Sunday, June 05, 2011

Argument Against Interest: The Left and Palin

One thing that strikes me about the latest round of Palin bashing is that her critics on the left appear to be acting against their own self-interest. I expect almost all of them would rather see Obama re-elected than defeated by a Republican. I expect most of them believe, as I do, that Palin would be one of the easiest of the potential Republican nominees for Obama to defeat. If so, one would expect them to go as easy as possible on her until it is clear who the Republican nominee is going to be, and only go back to making fun of her when it is clear that doing so won't reduce her chances of being nominated. That does not seem to be what they are doing.

One possible explanation is that her critics on the left think their attacks will make Republicans more willing to nominate her. An alternative I find more plausible is that what we are observing is the usual problem of producing a public good. The left winger who refrains from attacking Palin, given a halfway plausible opportunity to do so, is giving up a private benefit—the fun and kudos of mocking the big bad witch. He is producing a public good—the public in question being all of the people who want to see her nominated and defeated. Public goods, for familiar reasons, are under-produced.

The argument does not apply to critics on the other side, Republicans who want Obama defeated, think Palin is unlikely to beat him, and would therefor prefer a different nominee. Their attacks on Palin make perfectly good sense in terms of their political objectives.


22 Comments:

At 12:04 PM, June 05, 2011, Blogger Richard said...

I expect you're right about the personal motives of many political commentators (political activity of all stripes tends to be more symbolic than strategic). But it's not so clear that it's against the left's interest to reduce the chance of Palin's nomination. If she would be a much worse president than other Republican contenders, this could potentially outweigh the smaller chance that she would win a general election.

 
At 1:14 PM, June 05, 2011, Blogger Chris Bogart said...

The more important private benefit critics get from criticizing Palin is that they maintain a credible reputation as honest critics. When someone starts shifting their opinions in a way that's obvious political game playing, they start to sound like a shill. It's possible a critic feels they can do more good as a voice of reason than as a Voice of the Democratic Party.

 
At 1:40 PM, June 05, 2011, Blogger Milhouse said...

I think your premise is wrong; she can, and I think will defeat Obama, and they're right to be scared of her, which is why they're so desperately attacking her.

 
At 1:44 PM, June 05, 2011, Anonymous norm said...

I doubt that many people have the intelligence to not attack an opponent for strategic reasons. That is high level stuff.
Along the same lines, I wonder if our leaders resist destroying Al Qaeda or Taliban bigshots if (we think) they are not very competent and probably would be replaced by someone more effective.

 
At 1:56 PM, June 05, 2011, Anonymous Miko said...

I can't speak for all leftists naturally, but I'd say that, for myself at least, the most important goal the left has right now is making sure that Obama does not get re-elected, no matter who he's running against. (After all, the only thing he's done as president is to redefine Bush-extremism as the new normal; why would the left want four more years of that, or even worse to be permanently tainted with that?) Then, since Palin is such a weak candidate that even a supermajority of her own party hates her, it's entirely in the interest of the left to ensure that she isn't a nominee (or else we'd be stuck with four more years of Obama).

But a more important point is that it's obvious that she's not going to run for president again. She's an attention-whore: she likes getting paid for having her name on the cover of ghost-written books, giving shallow speeches to sycophantic audiences, and making lame reality shows much more than she likes the day-to-day work of being a politician. Sooner or later she will, if she plays her cards right, get an offer for another one of those; and then her play-campaign will end.

 
At 3:10 PM, June 05, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or left-wingers laughing at Palin do not expect her to be nominated anyways and just enjoy a bit of fun. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

 
At 5:03 PM, June 05, 2011, Anonymous gesher said...

The reason they're attacking Palin like that is so they can demonize her.

When she's thoroughly demonized, they'll be able to demonize any other potential Republican candidate merely by associating him with Palin.

This strategy is profoundly effective.

 
At 5:03 PM, June 05, 2011, OpenID hudebnik said...

I think you're probably right, David, about the "private good vs. public good" issue, but there's another public good going on here: keeping Palin out of the White House, regardless of who is in it. I daresay far more people agree on the desirability of that outcome than agree on the desirability of Obama's re-election.

 
At 5:49 PM, June 05, 2011, Blogger David Friedman said...

Miko disagrees with my view that people on the left want Obama re-elected. I had thought of qualifying that to make it explicit that I believe they would rather have him be re-elected than lose to a Republican, although some of them would like it even better if he were replaced by a different Democrat. But obviously that view doesn't correctly describe the position of all people on the left, as Mik demonstrates.

 
At 5:51 PM, June 05, 2011, Blogger David Friedman said...

Chris thinks the critics maintain their reputation as honest critics. To begin with, in the recent case, I think the effect is the opposite, for reasons I explained in an earlier post. But even if Palin really did say something ridiculous, it isn't necessary to join in the chorus of critics in order not to appear dishonest--there are lots of other things one can choose to write about.

 
At 8:59 PM, June 05, 2011, Anonymous William H. Stoddard said...

I was appalled by Palin back in 2008; the prospect of having her occupy the White House struck me as a strong reason to vote for Obama. But over the past two years, the continuing attacks on her in the media have had a bizarre effect on my views. I still don't think she is suited to be President, even though I've been seeing her make statements about economics that suggest that she, or her advisors, have been looking at sources I often approve of; her "culture wars" position is the polar opposite of mine, and she might actually have a chance to do something about it, if she had a Republican-dominated Congress. But after a steady stream of rants about her by people on the left, I find it hard not to feel a certain anticipatory Schadenfreude at the prospect of her winning the election.

I wonder if this is how anti-Communist Germans felt back in 1932 about that Austrian immigrant fellow.

 
At 6:47 AM, June 06, 2011, OpenID rickthefightguy said...

As a guy on the left myself, I feel like what serves me best is if there are two great candidates who I respect, and I get to choose which one I agree with more, but will be able to respect the other if they win. That is a pretty rare situation, but it actually happened last time, and it made me pretty happy. At least, in the beginning of the campaign I respected McCain - by the end he had really deteriorated in my opinion. But still, it may be that the people bashing Palin want a public discourse between intelligent, respectable people more than they want 'their side' to 'win' the discourse.

 
At 7:06 AM, June 06, 2011, Blogger Milhouse said...

in the beginning of the campaign I respected McCain - by the end he had really deteriorated in my opinion.

That's one way to put it. What really happened was that the Democrats and their toadies in the "mainstream media" built McCain up during the primary season as "the only electable Republican", precisely so as to tear him down in the general election. They convinced Republican primary voters to give them the candidate they most wanted to run against. And now they're doing the opposite with Palin; trying to frighten R primary voters away from her, because they fear running against her.

 
At 7:48 PM, June 06, 2011, Anonymous Dick White said...

1. I understand that liberals, and I don't use that term pejoratively, would oppose Palin's public policy choices, so my comment is not directed to them.

2. What i don't understand is why conservatives and/or undecideds/independents are so sardonic and patronizing toward her. Should it be grounded in her Couric interview that would be understandable. However, from her debate with Candidate Biden through the recent bus tour her public performances have been certainly workmanlike (her fans would say exceptional). Her public policy views, on net, should be embraced by conservatives and at least considered thoughtful by independents. So where's the beef (pun intended)?

3. As to the critics, again the non-liberals, they appear increasingly to be the foil for this woman, be it the bus tour or the Paul Revere non-gotcha. At this point it appears that it is the critics who wear the Emperor's New Clothes.

 
At 9:00 PM, June 06, 2011, Anonymous Chris Koresko said...

Another possible explanation: Liberal commentators wish to convince the electorate that Palin is incompetent, and then hold her up as a representative example of the Republican field.

 
At 6:52 PM, June 07, 2011, Anonymous mdavid said...

Chris and anon have it right: the media (and the left, same thing) rip Palin to demonstrate how stupid the Right really is, and also because they simply can't control themselves. They are having so much fun they can't see how their behavior looks from the outside...

 
At 8:50 PM, June 09, 2011, Anonymous Andrew said...

Having a moron-level candidate in an election process makes a mockery of the democratic process. Therefore it should only be in the interests of Libertarians that Sarah Palin succeed, since Libertarians are the ones that gain when democracy fails.

 
At 5:27 PM, June 11, 2011, Blogger scottmatthew said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 5:29 PM, June 11, 2011, Blogger scottmatthew said...

David,
I took Law & Economics from you at Univ of Chicago in '89. Great class, great stories. I often relate the story of how your father would "experiment" on you kids, and, for example, give you the choice of a sleeper car, or riding in a seat, and taking the cash on long train rides. And how others in the car would have gladly paid for your sleeper car, had there not been "coordination" problems. Thanks again for the class. Scott Matthew

 
At 2:28 PM, June 13, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Slaughtering Palin, then associating any of her ideas with other Republican candidates leaves the field open for a Republican who wants Obamacare and believes in global warming: Romney, the me-too, not-so-fast-but-we-agree "Republican."

 
At 2:29 PM, June 13, 2011, Blogger ErisGuy said...

Slaughtering Palin, then associating any of her ideas with other Republican candidates leaves the field open for a Republican who wants Obamacare and believes in global warming: Romney, the me-too, not-so-fast-but-we-agree "Republican."

 
At 9:24 AM, June 16, 2011, Anonymous Jess said...

The attacks on Palin are visceral. The attackers are only reacting to their perceived threat to survival.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home