Sarah Palin, Ignoramus

Several commentators have objected to my characterization of Sarah Palin as an”ignoramus” in the post below. I’m simply using the term in its precise meaning as “an extremely ignorant person.”

The dictionary definition of ignorant:

1.    lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned: an ignorant man.
2.    lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact: ignorant of quantum physics.
3.    uninformed; unaware.
4.    due to or showing lack of knowledge or training: an ignorant statement.

She fits the bill in all those but especially 2.  She’s likable and, I presume, of above average intelligence.  She is, however, utterly lacking in knowledge or training about matters of public policy, law, or international affairs that one expects a vice presidential nominee to bring to the table.

I didn’t call her an idiot or a moron. I don’t think she’s too stupid to learn about any of those things but she’s demonstrably spent the first 44 years of her life without displaying the curiosity to do so.

Scott Adams (of “Dilbert” fame) says we’re all idiots, just about different things.  Sarah Palin knows more about moose hunting and snowmobiling than I’ll ever know.  Unfortunately, those things are of only tertiary help for one who could, in a little over four months, be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

I’m hardly an outlier in this view.  According to two national surveys taken after the VP debates, a plurality of Americans agree with my assessment:

  • NBC News/Wall Street Journal: “Forty-nine percent say that Pali is unqualified to be president if the need arises, compared with 40 percent who say she’s qualified. By contrast, 64 percent believe Biden is qualified to be president, versus just 21 percent who disagree.”
  • CNN/Opinion Research: “87 percent of the people polled said Biden is qualified while only 42 percent said Palin is qualified.”

So, incidentally, do a growing number of prominent conservative commenters.

  • George Will: “The man who would be the oldest to embark on a first presidential term has chosen as his possible successor a person of negligible experience.”
  • Christopher Buckley: “And finally, not to belabor it, there was the Palin nomination. What on earth can he have been thinking?”
  • David Brooks: “She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.”
  • Peggy Noonan: “The most qualified? No. I think they went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives. “
  • Charles Krauthammer: “Palin fatally undermines this entire line of attack. This is through no fault of her own. It is simply a function of her rookie status.”
  • David Frum: “Ms. Palin’s experience in government makes Barack Obama look like George C. Marshall.”
  • Kathleen Parker: “Palin’s recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity, and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League.”

There are many more where that came from.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mustn’t have any of that excessive decisiveness…

    McCain was way behind with the clock running out and he went for a Hail Mary pass. It will probably fall incomplete if not be intercepted and run back for a touchdown, but at least he was trying to win with a long shot against the odds instead of losing gracefully, as at least Mr. Brooks and Ms. Noonan would seem to have preferred.

  2. Floyd says:

    So….. the character assassination is complete and all the really “smart” people agree that Palin is dummy and a crook![lol]

    Has anybody even looked at a list of David Axelrod clients?
    What a brilliant lot!…Detroit’s Kilpatrick, New York’s Speis,Chicago’s Washinton, Massachusetts’Patrick,Obama etc.
    What do they have in common? The ability to parrot Axelrod’s speeches well enough to get elected. Then….who cares we won!
    At least until they get thrown out or jailed.

  3. Mithras says:

    The dominant faction of the Republican Party has made a virtue of ignorance. They like Palin precisely because she’s studiously avoided knowing anything.

    Far as I can tell, this concerted effort to avoid facts and evidence is going to wreck the GOP. The problem is that you may take down a lot of innocent people with you.

  4. jim says:

    The elites have spoken– that settles it. Leadership isn’t about learning facts and impressing the beltway crowd.
    I trust my own opinion more than those of the people you listed. I see they all have two skills– the ability to write and to repeat what they hear within their circle.

  5. James,

    Words have different meanings depending on the context. There are a lot of people that one could accurately define as “gay” and be perfectly within the precise definition. However, words have colloquial meanings that may or may not be within the precise definition of the word.

    I remember my college English professor lamenting the fact that the word “gay” had been “hijacked.” She described it as a wonderful word to use to express the state of being happy — “happy” just didn’t cut it. But, language is not static.

    The word “ignoramus” carries with it negative connotations, and, in my opinion, when you call Palin an ignoramus you do call her an idiot or a moron.

  6. TJIT says:


    If palin is an ignoramus biden is an ignoramus cubed. He is concentrated ignoramus that one should avoid contact with lest some of it rub off on you.

    This would be obvious if the commentariat and media applied the same scrutiny to biden and his ongoing stream of stupid statements that they apply to palin’s.

    Biden, the master gasbag

    The constitutional law professor scornfully mocked Dick Cheney because the vice president “doesn’t realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president. That’s the executive branch.”

    Wrong. Article I defines the Legislature, Article II the executive branch. Both define the role of the VP.

    Now, Palin had her own problems. She failed to answer direct questions directly. She offered up some obviously canned one-liners.

    But here’s the difference. Palin is supposed to be everything Biden isn’t, according to liberal pundits and mainstream reporters alike.

    For weeks they’ve been saying she’s ill-prepared, uninformed and lacks the requisite experience. But that criticism is also an excuse of sorts.

    Biden has no excuse. He’s been in the majors for nearly 40 years, and yet he sounds like a bizarro-world Chauncey Gardner.

    He offers a logorrheic farrago of “specifics” that have no connection to our corner of the space-time continuum.

    In short, he just makes stuff up.

    But he does it with passionate, self-important intensity. He’s like a politician in a movie with a perfect grasp of a world that doesn’t exist. He’s not an expert, he just plays one on TV.

    No one seems to care. He convinced the focus groups he’s an expert. The media, with a few exceptions, let it all slide. But imagine if Palin had made any of these gaffes. It would be incontrovertible proof that her critics are right.

    Palin “lost” because she’s bad at being a dishonest politician. Biden won because he is, after all, a “master senator.”

  7. Steve Plunk says:

    Of course it’s very hard to judge a person’s intelligence when they are being managed by campaign handlers and we see only pieces of their speeches. Knowing that we are only seeing what is presented through the filter of a modern presidential campaign I would expect more reasonableness than just labeling someone an ignoramus. It doesn’t matter who else does it it doesn’t make make it right.

    I’m not sure why JJ has such a problem with Palin. This country has a long tradition of citizen leaders and we embrace them rather than tolerate the professional politicians. Palin’s connection with voters comes from the impression she serves somewhat reluctantly and she still speaks our language.

    It’s has always amused me the way many toss aside accomplishments like being elected governor. I dare say I doubt any one of us could enjoy such success let alone govern with such a high approval rating.

    In the end I can’t help but think much of Palin’s perceived ignorance comes from her regional accent. The east coast elite are unfamiliar with the west coast working class speech patterns. Like a southern accent it can be a handicap to being taken seriously.

  8. One other thought. I’m fairly certain that Governor Palin knows more about matters of public policy, law, or international affairs than I do. Granted, I’m not running for Vice President, but does that make me an ignoramus?

  9. TJIT says:


    Here is another example of one of biden’s gaffes.

    For some reason biden (with 30 + years experience), with his ongoing history of being a walking gaffe dispenser, is portrayed as a master statesman.

    While palin is portrayed as an ignoramus.

    The mind boggles.

    Keeping Up With Biden II — Does Anyone Remember When We “Kicked Hezbollah Out of Lebanon”?

    Biden said

    When we kicked — along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, “Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don’t know — if you don’t, Hezbollah will control it.” Now what’s happened? Hezbollah is a legitimate part of the government in the country immediately to the north of Israel.

    My question, or rather, questions: Is he on drugs? Exactly when did this kicking occur? Has anyone alerted Sheikh Nasrallah?

    And the NATO claim is just a riot.

    Obviously, there was no vacuum to fill since Hezbollah has only grown in strength in Lebanon since 1983, but has anyone seen something, anything, to support the claim that Biden or Obama wanted NATO in Lebanon

  10. anjin-san says:

    In the end I can’t help but think much of Palin’s perceived ignorance comes from her regional accent

    Wow. Compelling argument. Thats exactly what happened to Bill Clinton.

    Oh wait, now I remember. When Clinton started speaking, it quickly became apparent that he was the smartest kid in the room, regional accent and all…

  11. Beldar says:

    Dr. Joyner, as a long-time reader and not-infrequent commenter here, I had assessed you to be a serious and adult person with whom it was possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

    Hurling this insult at Gov. Palin is typical instead of what I’d expect to read on Kos or the Democratic Underground, in one of their writers’ less obscene moments.

    Your going to such elaborate lengths to defend the attack, and repeat it, suggests an emotional investment that ought give you pause. Collecting lengthy quotes from other people who also use childish language to condemn Gov. Palin fills out your post, and I readily concede that there are many people who enthusiastically use words like “ignoramus” (and worse) to disparage Gov. Palin. But that utterly fails to make your argument that you’re right. It just puts you into company with some other unpersuasive people who can’t moderate their own rhetoric.

    You’ve been kind in the past to occasionally link my writing, even when we’ve disagreed, and to invite me to participate in your online live program, and I’ve enjoyed all of those occasions. I don’t think I could accept such an invitation any more, though: If Gov. Palin is an “ignoramus,” then as one of her most enthusiastic supporters, I must be one too, at least in your eyes. And I don’t think I’d want to volunteer for that verbal abuse, nor listen passively to you inflict it on Gov. Palin.

    I think, therefore, that this will be the end of our conversation at least for this election season; after it has ended, I hope you’ll regain the perspective that it seems to me, at least, you’ve lost for the moment, at least on this topic.

  12. Beldar,

    Certainly everyone is entitled to their opinions about Palin, but let me ask: where is the evidence that Palin has spent any time giving serious consideration to the major domestic and foreign policy issues that face the country? This is, ultimately, the issue, regardless of what word one wishes to use to describe the situation.

  13. Steve Plunk says:

    anjin-san my friend,

    There will be cases of those regional accents being overcome. Bill Clinton’s educational background was beyond reproach, Georgetown, Rhodes Scholar, Yale Law. In Palin’s case the educational background doesn’t measure up on paper. Now that doesn’t mean she is uneducated but you certainly don’t wow people with a bachelors degree from Idaho.

    Now I realize I didn’t put forth much of an argument for my hypothesis but it was merely one man’s opinion. Don’t be so surprised when some of us do that, just post a thought. Of course no one has yet to shoot it down either.

    Dr. Taylor,

    As governor of Alaska Palin would not likely have such evidence. Her responsibilities and record would be of state politics and issues. Of course we could ask if the Democratic nominee for president has such a record before his campaign began.

    Remember the discussion here is about her being labeled an “ignoramus”. Just because you haven’t written papers on foreign policy doesn’t mean you are ignorant.

    I hate to say it but a little academic elitism is showing with both yourself and Dr. Joyner. While I truly respect the both of you but I consider the description of Sarah Palin as an ignoramus rude and indefensible.

    Perhaps you and our host would rather point out specific policy decisions she has made that are in error or something of substance rather than perception that would qualify her as an ignoramus. Lack of evidence is not always evidence of something contrary in itself.

  14. Beldar says:

    Steven, on domestic issues, I’d say that the fact that Gov. Palin broke a 30-year logjam to propose and pass enabling legislation, then to sign a contract, for the construction of a $40bn cross-state natural gas pipeline is a pretty fair example of her having considered, and addressed, a major policy issue that resonates on a national level. In fact, I’d say she’s already accomplished more to address our national energy problem as the governor of Alaska than Congress has done in decades. To that, I’d add her cutting almost a half billion in pork from her state’s budget even during a time of surplus and even though the pork was mostly from fellow Republicans, and her replacing the previous version of the Alaska severance tax, which had been negotiated with big energy companies behind closed doors, with one negotiated and deliberated in absolutely transparent public proceedings. I’d add to the mix her first veto in office, which was of an attempt by the Alaska Legislature to end-run an Alaska Supreme Court ruling requiring the state to offer same-sex partners equal benefits to those received by state-employed married couples — a veto which shows a keen appreciation for the rule of law and the proper responsibility of the three branches of government, even though she personally opposed the Alaska Supreme Court’s decision.

    Her actual accomplishments during a partial term of office certainly compare very favorably to Barack Obama’s sponsorship of a relief bill for the Congo, which to my knowledge remains his only accomplishment as a U.S. Senator if one discounts (as I think is fair) his co-sponsorship of legislation that Dick Lugar, Tom Coburn, or others actually had drafted and introduced.

    Sen. Obama, too, has had his share of verbal miscues — “57 states”-sort of moments — and don’t get me started on Joe Biden. Biden’s particularly fun to mock precisely because he sets himself up by, for instance, arguing that he has a “higher IQ” than a questioner or lying about his law school class rank. And I’ve argued that just as Gov. Palin has a sense of humor about herself (viz, the pit bull/lipstick remark), her supporters ought to be willing to laugh too (e.g., my post on Hugh Hewitt’s blog embracing the Caribou Barbie moniker).

    But the precise point here is whether it usefully advances the discussion of Gov. Palin’s merits, or her alleged lack of same, to hurl undiluted and, frankly, hateful insults like “ignoramus” — without humor, with nothing but raw disdain and contempt.

    My position is that that’s a playground taunt, worthy only of schoolchildren — and only young schoolchildren at that. I recognize that Dr. Joyner (and others) have formed negative opinions, but the use of insults like this one are inconsistent with the open-mindedness required to carry on a good-faith further argument or to reconsider.

    I just expected better of Dr. Joyner. I hope that after the passion of the election has past, he’ll see things in a different light. We all have our blind spots — I’ve got my own, on which my reactions are emotional and no longer subject to rational discussion — but I’m sorry Gov. Palin appears to have become one such for James.