Terrance Heath

Palin Pygmalion

Filed By Terrance Heath | October 01, 2008 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: interview, Katie Couric, Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin is unqualified, vice presidential debates, VP

After reading some of the comments at this Politico article, saying that Republicans are getting increasingly nervous about Palin after her media performances, there something that needs pointing out. The questions she was asked, and failed utterly to answer, are not "gotcha" questions. They are questions that any serious candidate should be able to answer coherently and without hesitation, or sense that they are leading questions and avoid answering them. It follows that the level of intelligence expected of any serious candidate would enable her or him to know a leading question when they hear one.

Problem is, your candidate ain't got it, and it's becoming increasingly obvious no matter how much you and your party want to pretend otherwise. Thus, the more people hear from Palin, the more they look at her like this.

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Why? Let's review.

Let's start with the Couric interview and work backwards.


iPhone users: Click to watch

Of course that's only part of it, but there's enough there to get us started.

First off, the Rick Davis question did seem to catch her by surprise, and this is a story that was news at the time of the interview. And not an obscure story, but one that a candidate on the ticket in question could expect to be asked about, and reasonably expected to be able to answer coherently.

For that matter, it's a question that any halfway together campaign would brief a candidate about before an interview. So why did Palin seem not to know that Davis' firm was paid by Freddie Mac through August? And if she did, why would she repeat the incorrect answer, saying that Davis did not benefit from the dealings? (Unless there's someway his firm can get paid without him benefiting, that would seem to be flat out wrong, and Palin's answer a sign of either deceptiveness or ignorance.)

Then there's the matter of McCain's record. A couple of the Politico commenters seemed to think it was unreasonable to expect Palin to know something about his 26-year record, because the "Average American" wouldn't know that either. But the "average American" isn't running on the same ticket as the man. Not knowing or caring to know about a candidate's voting record doesn't bode well for the "average American" as an informed voter, but not knowing your running mate's record -- even to name one single vote to back up your claims -- is inexcusable. If you don't know, it's not that hard to find out. I wouldn't blame Couric for asking "You have met John McCain, right?"

Here's a bit more of that Couric interview, via Jack Cafferty.


iPhone users: Click to watch

To quote Jack, "Did you get all that?" There was everything in that response but the answer to the question, almost as if Palin was pulling out random talking points from her tutoring sessions in the hopes that one of them will be an actual answer. (At one point, did it seem as though she looked down to glance at flash cards or something?)

We don't elect a presidential candidate with the assumption that his or her vice president won't be called upon to serve. We hope the vice president won't have to step in. As Jack Cafferty said, she is essentially aspiring to the highest office in the country. She ought to know a little bit of this stuff. She doesn't.

Case in point, the Gibson interview.


iPhone users: Click to watch

Again. No "gotcha" question here. A candidate running on the Republican ticket in 2008 -- five years into the war in Iraq -- ought to expect to be asked if she agrees with the policies of the incumbent Republican administration, and ought to be able to answer that question. Instead, Palin revealed that she didn't know what Gibson was talking about. After several tries, he had to tell her.

Again, the "average American" might not be able to define the Bush Doctrine. (I could. Does that mean I'm not an "average American.") But here's the thing. By the time you're elected the governor of a state, and picked for the no. 2 spot on a presidential ticket, you're not an "average American" anymore. You either rise to the occasion (in a hurry, in Palin's case), or you don't.

Or, you go to war with Russia.


iPhone users: Click to watch

Where to begin? I'm only sorry that clip didn't include the "We will not have another cold war," quote. With the "Bush Doctrine" question still ringing in the air, it's suddenly unacceptable to invade to sovereign nation, unprovoked? Isn't the Georgia/Ossetia dust-up the Bush Doctrine in action?

Again, it's the kind of question that any smart politician who knew anything about foreign policy would find a way to answer without even remotely alluding to the possibility of going to war with Russia. (In that sense, the Bush administration has even backed off the Bush Doctrine, in a fashion, suddenly preferring diplomacy.)

But Palin isn't a smart politician who knows anything about foreign policy. And that ignorance is an asset, according to some Republicans.

Robert Kagan says it's elitist to expect a President of the United States to be knowledgeable about national security issues:

Robert Kagan, a foreign policy advisor to McCain, derided criticisms of Palin as elitist.

"I don't take this elite foreign policy view that only this anointed class knows everything about the world," he said. "I'm not generally impressed that they are better judges of American foreign policy experience than those who have Palin's experience."

Based on the structure of the situation, it's plausible that Kagan is just being opportunistically dishonest here and trying to say something useful to the Republican ticket. But based on having read Kagan's work over the years, I think that's wrong and he's absolutely being honest. Kagan, like most neoconservatives, thinks that in-depth knowledge of foreign countries and the politics and culture of foreign societies isn't helpful in thinking about foreign policy questions. Similarly, they believe that in-depth knowledge of theoretical and empirical work in the field of international relations isn't helpful. Indeed, they think that this kind of in-depth knowledge is actually harmful. They prefer the judgment of people who have little knowledge of the outside world but do possess a degree of gut-level nationalism.

I know I'm pretty far out of the mainstream in general, but I hope that most people -- five years, thousands of lives, and billions of dollars into a war in which the "gut-level" justifications all proved wrong -- would instead opt for leaders who actually know a couple of things about the world.

The problem with the Republican ticket isn't "gotcha" questions. It's that John McCain isn't Henry Higgins, Sarah Palin isn't Eliza Doolittle, and the presidential campaign isn't Pygmalion. The talent of a George Bernard Shaw or the magic of Hollywood can turn a Cockney flower girl into a lady, depending upon the talent of the actress in the role, but there isn't time enough to turn Sarah Palin into a serious candidate for the highest office in the country. Not believably, anyway.

But, like I said, I'm far out of the mainstream. So far that I silently hoped that during the debates Obama would avoid sounding "too smart."

Before long, Obama and Biden will have to defend themselves against accusations that they're smart. They'll start claiming that they not only didn't know what the Bush Doctrine is but that they were unaware that Bush was even president. "We thought we were running against his father," they'll say. "We were too busy going to church and shooting animals and saying 'No' to lobbyists to pay attention to any of that Washington election nonsense. Hell, we don't even know how to read."

And the election will become about who's dumber and more ignorant.

And you know which party's going to win that one.

Because that's not what voters want.

Here's the thing about Americans. You can send their kids off by the thousands to get their balls blown off in foreign lands for no reason at all, saddle them with billions in debt year after congressional year while they spend their winters cheerfully watching game shows and football, pull the rug out from under their mortgages, and leave them living off their credit cards and their Wal-Mart salaries while you move their jobs to China and Bangalore.

And none of it matters, so long as you remember a few months before Election Day to offer them a two-bit caricature culled from some cutting-room-floor episode of Roseanne as part of your presidential ticket. And if she's a good enough likeness of a loudmouthed middle-American archetype, as Sarah Palin is, John Q. Public will drop his giant-size bag of Doritos in gratitude, wipe the Sizzlin' Picante dust from his lips and rush to the booth to vote for her. Not because it makes sense, or because it has a chance of improving his life or anyone else's, but simply because it appeals to the low-humming narcissism that substitutes for his personality, because the image on TV reminds him of the mean, brainless slob he sees in the mirror every morning.

Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern United States. As a representative of our political system, she's a new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical masterwork of puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the total surrender of our political power.

Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she's the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV -and this country is going to eat her up, cheering her every step of the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation.

And if he gives them anything else, they'll resent him for it, precisely because he doesn't reflect their own image back to them.

Maybe we don't resent that because we someday hope to be the rich and powerful, and so we vote for candidates whose policies decrease our likelihood of making ends meet, let alone getting ahead.

But they are -- or at least do a good job of appearing to be -- "competently ordinary." Thus, they seem more "like us," and less likely to make us feel worse about ourselves, whether their politics make us better off or not.

Does what we've thus far applied to intellect in political hopefuls now apply to pounds and pulse rates? I hope not. I hope we're smarter than that, still. Or maybe we resent being told we are smarter than that, should be smarter than that, or can be smarter than that. Maybe we resent being told we can do better, because the implication is that we should be doing better, which forces us to think about why we're not. That means thinking about what we're not doing, and why we're not doing it.

I call it the "Oprah factor." Legend has it, her popularity increases as her weight does (comedian Kathy Griffith compares it to "a hug from Jesus"), because she seems "more like us." On the other hand, her popularity goes down when she's on one of her "live your best life kicks." (Unless she punctuates it with another spectacular "giveaway" show.) Never mind that it's coming from someone who knows from experience a thing or two about improving his or her station in life, because he or she started in a place not too far from where we are.

Maybe that's what we resent.

We "get" Sarah Palin. More and more people are starting to "get" Sarah Palin, and understand that we have to work to make sure we don't get Palin come November. And, lately, more Republicans are coming to the same realization.


(Cross-posted at Republic of T)


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Great roundup of revealing interviews. Thanks, Terrance.

It's sad to think that many Americans will vote for the lowest common denominator. I'd like to think most Americans are smarter than that, but at this time, after making hundreds of phone calls to voters, I'd have to say you're right. If the alternative weren't so terrible, I'd say these people deserve what they get.

Wolf pisses me off to no end. What a bland man; it's all posturing.

He has noooo personality. You could make a drinking game out of watching for him to smile, but no one would ever get drunk.


This entire election cycle is taking a major toll on me. Come November, I'm taking a long vacation. I don't wanna to think about anything serious; I'll lay on a beach, sip Pina Coladas and let my brain do a Palin.