Sarah Palin: the most underqualified vice-president ever?
For the past two weeks serious commentators and columnists have been asked to take the candidacy of Sarah Palin for the vice-presidency of the United States seriously.
Formerly sane people have written of the McCain campaign’s selection of this running mate as if it represents a new face for Republicanism, an emblem of can-do western spirit, a brilliant ploy to win over Clinton voters, a new feminism, a reformist revolution, and a genius appeal to the religious right.
I’m afraid I cannot join in. In fact I cannot say anything about this candidacy that takes it in any way seriously. It is a farce. It is absurd. It is an insult to all intelligent people. It is a sign of a candidate who has lost his mind. There is no way to take the nomination of Palin to be vice-president of the world’s sole superpower - except to treat it as a massive, unforgivable, inexplicable decision by someone who has either gone insane or is managerially unfit to be president of the United States. When, at some point, the hysteria dies down, even her supporters will realise that, by this decision, McCain has rendered himself unfit to run a branch of Starbucks, let alone the White House.
Isn’t she doing well in the polls? Hasn’t she rattled the Obama campaign? Yes, she is. And yes, she has, a little. But review the extraordinary facts on the table about this woman and you will see how ephemeral this will soon turn out to be.
The announcement of Palin was made more than two weeks ago. It took a fortnight for her to agree to sit down for an intimate interview of the kind usually reserved for Hollywood stars instead of the press conference typical of a new vice-presidential candidate. This has never happened in American political history. Even Dan Quayle, the least qualified vice-presidential nominee before Palin, and a man who did not know how to spell “potato”, gave a press conference a day after the convention in 1988.
There have been two explanations for this astonishing Putin-style decision to keep a vice-presidential candidate from the press. The first was that the press would be too mean to her and needed to show, in campaign manager Rick Davis’s word, sufficient “deference” before they would be allowed to ask her a question. Deference? Is 21st-century America an 18th-century monarchy? The press owes such a total unknown who could be president next January deference?
The second explanation is that she needed time to cram for the exam. The McCain camp knew she had never expressed any views about foreign policy. And the only time she had on record was to oppose the surge that is the centrepiece of McCain’s campaign. They knew she knew nothing and was utterly unqualified to be president at a moment’s notice. And so she spent the last week furiously prepping. As Maureen Dowd noticed, she is Eliza Doolittle to John McCain’s Henry Higgins.
But at the end of last week we were granted an audience with the Princess of Alaska. It was painful. She had no idea what the Bush Doctrine was – the central and most controversial foreign policy innovation of the past eight years: the doctrine of preemption against states with WMDs. Moreover, in her speech the same day, she described the war in Iraq. She said her eldest son, who has just enlisted, would “defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans”.
Does Palin believe that the men who planned and carried out the 9/11 attack are in Iraq? The hijackers are all dead, but Bin Laden and Zawahiri and the rest of the gang are, as far as we know, in Pakistan. Nobody believes they are in Iraq.
Then we have the now mountain of lies that follow Palin everywhere she goes, lies she keeps repeating as if they are not subject to factual scrutiny. In her first interview she said it was common for vice-presidential candidates never to have met a single foreign leader. Untrue. Every living vice-presidential candidate has met some foreign leaders before being picked.
She said she did not deny that climate change was man-made. But she has clearly stated that on the record. A year ago she said: “I’m not an Al Gore, doom-and-gloom environmentalist, blaming the changes in our climate on human activity.”
She keeps repeating as a defining political motif that she said: “Thanks, but no thanks for the Bridge to Nowhere.” But we now know that she originally lobbied for the bridge in Alaska paid for by federal funds. And she never returned the money. And she even wore a “Nowhere, Alaska” sweatshirt to push back against the McCains of this world who derided the bridge as a pointless boondoggle.
She says she’s against pork-barrel spending, and this was partly why McCain picked her. McCain’s signature issue, after all, is his disdain of pork. Here’s one of McCain’s oldest jokes: “We’re not going to spend $3m of your tax dollars to study the DNA of bears in Montana,” he said earlier this year, citing Montana’s request for federal money to study the endangered grizzly bear. “I don’t know if it was a paternity issue or criminal, but it was a waste of money.”
Here’s what Politico.com revealed about Palin’s time as Alaska governor: “According to a ‘summary of requests for federal appropriations’ posted to her budget office’s website earlier this year, Palin requested millions of federal dollars for everything from improving recreational halibut fishing to studying the mating habits of crabs and the DNA of harbour seals.”
She boasts that she secured a new oil pipeline for Alaska, but closer inspection finds that nothing has even begun to be built, and that the state may end up owing billions if the pipeline is never constructed.
She says she’s a fiscal conservative, but as mayor she increased her tiny town’s debt service by 69%. When she took office, the town of Wasilla had no long-term debt. By the time her term was over, the debt amounted to $3,000 per citizen.
She is the biggest joke to be put on a ticket in national politics. The most accurate thing said about her in the past two weeks was said on the day she was picked. It was said by Alaska’s Republican state senate president, Lyda Green: “She’s not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice-president or president? Look at what she’s done to this state. What would she do to the nation?”