Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Ever since I could remember I’d wished I’d been lucky enough to be alive. . . when something big was going on-like the crucifixion. And suddenly I realized I was.
— Ben Shahn, On Painting a gouache: Bartolmeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco
Sarah Palin is one lucky dude. Under any other set of circumstances her chances of becoming vice-president of the United States would have been adversely affected by two recent events. As it is, the conservatives’ beloved Josephine Sexpack will in all probability be unaffected by either.
The first event that caused Sarah Paliln’s admirers to swoon was her performance in the vice-presidential debate that took place on October 3, 2008. To the astonishment of some and the delight of many she demonstrated how good an ill-prepared and uninformed debater be could be if properly attired and assertive enough to ignore questions and instead address whatever topic the debater concluded would please the audience and permit her to use prepared answers.
In her debating style Sarah resembled the graduate student who, having spent most of her academic life studying the mouse, is asked in her oral examination to describe the characteristics of the elephant. The graduate student responds by saying that the elephant is grey, like the mouse, and with that opening, spends the rest of her time describing the mouse. When asked by the moderator to “respond to what [Biden] said about Sen. McCain’s comments about health care” she imitated the hapless graduate student saying: “I would like to respond about the tax increases.” Then, so as not to leave the viewer with the impression that she did not understand the rules of the debate she explained: “And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.” So much for debating protocol.
Of course not everyone was put off by Sarah’s performance. Prior to the debate a number of conservative commentators had questioned Sarah’s qualification for the job for which she’d been nominated. David Brooks of the New York Times said many conservatives say that Sarah is qualified to be vice-president because “something that feels so good could not possibly be wrong. But a few commentators, like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, David Frum and Ross Douthat demur, suggest in different ways that she is unready.” Joining the critics Mr. Brooks says Sarah “has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.” Seeking to temper his criticism of her, however, he concluded by criticizing the “smug condescension that has so marked the reaction to the Palin nomination in the first place.”
Those comments were made two weeks before the debate. After the debate, Mr. Brooks, swooned. Sarah had acquired no new skills between the time Mr. Brooks first wrote and the debate. Nonetheless, he was swept off his feet. Ignoring “the elephant is grey like the mouse” he bragged about her ability to “complete an extemporaneous paragraph.” He described her forcefulness on the subject of Iran, singling out for special praise her ability to pronounce “Ahmadinejad”, something, he said admiringly, she does better than her running mate. Arising from swoon he said: ”[few could have expected as vibrant and tactically clever a performance as the one Sarah Palin turned in Thursday night.” With that level of adulation it is safe to say that the latest bump in the Palin road will hardly be noticed.
On October 10, 2008, the report on Alaska’s “Troopergate” was made public. The report was commissioned by a bipartisan Alaska Legislature committee and was written by Stephen Branchflower, a former Anchorage prosecutor. Finding Number One of his report says: “I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.” In speaking with the Anchorage Daily News Sarah said that she was “pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing. . . any hint of any kind of unethical activity there.” At first learning of Sarah’s response those who had read the report were unable to understand how she might arrive at a sense of vindication from the language in the report. The Anchorage Daily News described her response as “either astoundingly ignorant or downright Orwellian” Sen. Kim Elton of Alaska said her characterization of the report was wrong and that the first finding clearly stated she violated the ethics law.
For those who are alarmed by the thought of someone with that kind of a response to that kind of a report becoming vice-president there is good news after all. Sarah’s aides said she had not read the report but had been “extensively briefed” on it. They had probably not gotten to pages 7 and 8 where the bad stuff is. We can be confident that after she’s read it she will issue an appropriate mea culpa. She probably won’t have time to read it before the election, however.