought to speak more than one language?

I'll up the ante on a debate: you and I debate in a language other than English, results translated.

You provide a list of languages you can do, I'm sure we'll find a match.

PS: I promise to use one that is NOT my native language

October 02, 2008 5:33 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

OK, I have no idea what you mean when you say you "work" for the Obama campaign. That could mean anything. Please be specific.

As for your question about politicians being able to speak more than one language, are we talking about politicians generally, American politicians specifically, what level of politics (Presidential, gubernatorial, local clerks of the court)?

I think that everyone ought to know more than one language if at all possible, but I also know that some people simply don't have an aptitude for foreign languages. That doesn't make them bad people, it doesn't make them bad politicians.

I also think it's dangerous to create some sort of "check-off" list full of arbitrary qualifications. Perhaps all politicians ought to be able to recognize certain pieces of classical music, or recite a favorite poem on command. Perhaps they all ought to have an understanding of engineering, or biochemistry, or even general accounting practices.

Now, if you want to debate in a foreign language, then I have to ask you - what's the point? I mean, I'm happy to do it in Spanish, but then, what's the point of having a translator?

Seems like nothing more than a cheap gimmick. I'd much rather that if we're going to debate in front of an audience whose primary understanding of English would necessitate a translator, that we simplify things, not engage in theatrics, and focus on the issues.

You said you'd be happy to debate me on international issues. I called you on it. By trying to "up the ante" it looks like you're trying to backpedal from your offer. I'm calling you on it again.

October 03, 2008 7:34 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks Palin would be worthy of the office of VP is an IDIOT plain and simple. When the criteria for doing well is not tripping over yourself instead of actually answering the questions proposed to you in a logical, well thought out fashion, you know we are in trouble. If she is elected (and it would be because of her and not McCain for the victory because of all the dolts out there that are enjoying watching feminism be set back 50 years and think "oh she's just like me, my daughter got knocked up too even though I never talked about sex education with her because if I hide it from her it could never happen") this country is going to go down the toilet. You can't wink your eye, talk about being a hockey mom, and call out all the Joe 6-packs if you are called on to lead this nation. The rest of the world isn't that stupid. But maybe you are too busy stuffing your fat face ice cream boy to even notice, or maybe you are an idiot, oh you betcha.

October 08, 2008 1:36 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

One of the reasons I stopped posting to Usenet several years ago is because the level of civil discourse has dropped precipitously. And I have commented repeatedly to people about the particularly poisoned atmosphere which surrounds this election.

Now, maybe my comments on the arrogance of Democrats resonated particularly with you. I don't know if you're my "John Berlau" Anon, the 2nd "Skeletons" Anon, or someone new. What I do know is that you've essentially exemplified all that is wrong with the Democrat perspective in this election.

You want to win over Republicans (which is what you need to do to win elections), then you need to stop calling them idiots.

It's just that simple.

Now, my money says that you're this 2nd "Anon". If you are, I have to tell you that your appearance here is more than a bit surprising, given our last discussion. You want to debate politics, fine. I'm not sure what you're going to get out of it, though.

October 08, 2008 3:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a skeletal John Berlau anon?

October 28, 2008 7:04 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

How about we just focus on substantive issues?

October 30, 2008 9:46 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


You locked your blog and I tried emailing you.

We were going to debate, I guess that's OBE now.

For what it is worth, I think John McCain is a brave and honorable man who has done GREAT service to America.

I agree that some of the things people have posted here are silly, and that's being civil about it.


November 06, 2008 6:46 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

Well, I never saw any e-mails, and moderating the comments to my blog was something that I never wanted to do. Unfortunately, it has become a necessity.

I just assumed that you were uninterested in actually having a debate, seeing as how you never responded in the several days between when I accepted your challenge and now.

Sorry about that.

Of course, if you wanted to debate, you'd eventually have to share with me who you are. If you don't want to do it here on the blog, e-mail me at my work address:

November 06, 2008 9:31 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home