Palin Derangement Syndrome
Two lawyer-bloggers who I’ve followed for years are upset with me for buying into the “Sarah Palin was in over her head” meme. Xrlq accused me of drinking “the anti-Palin Kool-Aid” for buying into claims that Palin didn’t know which countries were in NAFTA while Bill Dyer is “genuinely concerned for [my] mental health.”
As to the more “outlandish” claims, such as that Palin thought Africa was a country, I tend to share my colleague Alex Knapp‘s view:
Look, I think it’s clear that Sarah Palin didn’t evince much interest in foreign affairs or have a deep knowledge base regarding it. Which was one of my problems with her selection as a VP nominee. But c’mon. Do you really expect me to believe that she didn’t know fifth grade geography? I’m pretty sure you’d have to actually play me a clip of her making that mistake before I actually believed it.
As I noted in the comments to his post, though, having taught plenty of undergraduates who thought Africa was a country or didn’t know where Canada and Mexico were located on a map, it doesn’t strike me as absolutely implausible. Regardless, the point of the post where I mentioned the charges — and noted that even “if true,” they “seem petty at this juncture” — was that conservatives ought to take the criticisms of more centrist Republicans to heart rather than making support for Palin some sort of litmus test.
The post that has Xrlq and Beldar so up in arms was simply to dismiss Andrew Sullivan‘s claim that the press somehow covered up concerns about Palin’s preparedness were absurd on their face. Rather obviously, the idea that she didn’t know much about foreign policy or the broader swath of national issues grew steadily starting from Team McCain’s decision to shelter her from the press and then blossomed into full force with horrible performances in the Katie Couric and Charles Gibson interviews.
Bill’s criticism of me is much more extensive here. He believes that I am suffering from Palin Derangement Syndrome.
I was tickled to be invited to participate by telephone in his podcast immediately after the Palin announcement in late August, and I agreed with him and the other participants that Gov. Palin was an exciting choice. Some time shortly after that, however, something changed Dr. Joyner’s mind about Gov. Palin.
I invited Bill on the show (which you can listen to here) because he is and was the blogosphere’s most knowledgable Palin observer, having touted her as a VP choice long before she was on most of our radar screens. What we agreed on was that 1) Palin was definitely causing a major buzz and seemed to have the base genuinely excited and 2) that Palin was at least nominally qualified by résumé for the job. I stressed, though — drawing comparison with Harriet Miers (another issue where the couselor and I differed) — that her résumé was thin for the office by recent standards. He agreed, as I recall, but argued that her personal qualities overcame any experience deficit. We also agreed that Palin’s resume stacked up just fine with Barack Obama’s.
But, no, I was never a huge fan of the pick, as my reaction the moment I heard about the Palin selection makes clear:
Aside from being young and hot-for-a-politician, though, Palin undercuts McCain’s entire campaign theme. She’s got less political experience and less foreign policy experience than Obama.
I’d never heard of Palin before the VP buzz started on the blogs a while back. She’s supposedly an excellent campaigner. And, obviously, her youth and gender make her a bold pick. Ultimately, though, I think she doesn’t make sense. If you’re running on “the country’s security is too important to be run by neophytes,” you can’t have one as next in line.
While Joe Biden was, twice, an awful presidential candidate, he’s a plausible president. Sarah Palin is not.
She’s going to make us pine for the days of Dan Quayle, methinks.
We’ll see what the reaction turns out to be. I’m certainly not the target audience. But McCain’s first big decision is, in my mind, a truly awful one. Obama went traditional but steady in Biden. It wasn’t a bold pick but it was one that butressed his claim that he has judgment even though he lacks experience. McCain has done the opposite here.
He’s incredulous that I “now seriously purport to believe, for example, that Gov. Palin ‘couldn’t even name a newspaper she read.'” I came to that conclusion only because Palin was unable to name a newspaper that she read in the Couric interview.
Ms Couric asks: “When it comes to establishing your world view, 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?”
Mrs Palin replies: “I’ve read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.”
Ms Couric: What, specifically?
Mrs Palin: “Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.”
Ms Couric: “Can you name a few?”
Mrs 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.”
As with the Miers pick, Bill and I simply have a different idea of what the criteria for high office should be. He’s much more of a populist and I’m much more of an elitist in terms of credentialing and expertise. Miers was nominally qualified to serve on the Supreme Court—and might have done a good job, for all I know—but she wasn’t a distinguished choice. Ditto Palin as VP.
Palin must be a reasonably bright woman. Bill’s right that it’s inconceivable that she got elected and re-elected to so many offices over the years, culminating with a state governorship, by being an airhead. She’s obviously quite charismatic and a strong campaigner. And I’m sure she knows Alaska issues backwards and forwards. I saw little evidence, though, that she’s very interested in foreign policy or most issues of American domestic policy. That doesn’t make her a bad person—she’s in the same boat as most Americans on that score—but it made her a bad choice for the vice presidency.