Thursday, November 13, 2008


Regarding Sarah Palin, Andrew Sullivan says:

The impulsive, unvetted selection of a total unknown, with no knowledge of or interest in the wider world, as a replacement president remains one of the most disturbing events in modern American history.... Until we figure out how this happened, we will not be able to prevent it from happening again.

But what's striking is that it's never happened before.

The hardcore supporters of one of our major political parties -- the dominant one for decades -- believe a first-rate education and comfort in sophisticated circles are (literally) Marks of the Beast. Until now, though, these people have only been able to vote for pretenders and underachievers: a guy who had an elite education but flamboyantly squandered it (Bush), a guy who preferred to talk in public about football and the nobility of cops but had intellectual pretensions (Nixon), an intellectual lightweight who secretly had some respect for smart people to whom he could delegate responsibility (Reagan). Republican voters have never had the chance to vote for someone whose entire political knowledge base consists of talk-radio and religious right know-nothingism, and who really thinks there's nothing more worth knowing.

But that's the kind of person they really wanted to vote for.

We like inexperience in our national leaders -- except for Nixon and Poppy Bush, every non-incumbent president elected in the past half-century has had a somewhat thin resume (and even Nixon and Bush Senior chose scarily underqualified VPs). But our long campaigns require every presidential candidate to be able to offer an informed-sounding opinion on China or Keynesianism. So thin-resumed presidential candidates have steeped themselves in national issues (Obama, Clinton) or at least crammed semi-convincingly (W). There didn't seem to be any other choice.

But Palinmania has made clear that a lot of Americans -- certainly a lot of Republicans don't want a knowledgeable national leader. They're happy to vote exclusively on cultural affiliations and shared resentments and sheer gumption. They always were -- we just didn't know it. All John McCain did by picking Palin was to give the people in his party what they've always really craved.

Surely, though, Palin would have to answer real questions in a 2012 presidential race ... right? I don't know. I don't think she could win the presidency with her industrial-strength word salad, but I think she could win the GOP nomination. I think we'll find out.

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