October 2008


President Palin

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net


President Palin. If those words dont send a spasm of fear through you, you are quite mad.


Is it too much to ask that we pick our leaders from the subset of Americans who can utter a coherent sentence when speaking extemporaneously?


And preferably from the subset of those who have already familiarized themselves with the issues of the day, so they can speak intelligently about foreign and domestic policy? In a perfect world, all vice presidential candidates would be people who have already run for president themselves and are spun up on the issues, not people who never expected to get the call.


Listening to Sarah Palin talk about being able to see Russia from Alaska, or commanding the National Guard, as substitutes for foreign policy experience, is just embarrassing:


Couric: You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?


Sarah Palin: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land-boundary that we have with Canada. It's funny that a comment like that was kinda made to ƒ I don't know, you know ƒ reporters.


Couric: Mocked?


Palin: Yeah, mocked, I guess that's the word, yeah.


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 thereƒ


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.


In a Ruby Tuesdays restaurant in Fort Myrs Florida a few weeks ago, I listened to a man in the next booth say, IÕm John McCains age. And I canÕt remember shit. So I am not voting for him, because I donÕt want a President who cant remember shit.

If he wins, McCain will be the oldest man ever elected to the Presidency. As such, he has a special responsibility to consider and plan for the fact that his vice president is very likely to have to take over someday. Does John McCain think he will live forever? Or does he just not care what happens after?

Even for much younger Presidents, the choice of a vice president too stupid or strange to serve is an act of appalling narcissism. Remember Spiro Agnew? Dan Quayle?

A few years ago, I felt quite calm at the possibility of a McCain presidency. He had the advantage, over George Bush and numerous other prospects, of actually being smart enough. He was relatively moderate, for a Republican. He was independent of George Bush, willing to be a thorn in his side. And he had no relationship with the religious wing nuts at the right wing of the party. He seemed to be above the lying, mud-slinging element, committed to tell the truth, a man of remarkable integrity for a politician of either party.

In the years since then, John McCain has sacrificed each of his decent traits to his ambition. He has backed off his moderate views, built bridges to (and become beholden to) the wing-nuts, hired the kind of advisors who create lying advertisements and spread rumors, and defended George BushÕs policies while falsely spinning himself as an agent of change. In the debate on Thursday night, he looked almost as shifty as Richard Nixon, with a strange little inappropriate smile. His repetition of the statement that Senator Obama doesnt understand was both calculated and offensive. He came across as the kind of arteriosclerotic, insufferable uncle who loudly repeats his own views at the dinner table while refusing to listen to anyone else.

By far the worst choice he has made, though, is his selection of Sarah Palin--an act of complete cynicism, all spin and no substance. He evidently chose her to represent contradictory ideas to different constituencies: a feminist to moderate female voters, a fundamentalist to the wing nuts; an agent of change to the hopeful, a reassurance that nothing will change for the diehards.

Sarah Palin represents a contradiction in terms, a successful woman politician who would prevent most women after her from achieving her successes if the world was structured according to her lights. She is certainly not a feminist in any real sense of the word.

What he should have thought about is the likelihood that his historic legacy will be foisting Sarah Palin off on us as his successor.

While choosing her as vice presidential candidate is somewhat historic (many young people today dont know there has already been a mainstream female vice presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro on Walter Mondales Democratic ticket in 1984), there were a number of other women out there far better qualified who were passed over, presumably because Palin is further right than they are (and possibly more telegenic?)

I think Hillary Clinton would have made a good president; she is smart and decisive enough, and I cant help thinking she would have shown a lot more fire in the debate than Obama did. Hillary Clinton knows where Ossetia is, what the problems are between Sunni and Shiite, who the president of Iran is. Sarah Palin on her best day, with tons of preparation and rehearsal, will never be as smart and knowledgeable as Hillary.

When Bush Jr. first ran for President, I was astonished to find myself debating some intelligent Republican apologists, friends and relatives, who denied that intelligence is a prerequisite for a successful presidency. After eight years of a twit at the wheel, shaped and manipulated by narcissistic, greedy backers, I think weve learned how bad things can be when nobodys home in the White House. Reading the transcripts of Palins interviews, she sounds exactly like a female version of George Bush.

Aside from the issue of her incoherence and lack of preparation, there are other major reasons why Palin should not be placed a heart-beat away from the Presidency. Her personal style, as mayor and governor, has been to use her office to engage in vendettas against the political opposition and people she doesnt like, such as her ex-brother-in-law. This is way too reminiscent of Richard Nixon and Rudy Giulianis style. She doesnt believe in evolution, would reverse Roe vs. Wade, and has no understanding of the First Amendment (witness the library censorship story).

Every election these days, I have my heart in my throat, as two dramas play themselves out, one overt and one hidden. The former is the question of which candidate and policies will capture most votes, of course; but the other is the question of how intelligent the voters will be, how quickly they will see through lies and hype to the real personality and beliefs of either candidate. After decades of a deliberate cultivation of voter stupidity in America, led by conservatives but participated in by politicians of all stripes, culminating in the election of George W. Bush, I see us sliding towards a Cheney-engineered oligarchy with total authority and no responsibility to truth, the Constitution or to us as citizens. (Think Patriot Act/secrecy/WMD manipulations/ terms of the proposed bail-out placing Paulsen above the law, etc.) I think McCain/Palin advances that agenda and Obama sets it back. If Palin becomes President during McCains term, which is likely, she will probably be as much a puppet of the permanent government guys presently led by Dick Cheney as George Bush is.

When do we become too stupid and pliant to sustain a democracy?