—by Bob Herbert first published in the New York Times, September 12th 2008
While watching the Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson Thursday night, and the coverage of the Palin phenomenon in general, I’ve gotten the scary feeling, for the first time in my life, that dimwittedness is not just on the march in the U.S., but that it might actually prevail.
How is it that this woman could have been selected to be the vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket? How is it that so much of the mainstream media has dropped all pretense of seriousness to hop aboard the bandwagon and go along for the giddy ride?
For those who haven’t noticed, we’re electing a president and vice president, not selecting a winner on “American Idol.”
Ms. Palin may be a perfectly competent and reasonably intelligent woman (however troubling her views on evolution and global warming may be), but she is not ready to be vice president.
With most candidates for high public office, the question is whether one agrees with them on the major issues of the day. With Ms. Palin, it’s not about agreeing or disagreeing. She doesn’t appear to understand some of the most important issues.
“Do you believe in the Bush doctrine?” Mr. Gibson asked during the interview. Ms. Palin looked like an unprepared student who wanted nothing so much as to escape this encounter with the school principal.
Clueless, she asked, “In what respect, Charlie?”
“Well, what do you interpret it to be?” said Mr. Gibson.
“His worldview?” asked Ms. Palin.
Later, in the spin zones of cable TV, commentators repeatedly made the point that there are probably very few voters—some specifically mentioned “hockey moms”—who could explain the Bush doctrine. But that’s exactly the reason we have such long and intense campaigns. You want to find the individuals who best understand these issues, who will address them in sophisticated and creative ways that enhance the well-being of the nation.
The Bush doctrine, which flung open the doors to the catastrophe in Iraq, was such a fundamental aspect of the administration’s foreign policy that it staggers the imagination that we could have someone no further than a whisper away from the White House who doesn’t even know what it is.
You can’t imagine that John McCain or Barack Obama or Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton or Joe Lieberman would not know what the Bush doctrine is. But Sarah Palin? Absolutely clueless.
Ms. Palin’s problem is not that she was mayor of a small town or has only been in the Alaska governor’s office a short while. Her problem (and now ours) is that she is not well versed on the critical matters confronting the country at one of the most crucial turning points in its history.
The economy is in a tailspin. The financial sector is lurching about on rubbery legs. We’re mired in self-defeating energy policies. We’re at war. And we are still vulnerable to the very real threat of international terrorism.
With all of that and more being the case, how can it be a good idea to set in motion the possibility that Americans might wake up one morning to find that Sarah Palin is president?
I feel for Ms. Palin’s son who has been shipped off to the war in Iraq. But at his deployment ceremony, which was on the same day as the Charlie Gibson interview, Sept. 11, she told the audience of soldiers that they would be fighting “the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans.”
Was she deliberately falsifying history, or does she still not know that Iraq and Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks?
To burnish the foreign policy credentials of a vice presidential candidate who never even had a passport until last year, the Republicans have been touting Alaska’s proximity to Russia. (Imagine the derisive laughter in conservative circles if the Democrats had tried such nonsense.) So Mr. Gibson asked Ms. Palin, “What insight into Russian actions, particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of the state give you?”
She said, “They’re our next-door neighbors. And you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska. From an island in Alaska.”
Mr. Gibson tried again. “But what insight does that give you,” he asked, “into what they’re doing in Georgia?”
John McCain, who is shameless about promoting himself as America’s ultimate patriot, put the best interests of the nation aside in making his incredibly reckless choice of a running mate. But there is a profound double standard in this country. The likes of John McCain and George W. Bush can do the craziest, most irresponsible things imaginable, and it only seems to help them politically.