Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sarah Palin For President?

It must have seemed a remarkable thing to Democrats watching the Republican intra-party sniping a little over a week ago being conducted between Sarah Palin and certain anonymous McCain campaign staffers, as it was leaked to and reported by that organ of Republican communication otherwise known as Fox News. And all that with no Democratic or liberal media fingerprints anywhere to be found.

Can it actually be true, as the McCain leakers claim, that Sarah Palin didn't know the parties to the North American Free Trade Agreement, commonly known as NAFTA? That she didn't know that Africa is a continent and not a country? That South Africa is a country and not a region? It seems improbable. Still...

One way to view these latest claims is through the lens of things Palin has said in interviews on the campaign trail, particularly those with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric. Those statements, at least, are matters of public record, and we can judge them for ourselves.

Look, it would be no big deal if Palin's only flub was not knowing what the "Bush Doctrine" is, especially in the pressure of her first high stakes national interview. But what about her response to Katie Couric's question regarding how Alaska's proximity to Russia heightened her national security qualifications? It was always an absurd proposition, but one Palin and even McCain had nevertheless tried to milk, even in the face of some ridicule. The topic, then, was certainly in play when Katie Couric asked for a clarification. Consider the following exchange.

Couric: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials.

Palin: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of. And there...

Couric: Have you ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

Palin: We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.

Wow. Not only did she not make the case, but she didn't make the case in the most inarticulate manner imaginable, even by the low standards of the current president. It's almost fair to call that answer gibberish with punctuation. It parses, and you can wonder about what she's reaching for, but why try? I know people who claim—mainly while trying to defend President Bush—to not care if our highest leaders are articulate. I disagree with them. Being able to speak clearly is one sign of being able to think clearly. It seems important to me. In any event, most Alaskan housewives could have given a more astute and more coherent answer.

But moving on, and more to the point about what Palin actually knows, try to make sense of the following.

Couric: And when it comes to establishing your worldview, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?

Palin: I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.

Couric: What, specifically?

Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.

Couric: Can you name a few?

Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested, "Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?" Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.

"All" of them? But she couldn't specifically name even one? Truly, I'd be interested in how any candidate answered that question. But the fact that a candidate couldn't answer it at all would never have occurred to me, until now. Her bizarre non-answer, the dancing all around it, and ultimately deflecting it as being anti-Alaska, begs the question of whether she is even minimally informed about the world. And that includes understanding that Africa is a continent.

After getting over the initial shock, one can imagine how an ambitious but incurious person of minimal previous accomplishment transitioned from small town mayor to small state governor and then, by a frightful lapse in judgment, to the presidential ticket of a major party. It should never have happened. But in retrospect, only the final step in that progression is starkly implausible. It's one of those freak things that is thankfully now behind us.

Given that, why should we now care what Ms. Palin knows or doesn't know? In a reasonable world, we wouldn't. Because in such a world, nobody would seriously consider Sarah Palin as presidential material. In such a world her shallowness, her lack of understanding, her inarticulateness wouldn't merit a second thought. Millions of Americans are just as shallow, uninformed, and inarticulate.

But in the world in which we live, quite a few people do consider Palin to be worthy of the presidency. Palin has lately been conducting a full court media press, with a raft of interviews, to put her spin on the past couple of months. She's making noises suggesting she won't be going away. Not that she necessarily has all that much to say about it: Whether she remains on the national political scene ultimately depends not on her, but on us.


The interview transcripts containing the quotes included above can be found here and here.

Copyright (C) 2008 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved


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