By Victor Davis Hanson
Journalists continue to ask, “What was John McCain thinking in selecting the gaffe-prone Gov. Sarah Palin?”
In what has now become a disturbing pattern, the Alaska governor seems either unable or unwilling to avoid embarrassing statements that are often as untrue as they are outrageous. Recently, for example, in an exclusive interview with news anchor Katie Couric, Palin gushed, “When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, princes of greed. He said, ‘Look, here’s what happened.’ ” Apparently the former Alaskan beauty queen failed to realize that in 1929 there was neither widespread television nor was Franklin Roosevelt even President.
Sometimes the Idaho-native Palin seems to confuse and embarrass her own running mate. Shortly after her nomination, she introduced a “John McAmerica;” then she referred to the Republican ticket as the “Palin-McCain administration;” and finished by calling Sen. Obama, “Senator George Obama.” The Palin gaffes seem to be endless: on her way to Washington to meet the national press corps, Palin, the mother of five, once again stumbled " this time characterizing Senator Biden as “Congressman Joe Biden,” who, she chuckled, was “good looking.”
But then Palin only compounded that growing image of shallowness when introducing her own snow-mobiling husband Todd, “as drop-dead gorgeous!” And when asked about the controversial McCain ad suggesting that Barack Obama had introduced explicit sex education classes to pre-teenagers, the Christian fundamentalist Palin scoffed that it was “terrible” and that she would have never had allowed such an unfair clip to run " before retracting that apology under pressure from the now exasperated McCain campaign staff. But then, according to press reports, wild Sarah only made things worse still by announcing that paying higher taxes was the “patriotic” thing for Americans to do.
This week, the gun-owning, moose-hunting Palin also promised blue-collar Virginians that she would protect their firearm rights " even, if need be, from her own running-mate: “I guarantee you, John McCain ain’t taking my shotguns, so don’t buy that malarkey. Don’t buy that malarkey. They’re going to start peddling that to you. I got two. If he tries to fool with my Beretta, he’s got a problem. I like that little over and under, you know? I’m not bad with it. So give me a break. Give me a break.”
Palin may have had some experience in Alaskan politics, but at times the former small-town mayor seems unaware of the pressures of running a national campaign in a diverse society. For example, Palin " who has had past associations with reactionary groups " caused a storm earlier when she characterized Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama in seemingly racialist terms: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” Such stereotyping suggested that the Alaskan was not aware of the multiracial nature of American politics " an impression confirmed when in her earlier gubernatorial run, she had once suggested that to enter a donut shop was synonymous with meeting an Indian immigrant.
The recently-elected Governor Palin was further rattled by media scrutiny, when, in a moment of embarrassing candor, she confessed, “Mitt Romney is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America. Quite frankly he might have been a better pick than me.” That confession followed an earlier deer-in-the-headlights moment, when the nearly hysterical Palin urged a wheel-chair bound state legislator to rise: “Sally, stand up, let the people see you!”
The Palin gaffes are no surprise to those who have followed closely her previous races. They cite her aborted governor campaign, when she was forced to pull out after fraudulently claiming that her working-class family had been Idaho coal miners " in an apparent case of plagiarism of British Prime Minister candidate Neal Kinnock’s stump speech. Palin once boasted: “I started thinking as I was coming over here, why is it that Sarah Palin’s the first in his family ever to go to University . . . is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright . . . who worked in the coal mines of Northeast Idaho and would come up after 12 hours and play volleyball?” It did not help Palin that reporters quickly discovered that while as a student at the University at Idaho she had been caught plagiarizing and also misrepresented her undergraduate transcript.
Most recently on the campaign trail, Governor Palin apparently promised a vocal supporter that the United States would certainly not burn coal to produce electricity " even though roughly half of current U.S. power production is coal-fired. The same uncertainty seems to extend to foreign policy. Under cross-examination, Palin appeared confused about her own recent trips abroad, first claiming that her helicopter had “been forced down” in Afghanistan, although other passengers suggested the landing was a routine cautionary measure to avoid a possible snowstorm. Palin likewise had alleged that she was shot at while in Baghdad’s Green Zone, although there was no evidence from her security detail that she had, in fact, come under hostile fire.
The Obama campaign has lost no time in hammering at the former hockey-mom Palin’s foreign-policy judgment, alleging that shortly after September 11 she once suggested sending $200 billion to Iran as a “good will” gesture, and reminding journalists that in repeated interviews, Palin had called for dividing Iraq into three separate nations, despite Iraqi resistance to such outside interference. Palin, the nominal head of the Alaskan National Guard, has also falsely insisted that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen had once suggested that we were losing the war in Iraq and that the Bush administration had sent Undersecretary of State William Burns to Teheran to meet with Iranian officials.
In response to Palin’s unbridled misstatements, journalists have coined the term “Palinism” " the serial voicing of sweeping declarations that are either insulting, or untrue " or both. No wonder rumors mount that Sen. McCain is now seeking a possible graceful exit for the gaffe-prone Palin, even as the Obama campaign continues to make the contrast with their own sober and circumspect Joe Biden.