Palin Watch IV: Post-Debate Musings
This hockey mom belongs in the penalty box.
By Mary Beth Crain
It was James Baldwin who observed, “This isn’t a country. It’s a collection of football players and Eagle Scouts.”
As the Republican Party’s “new, fresh face of change,” Sarah Palin certainly proved the other night that things have indeed changed since Baldwin made that depressing statement some 50 years ago. No longer are we a nation of football players and Eagle Scouts. No sir. Today, we’re a nation of hockey moms and Joe Six-Packs!
What a comfort, to see how far we’ve come. “Americans are craving something new and different,” Palin declared during the vice-presidential debate, referring to herself as “that new energy and new commitment that’s going to come with reform.” She then went on to speak to “everyday American people—Joe Six-Pack and hockey moms across the country.” Confirming, once again, America’s proud heritage of boastful anti-intellectualism. Screw them liberals and high hats comin’ in from Hahvad n’ Yale, and all them big shot Washington lawyers turned senators, tellin’ us what to do! Just gimme mah six-pack and mah 60-inch HDTV and mah ESPN and mah Sarah Palin who talks mah language, and ah’m happy as a pig in a landfill! And oh yeah, hain’t she a damn hot piece of ass?
That’s Sarah Palin’s America, folks. It’s the America she spoke to the other night, from her side of the debate court, as Joe Biden looked on with restrained amusement and Gwen Ifill somehow managed not to let the horror show. Both of these esteemed individuals—a 36-year veteran of the Senate and one of the most respected journalists in the world—had been warned well in advance to take it easy on the media-whupped Governor of Alaska. No condescension. No patronizing. No real tough questions. Otherwise the elephants will pull the gender card, or the “Politics and Race in the Age of Obama” card, and Sarah will once again get a free ride as the poor, innocent victim of male chauvinism and Democrat chicanery.
And so, as intelligent and knowledgeable and thoughtful as Joe Biden is, he had to rein it in as his opponent cheerfully blathered and bragged and was the one allowed to be patronizing and condescending, as she showed off her amazing ability to memorize a blinding array of talking points and false claims, parrot the party lies, and charm those gullible viewers who don’t give a good gosh darn what she’s saying, as long as she’s saying it with good ol’ girl down home conviction. If you counted the darn rights, you betchas and doggone its that punctuated her unfocused and distinctly unprofound rhetoric, they’d fill a book. Add to that the cutesy little winks to Joe Six-Pack and Heather Hockey Mom, and well, doggone it, that’s the kind of Veep that’ll get the job done. Darn right. You betcha.
Which brings us to maybe the most incredible, and scary, statement Palin made that evening, when she got so full of herself that she actually proposed giving the vice president more power, totally misreading the U.S. Constitution in the process. “I'm thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate,” Palin said. “Our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president.”
Thankfully Joe Biden was on hand to oh so gently remind the nation, and Governor Palin, of the cautionary tale of Dick Cheney, and that contrary to Palin’s impressions, the Constitution is the opposite of flexible on the role of the vice president.
“Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history,” declared Biden. “The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.
“And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.
“The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he's part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous.”
Oh well. Whatever. The morning after, the Republicans were crowing over Sarah Palin’s brilliance. “She knocked him dead!” was their modest assessment of her performance. At some rally or other the following day, John McCain exhorted a cheering crowd, “So what about SARAH PALIN? HUH? HUH? What about that job she did last night? HUH? HUH?” The “huhs” sounded like they came right out of the barnyard, a cross between a braying donkey, a honking goose and a grunting pig, accompanied by the standard McCain grimace-grin. It was all he could do to keep from sticking his tongue out to the Democrats and sneering, “Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah!”
Well, let’s just call a spade a spade. Sarah Palin was, and will always be, woefully superficial and totally unqualified to run this country were that chilling eventuality ever to arise. All she proved during the debates was that in a highly structured, sterile environment where she was safe from the claws of Katie Couric and the sinister “gotcha” media, she could actually speak without drooling. As more than one commentator observed, all she did was manage to temporarily stop the hemorrhaging. And that could hardly be called a victory.
Apparently the American people shared that opinion. In poll after poll asking which of the candidates was more qualified, Biden clearly came out the winner, by a 15 point margin. However, we can’t discount the fact that when it came to the “likeability” factor, Palin scored points, and that’s disturbing, because, amazing at it sounds, it could override the incompetence factor—just as it did with Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
When, when, when will this country understand that just because you happen to like somebody doesn’t mean that they ought to run your country? That experience and intelligence and critical thinking are not negatives, and narrow-mindedness and ignorance and fundamentalism are not positives? That a woman whose pastor lays hands on her to protect her from witches, tries to ban books from libraries, hires unqualified cronies to fill cabinet posts and fires anyone who doesn’t agree with her, refuses to comply with a legislative subpoena to answer to potentially criminal charges, and won’t give interviews because the “filter of the mainstream media” is out to get her, is not a likeable person but rather a dangerous, power-hungry demagogue to whom the U.S. Constitution is just a little piece of paper to be amended in her favor whenever she feels like it?
“If stupidity got us into this mess,” Will Rogers once said of some government debacle or other, “why can’t it get us out?”
It’s a question we’re still asking 80 years later. Let’s just hope that on November 4, we finally find the answer.
Comment on this review here.
Senior editor Mary Beth Crain's last piece for SoMA was Palin Watch III: Dumb and Getting Dumber.
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