Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Palin’
The moderate Republican backs Obama; and states that one clear defining reason was the choice of Sarah Palin as Vice President; someone without the experience for the White House and the nature of the Republican negative personal campaign against Obama. Obama stood out as the transformational candidate needed for the next four years, with a plan for the economy:
I found that [McCain] was a little unsure of how to deal with the economic problems that we were having. Almost every day there was a different approach to the problem. And that concerned me.
I was also concerned at the selection of Governor Palin. She is a very distinguished person and a she is to be admired. But at the same time, now that we’ve had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don’t believe she is ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president. And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made. …
I watched Mr. Obama… he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems like this, and picking a vice president that I think is ready to be president on day one. And also not just jumping in and changing every day but showing intellectual vigor. I think that he has a definitive way of doing business that would serve us well. [source]
By gaining the right of the party it is conceivable that McCain lost the moderates – the question is how many of them in the key battleground states?
My earlier predictions – back in March – was that the lead Obama had would start to fall from mid October onwards. The danger of that is that the opinion polls exaggerate Obama’s lead as well. It means the gap he has on McCain is not what it appears. Sure enough from the 13th to 19th October Obama’ lead has dropped from 8% to 5% (on average in the polls).
However, that matters only in so far as it impacts on the electoral college – that is the value of the states (by population roughly) given to the winning candidate with the total 270 getting you to the White House. According to RealClearPolitics Obama/Biden have 286 without taking the toss up seats into consideration; with only Colorado at 6% lead for Obama being the most marginal state of that 286 with 9 electoral votes. Take it away leaves room to spare at 277.
McCain would have to come back and take Virginia (13 votes) which is Obama’s with a 8.1% lead. Now I have said that the margin for error will be 3-6% nationally skewed in favour of Obama. Even allowing for the top end and evenly in all states that means McCain needs a 4% bounce back.
You have to consider this: that 286 count does not include Florida (27) and Ohio (20) which are too close to call. The good news for McCain is that Florida is moving away from Obama. Bad news is that Obama still leads by over 3.2%.
Here then is something for you to ponder. Some right wing Republicans were saying that they would stay at home as McCain was not the right sort of Republican. With Colin Powell supporting Obama this may give them cover to say that they need to support McCain. It may well be a testament to how far McCain pandered to them that Powell has endorsed Obama. Powell will shore up Obama’s already committed supporters – it may however not dragged anymore Republicans. It could be a warning shot across the bows that they will loss the White House for 4 years. Maybe even 8 years, to a transforming President. Which must sound like a liberal nightmare to them.
It will be interesting to see how the polls react. It gives Obama some cover from the lack of experience charge. It may however make the Republicans realise that loosing Michigan is the least of their problems when loosing Colorado means the jig is up in an every increasing long odds on McCain making a big enough come back.
His only hope is that the polls are seriously wrong. Or students do not vote. But when economists start doubting you then it may well be that the battle is all but lost till the rout at the ballot box. The odds are lengthening, McCain needs not just a bounce back but polls to be wrong, and people hiding their true intentions at the ballot box.
Two weeks and a day to go to find out.
I never had this much interest in the decision that Americans faced when voting for the President then now. In part that is due to the Bush years, which placed loyalty to friends before responsibility in office whether Donald Rumsfeld, Michael Brown at FEMA or nominating his personal lawyer Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court – “a pit bull in size six shoes” as he described her. Katrina came a year too late to blow Bush out of the White House; he has never recovered from that. Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, New Orleans our words dominating the political legacy of the outgoing President.
While Bush did not deserve a second term I found it difficult to get excited by Kerry. He was unconvincing in how he was going to change things, while Bush had four years in office to point to as President. Right or wrong in his actions, in an uncertain terrified world people stuck with the devil they knew in the hope it may take one to tame and catch one; the devil they did not know was a flip flopper that gave a mixed signal. People did not want peace then, they wanted the enemies of America to know they would attack if provoked 100%.
Four years later Osama Bin Laden is still free to mastermind, and the Al Qaeda franchise means that even with his capture splinter cells have the ability to cause mayhem. Short of John McCain appearing bruised and battered with a chained Bin Laden – “My friends, I got him!” – McCain needs a surge of his own in battleground states to all go his way to defeat Obama. Spoilt ballot papers confusing Osama/Obama will not be enough. Doubt that Obama has the seasoning to do the Commander in Chief role may.
Which brings me back to why this election matters for me. Obama is the man that could have taught Martin Luther King in the art of public speaking, or that in an age of skepticism about politicians being able to change things and cynicism that they actually want to he is a breath of fresh air that threatens to blow through the stale odour of closed backrooms in Washington DC. Whether there is enough huff and puff to open the door and effect real change is debatable.
There is nothing beyond the rhetoric that points to Obama being able to do those things. He inspires, and his ambition to always be on the way to the next level can go no further then President of the United States. The only place left is a legacy, and if your ambition is to go beyond the admiration held for Abraham Lincoln, the question is whether Obama has what it takes. The problem is that we will only know that when he is in office.
McCain though is someone I have long admired on this side of the pond – not least because he was reported on. He often criticised Bush, he took on the religious right in his party and his attitude to abortion was like my own – I may not like it but I like the idea of illegal abortions even less, and reproductive issues are between a patient and a doctor. On the economy he was for free trade, and on the environment he stood out.
However the McCain of 2008 now is a pale shade of the McCain of 2000. His political persona is like comparing the physical Michale Jackson of “Blood on the Dance Floor” with the one that did “Billy Jean”. The transformation is unnatural, and what you once admired has disappeared in artificial layers, as the beat changes to the rhythm of the religious right. Blame it on the bogey; to get the gig he had to dance to their tune.
Picking Sarah Palin as the Vice President demolished any lingering respect for McCain. At 72 it would only be right to pick a heavy weight – he owed that to the American people. Instead he picked someone with over a years experience as a Governor and no knowledge of the economy and foreign affairs. Her folksy glamorous style to motivate the Republican base and appeal to women was about spin and not substance. Had there been a shorter time between choosing her and Polling Day she may definitely given him the White House. Under media scrutiny she has come across as a rabbit caught in the headlights, a pit ball with lipstick trapped in the cross hairs.
Hitchens makes the point that character is a political issue. On that score McCain has looked like someone wondering around having forgotten what he stood for. He cancelled his campaigning to resolve the financial crisis in the Senate. The result was the majority of Republicans were against the measure. It was a real test of his ability to lead, and he fell down.
In the last debate he was restless, a bewildered look in his eyes that people would consider anyone but him for President. Obama was poised, dignified and calm – a rock in a stormy sea. He toned down the professor lecturer, and became a statesman ready to do the job. McCain looked like he was ready for his medication.
McCain really needs a knock out blow. At the moment Obama has an average lead of 8% in the polls. Very close to the lead I predict he needs of 10% by mid October to assure himself of the Presidency. Because I think the only way to go is down for Obama as it becomes his to loose and I think the polls exaggerate his current support. The real test is how so in the battleground states that analysis plays out. The problem for McCain is he needs a clean sweep of the toss up states to win – the 2% swing of itself is not beyond possibility. That needs stressing because though the final result may seem huge, the margins of victory that brought them about in key states may be minuscule in comparison. Every vote will count in those states and the Obama enthusiasm for getting out the vote may be what secures him victory. But the wind of change is blowing in Obama’s favour.
Iraq is an issue – yet the fatalities have been considerably less for US forces (under ten a month) and the murder rate for Iraq in 2008 looks set to be less than 2007. Put in perspective, Iraq is a little more dangerous for the population than for black people in America in terms of homicide [source]. McCain needs to tackle Obama about the surge, which together with support of Al Qaeda dropping in Iraq have played a part in the improving security situation.
McCain’s polling went down sharply while Obama’s went up after the second debate. Stuck behind a coffee table directly by your opponent, McCain has to come up with something in the third debate to turn things around. He cannot afford another dip. As polling day draws nearer the stay at home Republicans may turn up, having succeeded in making McCain have to appeal to them rather than undecideds and independents or slightly leaning Democrats. Should McCain loose, they will have to shoulder some of the blame – because having a candidate they wanted rather than the man they had meant McCain was diminished.
If only McCain had secured the Republican nomination instead of Bush in 2000. That was his time. The future now belongs to Obama.
WIll the prodigal son be welcomed back to the fold of the left? The maverick writer supports Obama:
McCain lacks the character and temperament to be president. And Palin is simply a disgrace.
I used to nod wisely when people said: “Let’s discuss issues rather than personalities.” It seemed so obvious that in politics an issue was an issue and a personality was a personality, and that the more one could separate the two, the more serious one was. After all, in a debate on serious issues, any mention of the opponent’s personality would be ad hominem at best and at worst would stoop as low as ad feminam.
At my old English boarding school, we had a sporting saying that one should “tackle the ball and not the man.” I carried on echoing this sort of unexamined nonsense for quite some time—in fact, until the New Hampshire primary of 1992, when it hit me very forcibly that the “personality” of one of the candidates was itself an “issue.” In later years, I had little cause to revise my view that Bill Clinton’s abysmal character was such as to be a “game changer” in itself, at least as important as his claim to be a “new Democrat.” To summarize what little I learned from all this: A candidate may well change his or her position on, say, universal health care or Bosnia. But he or she cannot change the fact—if it happens to be a fact—that he or she is a pathological liar, or a dimwit, or a proud ignoramus. And even in the short run, this must and will tell.
On “the issues” in these closing weeks, there really isn’t a very sharp or highly noticeable distinction to be made between the two nominees, and their “debates” have been cramped and boring affairs as a result. But the difference in character and temperament has become plainer by the day, and there is no decent way of avoiding the fact. Last week’s so-called town-hall event showed Sen. John McCain to be someone suffering from an increasingly obvious and embarrassing deficit, both cognitive and physical. And the only public events that have so far featured his absurd choice of running mate have shown her to be a deceiving and unscrupulous woman utterly unversed in any of the needful political discourses but easily trained to utter preposterous lies and to appeal to the basest element of her audience. McCain occasionally remembers to stress matters like honor and to disown innuendoes and slanders, but this only makes him look both more senile and more cynical, since it cannot (can it?) be other than his wish and design that he has engaged a deputy who does the innuendoes and slanders for him.
I suppose it could be said, as Michael Gerson has alleged, that the Obama campaign’s choice of the word erratic to describe McCain is also an insinuation. But really, it’s only a euphemism. Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear had to feel sorry for the old lion on his last outing and wish that he could be taken somewhere soothing and restful before the night was out. The train-wreck sentences, the whistlings in the pipes, the alarming and bewildered handhold phrases—”My friends”—to get him through the next 10 seconds. I haven’t felt such pity for anyone since the late Adm. James Stockdale humiliated himself as Ross Perot’s running mate. And I am sorry to have to say it, but Stockdale had also distinguished himself in America’s most disastrous and shameful war, and it didn’t qualify him then and it doesn’t qualify McCain now.
The most insulting thing that a politician can do is to compel you to ask yourself: “What does he take me for?” Precisely this question is provoked by the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin. I wrote not long ago that it was not right to condescend to her just because of her provincial roots or her piety, let alone her slight flirtatiousness, but really her conduct since then has been a national disgrace. It turns out that none of her early claims to political courage was founded in fact, and it further turns out that some of the untested rumors about her—her vindictiveness in local quarrels, her bizarre religious and political affiliations—were very well-founded, indeed. Moreover, given the nasty and lowly task of stirring up the whack-job fringe of the party’s right wing and of recycling patent falsehoods about Obama’s position on Afghanistan, she has drawn upon the only talent that she apparently possesses.
It therefore seems to me that the Republican Party has invited not just defeat but discredit this year, and that both its nominees for the highest offices in the land should be decisively repudiated, along with any senators, congressmen, and governors who endorse them.
I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that “issue” I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity. Obama is greatly overrated in my opinion, but the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience. With McCain, the “experience” is subject to sharply diminishing returns, as is the rest of him, and with Palin the very word itself is a sick joke. One only wishes that the election could be over now and a proper and dignified verdict rendered, so as to spare democracy and civility the degradation to which they look like being subjected in the remaining days of a low, dishonest campaign.
In Britain Spitting Image was a satirical comedy involving puppets of politicans and celebrities. While no longer around it had an impact on popular perceptions – John Major being the colour grey, David Steel being in the pocket of David Owen, Neil Kinnock unable to fall off a log to prove he could win the election (which he did not). While it may not have changed minds, it did reinforce views people took on politicians.
In the USA Tina Fey (30 Rock) is having a similar impact playing Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. As a mimic she is spot on in her interpretation of Palin. A natural advantage; a few years ago Palin dressed up as Tina Fey for Halloween.
At some points the comedy actually uses what Sarah Palin has said. While Sarah has said she is a fan, and there is talk that before Polling Day she may do a sketch with Tina on Saturday Night Live – John McCain did saying he had the oldness required for the job.
Check out one mock interview on Saturday Night Live (SNL) with Tina Fey as Palin here.
A week after the first broadcast of SNL, Palin’s approval rating went down by ten percentage points. For some a Republican victory seems less likely with Fey’s impersonation:
But you, Ms. Fey, have the ability, with just a wink and a smirk, to change the minds of millions of casual viewers and even more casual voters, to educate them as to what this woman stands or doesn’t stand for. These viewers don’t react to a radical move like Republican Senator Chuck Hagel coming forth to question Palin’s credentials or credibility, or really care about what political pundits prognosticate on cable news shows. Whether you like it or not, whether you believe it or not, many swing-state voters get their information and cue from you, Ms. Fey, and you need to provide as much of it as one woman possibly can, before the election is upon us and it is too late. [Huffington Post]
As for Fey, she has said that come November 5 she hopes to be done with the impersonation. One would hope that the voters would base that on the issues and what Sarah Plain stands for then a comedic impression. Because if that really was how people formed their opinions on policy and issue, then we have even more to fear then the leader of the world’s only superpower. If it does hopefully the saving grace is that something is funny because it is often so true.
The Troopergate affair comes to an end, with Stephen Branchflower’s report.
to investigate the circumstances and events surrounding the termination of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan and potential abuses of power and/or improper actions by members of the executive branch [Page 2]
Here are the key findings on Sarah Palin and the sacking of her brother in law – Page 8 of the report reproduced below:
Finding Number One
For reasons explained in section IV of this report, I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statue 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Alaska Statue 39.52.110(a) provides
“The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust.”
Finding Number Two
I find that, although Walt Monegan’s refusal to fire Trooper Michael Wooten was not the sole reason he was fired by Governor Sarah Palin, it was likely a contributing factor to his termination as Commissioner of Public Safety. In spite of that, Governor Palin’s firing of Commissioner Monegan was a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority to hire and fire executive branch department heads.
Finding Number Three
Harbor Adjustment Service of Anchorage, and it’s owner Ms. Murleen Wilkers, handled Trooper Michael Wooten’s workers’ compensation claim properly and in the normal course of business like any other claim processed by Harbor Adjustment Service and Ms. WIlkes. Further, Trooper Wooten received all the workers’ compensation benefits to which he was entitled.
Finding Number Four
The Attorney Generals office has failed to substantially comply with my August 6, 2008 written request to Governor Sarah Palin for information about the case in the form of emails.
Part of Todd and Sarah’s attempts to have Wooten (ex brother in law) sacked was that he shot a Moose illegally. That pressure was put on Monegan to agree or else his position would be untenable. He did not and he was sacked – which was within her power.
Will the damage to Sarah Palin be deflected by concerns over the economy – or will this be another example of her unsuitability for high office, and McCain making a bad selection on a political whim rather than a thorough assessment of character.
Salem became Braintree to escape it’s witch hunting history that happened 300 years ago. So it is rather worrying that the Wasilla Assembly of God Church invited Bishop Thomas Muthee, not only to preach but to bless Sarah Palin. Back in Kenya he accused a woman of witchcraft and led campaigns against her which eventually ran her out of town.
He advocated Sarah for Governor (separation of Church and State anyone?) as the video below shows proclaiming that education should be about Christianity, not other faiths or none. He blessed Palin against witchcraft as well.
“Make her way my God. Bring finances her way even for the campaign in the name of Jesus. … Use her to turn this nation the other way around.”
This is the woman that will be the Vice President to a 72 year old man who has had four bouts of cancer.
America, do not go back to a dark history of fundamentalist religion and superstition being the motivator of political power. Sarah Palin reckons the second coming will happen in her life time. Hopefully she will not see elected office as a step closer to make Armageddon happen any time soon.
Maybe Obama’s pastor problems and this may convince America that religion is perhaps not the indicator for public office they thought it was.
Sarah Palin may be disappointed that they have left the state of Michigan. Yet with Obama having a 7% lead in a state that voted for Kerry and Gore, it makes much more sense for the Republicans to focus on the key battle states and take the resources from this state to those where it may make the difference. Namely:
State Electoral Count Obama lead (%)
North Carolina 15 0.5
Nevada 5 1.8
Ohio 20 2.0
Virgina 13 2.4
Florida 27 3.0 [source]
If the Republicans concede any of these states then McCain has lost the White House. Taking states like those above where candidates have a 3% lead or less gives Obama 264 and McCain 163 – to win all it takes is 270. Despite Obama having on average a 6% lead in the polls (ranging from 3% – 9%) it will be those marginal states above that decide it. If McCain can get a 1.5% swing to him from Obama he will win the White House.
As I think that the polls are over stating Obama’s lead and under representing McCain, it is still very possible for McCain to win the White House. It is tight, and giving up on States that Obama has a clear lead in may be the smart move.
What McCain cannot afford however is to loose any states he currently holds. The good news for him (unlike Obama) is that most states are solidly supporting him, with only two states being vulnerable:
State Electoral Count McCain lead (%)
Missouri 11 1.7
Indiana 11 2.2 [source]
So when people tell you it will be a landslide for Obama or a close run race the answer is that there is an element of truth. If all the toss up seats go as they indicate above then Obama wins triumphantly 353 to 185. But a closer race is well within the margin for error. Obama wins Flordia or Ohio and keeps the other states that strongly support him then it is game over for McCain.
If the polls are under representing support for McCain he has a good chance of a narrow win. All the states above that are for Obama voted for George Bush in both 2000 and 20004. That may yet be reflected as we get nearer to polling day.
So expect more things like Palin pointing out that Obama was on a charity board with a founder member of the Weather Underground (a terroirst organisation against US involvement in the Vietnam war) while campaigning in Colorado (leaning to Obama 4.4% lead but voted for Bush the previous two times). What the McCain camp hope is that if the election becomes about character McCain will win. With Obama in Virgina attacking McCain’s health plan we may yet see an ideological battle occur to against an economic meltdown backdrop.
The key thing will be getting out the vote in these states. If Obama supporters feel that it is a done deal they may be inclined to stay at home. That would be a nightmare on polling day when results show the contest closer then the media were calling it. Obama has shown that he can create the momentum. The thing is to keep it going and on election day deliver his supporters to the polling booth.
One thing which McCain and Palin may use in the campaign:
The positive component is pretty straightforward: McCain and Palin are common sense conservatives and proven reformers. The record of reform can be emphasized and contrasted with Obama’s and Biden’s record of conventional, go-along, get-along liberalism. And implicitly: If McCain and Palin are reformers and outsiders, it’s not Bush’s third term. More important is the negative message. The McCain campaign has to convince 51 percent of the voters they can’t trust Barack Obama to be our next president. This has an ideological component and a character component. [Weekly Standard]
Democrats keep the champagne in the fridge – instead keep drinking the coffee because you are going to have to bust a gut to make sure that Obama wins the key states above and not fall for the hype that is being generated. The time to relax is when the polls close, because it ain’t over till it’s over.
A new radio series, America, Empire of Liberty has started on Radio 4, past episodes you can listen to on the web – with an introductory debate on what events shaped America today, chaired by by Justin Webb. This is a regular Monday to Friday starting from 15th September lasting six weeks. Plenty of stuff going into detail, with the first week covering lost civilisations to English Planters.
The title is inspired by Jefferson:
“We shall divert through our own Country a branch of commerce which the European States have thought worthy of the most important struggles and sacrifices, and in the event of peace on terms which have been contemplated by some powers we shall form to the American union a barrier against the dangerous extension of the British Province of Canada and add to the Empire of liberty an extensive and fertile Country thereby converting dangerous Enemies into valuable friends.”
The Radio 4 programme is hosted by David Reynolds, Professor of International History at Cambridge University and a Fellow of Christ’s College. In three series it will charts the development of the United States, exploring three key themes: Empire, Liberty and Faith.
Which has come at the right time as I am halfway through reading Matt Frie’s (Webb’s fellow man from the BBC in the States) Only In America. Walking through the Washington Mall in DC made me fall in love with the Capitol so reading about Frei’s experience living there and reporting has been enjoyable. His injection of humor and turn of phrase makes the book a page turner while covering such events as Katrina, the White House, and trying to get a driving license and living on Tilden Street.
The more well known John Sergeant (who survived the first cull in Strictly Come Dancing on TV, with the 64 former BBC political editor being described as a warm Uncle on the dance floor) said of Frei’s work:
If you are searching for a book to describe the current mood in America, look no further… He moves from high politics to daily life with an engaging confidence
Is America a world guarantee of liberty or an evil empire? The debate programme covers in part religion giving a false moral rationale to justify actions (rather than a cause of) – such as Palin describing US troops being deployed in Iraq as “a task that is from God” being routed in the Puritan past. I agree with Biden’s (remember him?) comment that Bush did not ask god if he should go into Iraq – rather he prayed that it was the right thing to do having made the decision. Religion in American politics is a cover, rather like sheep’s clothing, that allows you to do things that would be considered questionable if not outright wrong.
However, if people really think they are instruments of god and that inexperience is therefore not a problem, may want to give us pause. That a well formed world view is seeing Russia from your bedroom window, rather than having a battered passport, give us a concern that they should get out more. Like a fire bell in the night the question of how Palin is considered Presidential material alarms, as the bell weather states warm to McCain over his running mate.
All I know is that I audaciously hope John McCain has a long life well into his 80s. I wonder if we can get a mantra going on that?
With regards Palin on the Bush doctrine, that Sam Harris mentions see blog here. The tactic of winning over Hillary Democrats seems to be working with Lynette Long. Also, considering Sam Harris mentioned that we should consider not using the term Atheist when there is a more central goal to be won (in Palin’s case lack of experience) I wonder why he agreed to the title.
When Atheists Attack
by Sam Harris in Newsweek
Let me confess that I was genuinely unnerved by Sarah Palin‘s performance at the Republican convention. Given her audience and the needs of the moment, I believe Governor Palin’s speech was the most effective political communication I have ever witnessed. Here, finally, was a performer who—being maternal, wounded, righteous and sexy—could stride past the frontal cortex of every American and plant a three-inch heel directly on that limbic circuit that ceaselessly intones “God and country.” If anyone could make Christian theocracy smell like apple pie, Sarah Palin could.
Then came Palin’s first television interview with Charles Gibson. I was relieved to discover, as many were, that Palin’s luster can be much diminished by the absence of a teleprompter. Still, the problem she poses to our political process is now much bigger than she is. Her fans seem inclined to forgive her any indiscretion short of cannibalism. However badly she may stumble during the remaining weeks of this campaign, her supporters will focus their outrage upon the journalist who caused her to break stride, upon the camera operator who happened to capture her fall, upon the television network that broadcast the good lady’s misfortune—and, above all, upon the “liberal elites” with their highfalutin assumption that, in the 21st century, only a reasonably well-educated person should be given command of our nuclear arsenal.
The point to be lamented is not that Sarah Palin comes from outside Washington, or that she has glimpsed so little of the earth’s surface (she didn’t have a passport until last year), or that she’s never met a foreign head of state. The point is that she comes to us, seeking the second most important job in the world, without any intellectual training relevant to the challenges and responsibilities that await her. There is nothing to suggest that she even sees a role for careful analysis or a deep understanding of world events when it comes to deciding the fate of a nation. In her interview with Gibson, Palin managed to turn a joke about seeing Russia from her window into a straight-faced claim that Alaska’s geographical proximity to Russia gave her some essential foreign-policy experience. Palin may be a perfectly wonderful person, a loving mother and a great American success story—but she is a beauty queen/sports reporter who stumbled into small-town politics, and who is now on the verge of stumbling into, or upon, world history.
The problem, as far as our political process is concerned, is that half the electorate revels in Palin’s lack of intellectual qualifications. When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of mediocrity in this country. “They think they’re better than you!” is the refrain that (highly competent and cynical) Republican strategists have set loose among the crowd, and the crowd has grown drunk on it once again. “Sarah Palin is an ordinary person!” Yes, all too ordinary.
We have all now witnessed apparently sentient human beings, once provoked by a reporter’s microphone, saying things like, “I’m voting for Sarah because she’s a mom. She knows what it’s like to be a mom.” Such sentiments suggest an uncanny (and, one fears, especially American) detachment from the real problems of today. The next administration must immediately confront issues like nuclear proliferation, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and covert wars elsewhere), global climate change, a convulsing economy, Russian belligerence, the rise of China, emerging epidemics, Islamism on a hundred fronts, a defunct United Nations, the deterioration of American schools, failures of energy, infrastructure and Internet security … the list is long, and Sarah Palin does not seem competent even to rank these items in order of importance, much less address any one of them.
Palin’s most conspicuous gaffe in her interview with Gibson has been widely discussed. The truth is, I didn’t much care that she did not know the meaning of the phrase “Bush doctrine.” And I am quite sure that her supporters didn’t care, either. Most people view such an ambush as a journalistic gimmick. What I do care about are all the other things Palin is guaranteed not to know—or will be glossing only under the frenzied tutelage of John McCain’s advisers. What doesn’t she know about financial markets, Islam, the history of the Middle East, the cold war, modern weapons systems, medical research, environmental science or emerging technology? Her relative ignorance is guaranteed on these fronts and most others, not because she was put on the spot, or got nervous, or just happened to miss the newspaper on any given morning. Sarah Palin’s ignorance is guaranteed because of how she has spent the past 44 years on earth.
I care even more about the many things Palin thinks she knows but doesn’t: like her conviction that the Biblical God consciously directs world events. Needless to say, she shares this belief with mil-lions of Americans—but we shouldn’t be eager to give these people our nuclear codes, either. There is no question that if President McCain chokes on a spare rib and Palin becomes the first woman president, she and her supporters will believe that God, in all his majesty and wisdom, has brought it to pass. Why would God give Sarah Palin a job she isn’t ready for? He wouldn’t. Everything happens for a reason. Palin seems perfectly willing to stake the welfare of our country—even the welfare of our species—as collateral in her own personal journey of faith. Of course, McCain has made the same unconscionable wager on his personal journey to the White House.
In speaking before her church about her son going to war in Iraq, Palin urged the congregation to pray “that our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God; that’s what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan, and that plan is God’s plan.” When asked about these remarks in her interview with Gibson, Palin successfully dodged the issue of her religious beliefs by claiming that she had been merely echoing the words of Abraham Lincoln. The New York Times later dubbed her response “absurd.” It was worse than absurd; it was a lie calculated to conceal the true character of her religious infatuations. Every detail that has emerged about Palin’s life in Alaska suggests that she is as devout and literal-minded in her Christian dogmatism as any man or woman in the land. Given her long affiliation with the Assemblies of God church, Palin very likely believes that Biblical prophecy is an infallible guide to future events and that we are living in the “end times.” Which is to say she very likely thinks that human history will soon unravel in a foreordained cataclysm of war and bad weather. Undoubtedly Palin believes that this will be a good thing—as all true Christians will be lifted bodily into the sky to make merry with Jesus, while all nonbelievers, Jews, Methodists and other rabble will be punished for eternity in a lake of fire. Like many Pentecostals, Palin may even imagine that she and her fellow parishioners enjoy the power of prophecy themselves. Otherwise, what could she have meant when declaring to her congregation that “God’s going to tell you what is going on, and what is going to go on, and you guys are going to have that within you”?
You can learn something about a person by the company she keeps. In the churches where Palin has worshiped for decades, parishioners enjoy “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” “miraculous healings” and “the gift of tongues.” Invariably, they offer astonishingly irrational accounts of this behavior and of its significance for the entire cosmos. Palin’s spiritual colleagues describe themselves as part of “the final generation,” engaged in “spiritual warfare” to purge the earth of “demonic strongholds.” Palin has spent her entire adult life immersed in this apocalyptic hysteria. Ask yourself: Is it a good idea to place the most powerful military on earth at her disposal? Do we actually want our leaders thinking about the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy when it comes time to say to the Iranians, or to the North Koreans, or to the Pakistanis, or to the Russians or to the Chinese: “All options remain on the table”?
It is easy to see what many people, women especially, admire about Sarah Palin. Here is a mother of five who can see the bright side of having a child with Down syndrome and still find the time and energy to govern the state of Alaska. But we cannot ignore the fact that Palin’s impressive family further testifies to her dogmatic religious beliefs. Many writers have noted the many shades of conservative hypocrisy on view here: when Jamie Lynn Spears gets pregnant, it is considered a symptom of liberal decadence and the breakdown of family values; in the case of one of Palin’s daughters, however, teen pregnancy gets reinterpreted as a sign of immaculate, small-town fecundity. And just imagine if, instead of the Palins, the Obama family had a pregnant, underage daughter on display at their convention, flanked by her black boyfriend who “intends” to marry her. Who among conservatives would have resisted the temptation to speak of “the dysfunction in the black community”?
Teen pregnancy is a misfortune, plain and simple. At best, it represents bad luck (both for the mother and for the child); at worst, as in the Palins’ case, it is a symptom of religious dogmatism. Governor Palin opposes sex education in schools on religious grounds. She has also fought vigorously for a “parental consent law” in the state of Alaska, seeking full parental dominion over the reproductive decisions of minors. We know, therefore, that Palin believes that she should be the one to decide whether her daughter carries her baby to term. Based on her stated position, we know that she would deny her daughter an abortion even if she had been raped. One can be forgiven for doubting whether Bristol Palin had all the advantages of 21st-century family planning—or, indeed, of the 21st century.
We have endured eight years of an administration that seemed touched by religious ideology. Bush’s claim to Bob Woodward that he consulted a “higher Father” before going to war in Iraq got many of us sitting upright, before our attention wandered again to less ethereal signs of his incompetence. For all my concern about Bush’s religious beliefs, and about his merely average grasp of terrestrial reality, I have never once thought that he was an over-the-brink, Rapture-ready extremist. Palin seems as though she might be the real McCoy. With the McCain team leading her around like a pet pony between now and Election Day, she can be expected to conceal her religious extremism until it is too late to do anything about it. Her supporters know that while she cannot afford to “talk the talk” between now and Nov. 4, if elected, she can be trusted to “walk the walk” until the Day of Judgment.
What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. Watching her deny to Gibson that she had ever harbored the slightest doubt about her readiness to take command of the world’s only superpower, one got the feeling that Palin would gladly assume any responsibility on earth:
“Governor Palin, are you ready at this moment to perform surgery on this child’s brain?”
“Of course, Charlie. I have several boys of my own, and I’m an avid hunter.”
“But governor, this is neurosurgery, and you have no training as a surgeon of any kind.”
“That’s just the point, Charlie. The American people want change in how we make medical decisions in this country. And when faced with a challenge, you cannot blink.”
The prospects of a Palin administration are far more frightening, in fact, than those of a Palin Institute for Pediatric Neurosurgery. Ask yourself: how has “elitism” become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn’t seem too intelligent or well educated.
I believe that with the nomination of Sarah Palin for the vice presidency, the silliness of our politics has finally put our nation at risk. The world is growing more complex—and dangerous—with each passing hour, and our position within it growing more precarious. Should she become president, Palin seems capable of enacting policies so detached from the common interests of humanity, and from empirical reality, as to unite the entire world against us. When asked why she is qualified to shoulder more responsibility than any person has held in human history, Palin cites her refusal to hesitate. “You can’t blink,” she told Gibson repeatedly, as though this were a primordial truth of wise governance. Let us hope that a President Palin would blink, again and again, while more thoughtful people decide the fate of civilization.
Harris is a founder of The Reason Project and author of The New York Times best sellers “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation.” His Web site is samharris.org.