Sarah Palin, Evaluated
Evaluating Sarah Palin is tricky. She’s been in national politics only a few months, which means that hastily formed first impressions remain. She’s a woman, which makes using common frames of reference difficult. She’s attractive, which distracts from what she actually says. And she’s a supporting figure in a campaign which isn’t hers, and which she joined late, meaning that her talking points must coincide with John McCain’s strengths, not her own.
So it’s hard to form an accurate judgment of Sarah Palin. Is she the inspiring, brilliant figure who inspired millions with her campaign speech? Or is she the inept bimbo she seemed to be during her interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric? Or is she a bit of both?
Her ideology is also a bit of mystery. Nobody knows what her position on immigration is; nobody knows exactly how she feels about foreign policy, other than her belief that McCain’s ideas there are pretty much right on the money. Conservatives love Palin’s views, but aren’t quite sure just what they are.
Above all else, Palin is a populist. She campaign shtick is that America needs to send two mavericks to take on the old boy network in Washington. Politicians love to talk about “the American People”; I think that Palin has a higher “American People” count than any other candidate. She claims to be able to speak for “hockey moms,” because she’s one herself, who understands the concerns of ordinary people.
I dislike populism—it represents the worst kind of pandering, and I much prefer exceptional people to Joe Sixpack. But if you like that sort of thing, I suppose that Palin is good at it.
Aside from populism, it’s a bit difficult to decipher exactly what Palin’s beliefs are—though that’s not altogether her fault. Her late entrance forced her to quickly start repeating the McCain campaign’s talking points, and it’s hard to see a way around that. But from what she has said in the past, she’s a conservative; more a part of the social conservative wing of the party than the fiscal conservative wing.
She opposes abortion, gay marriage, and gun control. She seems to take a dim view of high taxes, though she wasn’t above accepting a great deal of congressional pork. (Alaska gets a lot of pork—it’s a state that doesn’t really do anything, but Congress wants to remind voters it’s around). She spent a lot of money as mayor of Wasilla, and while it may have gone to worthy causes, it did leave the city (or town, given its size) in debt. And Palin doesn’t really have any strong foreign policy views, although her instincts seem good.
With a few exceptions, Palin seems a like strong conservative—not perfect, but pretty good. But there are a lot of conservative politicians—for a vice president, competence is as important as ideology.
Palin wasn’t governor of Alaska very long (about twenty months), but is highly regarded by her constituents. And her performance as mayor of Wasilla, if not perfect, was at least good enough to get her the governorship.
Some have brought up Palin’s awful interview performances as evidence of her incompetence, and they make a strong case. She seemed clueless—it is possible that Charlie Gibson flubbed his now infamous question regarding the Bush Doctrine, but it is doubtful Palin could have answered it even had he asked it perfectly. Her answers during the Couric debate were painful. So painful, in fact, that Tina Fey used her actual, unedited answers during her SNL Palin impression. That is the definition of a bad answer.
How significant are Palin’s interview performances? They reveal that she is almost certainly unprepared for the vice presidency. Couric’s questions weren’t exactly difficult posers—they were standard softball fluff, and Palin still couldn’t answer them. Were something to happen to McCain, it is pretty clear that Palin would not be prepared for the presidency.
Palin has her flaws, certainly, but her sex may exaggerate them. When Joe Biden gives an error-filled, incoherent answer, he’s is an erring elder statesman. When Palin does the same thing, it’s because she’s an incompetent bimbo. The only other prominent female in the race was Hillary Clinton, and she had been around so long that most voters were used to her sex. Most people aren’t willfully sexist—they are merely unused to seeing a female vice presidential candidate.
The final verdict on Palin will have to wait—there’s not enough evidence to pass judgment now. But a few things are obvious. Palin is a smart, conservative, but inexperienced woman. She would make a great president—but not this year.