What Sarah Palin taught us about ourselves.
by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
Soon this depressing campaign will be over, and we can reflect on what we learned from our two-month introduction to Sarah Palin.
Clearly, it is more than we would have ever wished to know about ourselves.
First, there turns out to be no standard of objectivity in contemporary journalism. Palin’s career as a city councilwoman, mayor, and governor of Alaska was never seen as comparable to, or — indeed, in terms of executive experience — more extensive than, Barack Obama’s own legislative background in Illinois and Washington. Somehow we forgot that a mother of five taking on the Alaskan oil industry and the entrenched male hierarchy was somewhat more challenging than Barack Obama navigating the sympathetic left-wing identity politics of Chicago.
So we seem to have forgotten that the standards of censure of her vice-presidential candidacy were not applied equally to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. The media at times seems unaware of this embarrassment, namely that their condemnation of Sarah Palin as inexperienced equally might apply to Barack Obama — and to such a degree that by default we were offered the lame apology (reiterated by Colin Powell himself) that Obama’s current impressive campaigning, not his meager political accomplishments, was already an indication of a successful tenure as president. The result is that we now know more about the Palin pregnancies — both of mother and daughter — that we do the relationships of Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright, and Father Pfleger with our possible next president.
Indeed, the media itself — in private, I think — would admit that while we have learned almost everything about Tasergate and the Bridge to Nowhere, we assume that at some future date a publicity-starved, megalomaniac Rev. Wright will soon offer his post-election memoirs, detailing just how close he and a President Obama were. Or we will learn Barack Obama and Bill Ayers, as long-time friends, in fact, did communicate via phone and e-mail well after Ayers had told the world, about the time of 9/11, that he, like our present-terrorist enemies, likewise wished he had engaged in more bombing attacks against the United States government. And the media never wondered whether a Palin’s falling out with those who ran Alaska might have been more of a touchstone to character than Obama’s own falling in with those who ran Chicago.
While Gov. Palin’s frequent college transfers and Idaho degree are an item of snickering among pundits, none of them can claim to care much about Barack Obama’s own undergraduate career. To suggest that he release his undergraduate transcript is near blasphemy; to scribble that Sarah Palin’s Down Syndrome child was not her own is journalism as we now know it. To care that Joe Biden is vain, with bleached teeth, the apparent recipient of some sort of strange facial tightening tonic, and hair plugs is deservedly mean and petty; to sneer that the Alaskan mom of five bought a new wardrobe to run for Vice President is, of course, vital proof for the American voter of her vanity and shallowness.
Second, there does not seem to be much left of feminism any more. Of course, feminists once gave liberal pro-choice Bill Clinton a pass for his serial womanizing of vulnerable subordinates, and Oval Office antics with a young female intern. But they gave the game away entirely when they went after Gov. Palin for her looks, accent, pregnancies, and religion, culminating in assessments of her from being no real woman at all to an ingrate — piggy-backing on the pioneer work of self-acclaimed mavericks like themselves.
Feminism, it turns out, is no longer about equal opportunity and equal compensation, but, in fact, little more than a strain of contemporary elitist identity politics, and support for unquestioned abortion. Had Gov. Sarah Palin just been a mother of a single child at Vassar rather than of five in Alaska, married to a novelist rather than a snow-machiner, an advocate of pro-choice, who shot pictures of Alaskan ferns rather than shot moose — feminists would have hailed her as a principled kindred soul, and trumpeted her struggles against Alaskan male grandees.
So there was something creepy about droves of irate women, in lock-step blasting Sarah Palin from the corridors of New York and Washington, when most of them were the recipients of the traditional spoils of either family connections, inherited money, or the advantages that accrue from insider power marriages. Indeed, very few of Palin’s critics on their own could have emerged from a small-town in Alaska, with an intact marriage and five children, to run the state of Alaska.
We have come to understand that — for a TV anchorwoman, op-ed columnist, or professor — it would be a nightmare to birth a Down Syndrome child in her mid-forties, or to have had her pregnant unwed teen actually deliver her baby. In the world outside Sarah Palin’s Wasilla, these are career-ending blunders that abort the next job promotion or book tour— or the future career of a prepped young daughter on her way to the Ivy League.
Third, from the match-up of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, we discovered that our media does not know anything about the nature of wisdom — how it is found or how it is to be adjudicated. For the last eight weeks, Palin has been demonized as a dunce because she did not, in the fashion of the class toady with his hand constantly up in the first row, impress in flash-card recall, the glasses-on-his-nose Charlie Gibson, or clinched-toothed Katie Couric.
Meanwhile Joe Biden has just been Ol’ Joe Biden — which means not that he can get away with the occasional gaffe, but that can say things so outrageous, so silly, and so empty that, had they come out of the mouth of Sarah Palin, she would have long ago been forced to have stepped aside from the ticket.
Factual knowledge? Biden, in the midst of a financial meltdown on Wall Street, apparently thinks that the last time it happened in 1929, we heard FDR rally us on television. And such made-up nonsense came in the form, as many of Biden’s gaffes do, of a rebuke to the supposedly obtuse George W. Bush.
Sobriety? Biden now admits that dangerous powers abroad will immediately test a President Obama. He warns that the results of such a crisis will be very disappointing to the American electorate, and thus Team Obama/Biden will need loyal supporters to rally as their polls sink. Yet remember that Biden himself has been a fierce and opportunistic critic of Bush, who despite a frenzy of congressional demagoguery, initiated the successful surge and ignored the very polls that the for-the-war/against-the-war Biden so carefully tracked. More importantly, if an Ahmadinejad, Chavez, or Putin ever had any doubts about carving out new spheres of uncontested influence, they may entertain very few now.
Veracity? If one were to think that Biden’s past brushes with plagiarism, inflated bios, and falsehood were exceptional rather than characteristic, the last two months confirmed otherwise. For all the false recall, it is hard to remember anything he said in his Palin debate that was true, whether describing the status of Hezbollah in Lebanon or his own past remarks about the wisdom of burning coal.
Silliness? Imagine the following outbursts, mutatis mutandis, from the mouth of a Sarah Palin — “John McAmerica,” “a Palin-McCain administration,” “Senator George Obama,” “Congressman Joe Biden,” who is both “good looking,” and “drop-dead gorgeous.” Or “I guarantee you, John McCain ain’t taking my shotguns. . . . 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.”
Or “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” Or “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.”
The list could go on ad nauseam. But we got the picture. Biden has devolved from the ridiculous to the unhinged, confident that in-house journalism would understand that the law graduate with 36 years in the Senate was simply being Joe, while a Sarah Palin, who flinched when asked to parse the Bush Doctrine, was a Neanderthal creationist. I thought by now the You-tubed exchange of a Congressional Finance Committee hearing between the pompous Harvard Law School graduate Barney Frank and the conniving Harvard Law School graduate Franklin Raines — at the proverbial moment of conception of the financial meltdown — would have put to rest the notion that graduation from law school was any proof of either wisdom or morality.
I don’t know whether Sarah Palin would make a great vice president. But I did learn that by the standard of John Kerry’s pick of John Edwards, and now Barack Obama’s choice of Joe Biden, as running mates, she is wise and ethical beyond their measure.
©2008 Victor Davis Hanson