Thursday, October 09, 2008

Palin: Sancho Pander

By William Fisher

During this seemingly endless presidential campaign, there’s been a ton of criticism of the so-called mainstream media and its alleged fawning love affair with Barrack Obama.

Yeah? Maybe on cable TV with Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow. But they’re a pretty fragile counterpoint to that medium’s many wing-nuts like Sean Hannity.

Print reporters are ordinarily a very different story. If they err, it’s usually on the side of “objectivity.” If a candidate makes a statement, no matter how absurd or inaccurate or untrue, it gets reported. When I was a very young newspaper reporter, the office joke was that things didn’t get to be political news until they fell from the lips of public officials. We even had an official Associated Press handbook on “Objectivity.” That’s one of the ways Joe McCarthy got so famous.

But writers who really knew politics usually managed to thread their way around the AP’s rules. Despite print journalism’s well-worn and still-current mantra– “if it bleeds it leads” – most really savvy political writers figured out how to write you to a place where you would find yourself encouraged to raise questions.

For many years, Roger Simon of has been one of those savvy political writers. Today, he’s become an entertainment critic. Today, he gets my nomination for the most mindlessly cynical piece yet written during this campaign.

I refer to his Oct. 2 paean to the moose-dresser, entitled, “You betcha Sarah Palin can debate.”

Sarah Palin, Simon wrote, “was supposed to fall off the stage at her vice presidential debate Thursday evening. Instead, she ended up dominating it.”

Really? That may have been the verdict of the GOP far right base, but all reliable polling concluded otherwise.

Undeterred by this inconvenient truth, Simon warmed to his task, citing the hockeymom’s myriad positive attributes. She “kept Joe Biden on the defensive.” She “repeatedly attacked Barack Obama”. She “looked like she was enjoying herself while doing it.” “She smiled. She faced the camera. She was warm. She was human. Gosh and golly, she even dropped a bunch of g’s…. if people thought she was going to look like a dumb bunny for 90 minutes, they were disappointed.”

Hey Roger, after eight years of mangled presidential locution, do we really want to be rewarding no-nothing grammar?

Palin, he wrote, “said what she wanted to say, and she was so relaxed she even winked at one point. Really! An actual wink during a national debate….”

Well, maybe what Palin really needs is a membership in Actor’s Equity! "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.”

But Simon gave her a free pass on the inarticulate test, writing, “She went out of her way to talk in everyday terms, saying things like ‘I betcha’ and ‘We have a heckuva opportunity to learn’ and ‘Darn right we need tax relief’.

He crowed that Palin again repeated Obama’s now-ridiculously-distorted statement that “he would meet with some foreign leaders who are hostile to the United States”, and then took her shot: “Some of these dictators hate America and what we stand for. They cannot be met with. That is beyond bad judgment. That is dangerous… An issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naiveté and goes beyond poor judgment.”

“Sarah Palin accusing Barack Obama of being naive?” asked Simon. “Yep. And she was unabashed about it.”

Maybe someone ought to tell George W. Bush, who is currently keeping himself busy talking with (and trying to buy off) lots of “dictators who hate America.”

“And so what if Joe Biden has been in the Senate approximately forever and knows a lot more about a lot more stuff than she does? She doesn’t care,” Simon wrote.

That’s it. She doesn’t care. And that’s one of the scariest things about McCain’s Russia-watcher.

In a moment of rare candor, Simon acknowledged, “a lot of her statements were of the fortune cookie variety. “At end of day,” she said, “if we are all working together for the greater good, it is going to be OK.”

“But a lot of people like fortune cookies,” he continued.

“Do people care about such stuff?” he asked. “Should all that down-home talk and body language really count?”

Simon wrote that Joe Biden doesn’t think so. (“Facts matter,” Biden said.)

Simon disagreed: “Yeah? In politics? Since when?” Well, maybe since Sarah Palin is asking us to ensconce her in Observatory Circle at a time when our country is facing its most existential challenges in a generation.

Is this really what we really want? A poorly informed opportunist who can’t tell us what she reads? Who plays fast and loose with the truth? Who can’t think of a single Supreme Court decision she disagrees with (save Roe v. Wade)? Whose international experience consists of trying to see Russia from her front lawn? Whose foreign policy savvy comes from a few minutes with Henry Kissinger or Hamid Karzai? Who labors under the misapprehension that the Constitution allows for vice presidential flexibility?

I don’t think so. And, judging from her plummeting poll numbers, neither do most of my fellow citizens.

It’s not that Sarah Palin is a Republican. We’ve had good Republican presidents before. It’s not that’s she’s folksy. As FDR and JFK and Harry Truman so ably demonstrated when they had to, folksiness can be necessary and positive.

No, Palin’s problem has already been underlined by some of the more thoughtful of her GOP brethren and sistren like George Will, David Brooks, and Kathleen Parker. Her problem is that she is clueless. It’s not that people may disagree with her ideas; it’s that she doesn’t have any ideas. It’s that she is quite content to live her life in a thought-free zone. It’s that she’s like Lou Dobbs in drag.

In short, Sarah Palin has zero knowledge of the things a Vice President really does need to know. Our Constitution. Our history. Our challenges. And a zillion other issues (including energy) likely to cross a Veep’s desk.

Can anyone think of a more absurd idea than a Palin portfolio that includes (a) energy (b) government reform and (c) improving the care of special needs children and their mothers?

And all that a beat away from a 71-year-old heart, et cetera.

For me, Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham, best summed up our dilemma. He wrote: “Perhaps Sarah Palin will somehow emerge from the hurly-burly of history as a transformative figure who was underestimated in her time by journalists who could not see, or refused to acknowledge, her virtues. But do I think I am right in saying that Palin's populist view of high office -- hey, Vice President Six-Pack, what should we do about Pakistan? --is dangerous?

“You betcha.”