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The Metacandidate

By Matthew Yglesias  

"The Metacandidate"

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Jim Henley has a smart observation on Sarah Palin’s inept method of connecting with ordinary people:

Palin seems to have a “Message: I Care” problem. She gets too meta with her answers, wanting to explain – “I’m going to talk straight to the American people and show them my etc.”; “I’m the new energy” – the symbolism of herself. For the apotheosis of Republican anti-intellectualism she’s determinedly postmodern, embedding the essay about her novel into the story as she tells it.

Millionaire television celebrity pundits seems to find this incredibly convincing but ordinary people don’t, probably because ordinary people prefer a candidate who talks about the problems facing ordinary people rather than a candidate who talks about how she’s a symbolic instantiation of the Idea of Ordinariness. But in Palin’s defense, it’s not really clear where else she can go. There was only one issue last night where I thought she really said something that engaged with a substantial national problem — her little talk on education:

You mentioned education and I’m glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right? I say, too, with education, America needs to be putting a lot more focus on that and our schools have got to be really ramped up in terms of the funding that they are deserving. Teachers needed to be paid more. I come from a house full of school teachers. My grandma was, my dad who is in the audience today, he’s a schoolteacher, had been for many years. My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here’s a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.

Education credit in American has been in some sense in some of our states just accepted to be a little bit lax and we have got to increase the standards. No Child Left Behind was implemented. It’s not doing the job though. We need flexibility in No Child Left Behind. We need to put more of an emphasis on the profession of teaching. We need to make sure that education in either one of our agendas, I think, absolute top of the line. My kids as public school participants right now, it’s near and dear to my heart. I’m very, very concerned about where we’re going with education and we have got to ramp it up and put more attention in that arena.

I think that’s passionate and just about right on the merits. Unfortunately for her, it’s total bullshit that has nothing to do with what her campaign is proposing. Instead, McCain’s tax and budget policies have the following inflation-adjusted consequences for education:

  • Cuts in Head Start.
  • Cuts in Preschool.
  • Cuts in elementary school.
  • Cuts in college aid.

And that’s in aggregate terms. In per capita terms, the cuts will be bigger. And of course beyond the narrowly educational, McCain will also cut back on S-CHIP and his health care tax changes will result in a decrease in the level of prenatal care in the United States. At the same time, we’re heading into an economic slowdown that will force state and local government to cut back on their investments in early education, primary and secondary education, and higher education. In principle, the federal government cut step in to fill the gap, but McCain has no plans to do so. The result of all this would be to kneecap efforts to improve education at the very time, as Palin said, our commitments in this area “have got to be really ramped up.” Under the circumstances, “meta” is a good option.

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