Wednesday, October 1, 2008

VP Debate Stakes

Sarah Palin is in serious danger of Dan Qualying herself. She doesn't know what the Bush doctrine is, she can't explain why her experience as Governor gives her foreign policy credentials other than Alaska's proximity to Russia, and now, we find out that she cannot name another Supreme Court decision other than Roe v. Wade that she disagrees with. Let's stretch ourselves well past the boundary of the benefit of the doubt and assume that Sarah Palin knows the answers, she's just not quick enough to deliver them on a moment's notice - yet I'm not sure whether it is an exoneration or an indictment of her that the only excuse for Palin's ignorance is her dullness.

Whichever it is, even conservatives have publicly questioned the wisdom of the Palin pick. As Charles Krauthammer wrote, "The vice president's only constitutional duty of any significance is to become president at a moment's notice. Palin is not ready. Nor is Obama. But with Palin, the case against Obama evaporates." McCain's repeated attack that Obama "just doesn't understand" in their first debate did not and could not work because it was an argument standing on stilts compared to his vice-presidential nominee.

If there is anything more dangerous in American politics than an intelligent anti-intellectual who insidiously stokes public opinion with the dark arts of demagoguery, it is an ignorant anti-intellectual who inadvertently energizes her base because of her seemingly unreflected positions on core conservative positions. If Palin doesn't resurrect her reputation in tomorrow's debate, McCain will pay dearly for what is increasingly being perceived to be his spectacular lack of judgement in picking her. For as things stand, Palin appears to be little more than a demographic place-mat for potential women and conservative voters, and a shrinking one at that. Hillary Clinton supporters are in asking in agony - THIS is the woman representing us as one of the four candidates fighting for occupancy in the White House? If Hillary Clinton put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, Sarah Palin seems intent on welding it back to its originally pristine condition.

If Palin is not to remain the butt of every late night comedian's joke, then she must establish herself as a legitimate national political figure tomorrow night. She's surely going to be likeable, but will she be respected and can she resuscitate her professional reputation? Liberal women should take heed when they mock Palin - justified as they may be - for it says something about our society that it is enough for men like George Bush to be likeable and get elected, but congeniality, at this moment, might not be enough for Palin. The anti-intellectual strategy is a gendered strategy with assymetric payoffs to women and to men.

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