The problem, as far as our political process is concerned, is that half the electorate revels in Palin's lack of intellectual qualifications. When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of mediocrity in this country. "They think they're better than you!" is the refrain that (highly competent and cynical) Republican strategists have set loose among the crowd, and the crowd has grown drunk on it once again. "Sarah Palin is an ordinary person!" Yes, all too ordinary.
We have all now witnessed apparently sentient human beings, once provoked by a reporter's microphone, saying things like, "I'm voting for Sarah because she's a mom. She knows what it's like to be a mom." Such sentiments suggest an uncanny (and, one fears, especially American) detachment from the real problems of today. The next administration must immediately confront issues like nuclear proliferation, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and covert wars elsewhere), global climate change, a convulsing economy, Russian belligerence, the rise of China, emerging epidemics, Islamism on a hundred fronts, a defunct United Nations, the deterioration of American schools, failures of energy, infrastructure and Internet security … the list is long, and Sarah Palin does not seem competent even to rank these items in order of importance, much less address any one of them.
What doesn't she know about financial markets, Islam, the history of the Middle East, the cold war, modern weapons systems, medical research, environmental science or emerging technology? Her relative ignorance is guaranteed on these fronts and most others, not because she was put on the spot, or got nervous, or just happened to miss the newspaper on any given morning. Sarah Palin's ignorance is guaranteed because of how she has spent the past 44 years on earth.
What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. Watching her deny to Gibson that she had ever harbored the slightest doubt about her readiness to take command of the world's only superpower, one got the feeling that Palin would gladly assume any responsibility on earth:
"Governor Palin, are you ready at this moment to perform surgery on this child's brain?"
"Of course, Charlie. I have several boys of my own, and I'm an avid hunter."
"But governor, this is neurosurgery, and you have no training as a surgeon of any kind."
"That's just the point, Charlie. The American people want change in how we make medical decisions in this country. And when faced with a challenge, you cannot blink."
Read the rest at Newsweek.
UPDATE: A letter written to The Economist (September 20, 2008, p. 26) from Sue Crane of Johns Creek, Georgia, expresses the anti-elitist pride in ignorance Harris condemns, when she writes:
Sir - Lexington (September 6) lapsed into the same mode of thinking that exists in the powdered-wig political salons and among the media twitterati in his assessment of Sarah Palin, which stopped him from understanding why she strikes a chord with America's heartland. Mrs. Palin connects with voters because she is one of us, not some elite politician entrenched in Washington's ways. John McCain had a problem with energising the Republican base, hence his choice of Mrs. Palin. I, along with many other Republicans, was prepared to sit this contest out had he chosen either Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge.
This contrasts with a letter on the same page from Michael Golay, professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, who writes:
Sir - Alaska is very different from the rest of the United States, and this difference affects the fitness of Mrs Palin to be vice-president. Fundamentally, Alaska is a pre-modern welfare state, where the economy is almost purely extractive (with the exception of defense and tourism). If you don't kill it, dig it or cut it down you don't get it. From that perspective "bridges to nowhere" are simply further extractions, or tokens for transfer payments from the rest of us, as are the annual payments to residents from North Slope oil revenues.
Not surprisingly Alaska is largely an innovation-free zone. It is also the only world that Mrs Palin has known. Along with her chronological and career inexperience this background renders her unprepared to lead the country.
In the same issue of The Economist, the Lexington column, "Richard Milhous McCain," points out that the McCain strategy in selecting Palin "is perfectly designed to create a cycle of accusation and counter-accusation. The 'liberal media' cannot do its job without questioning Mrs Palin's qualifications, which are astonishingly thin; but they cannot question her qualifications without confirming the Republican suspicion that they are looking down on ordinary Americans." It attributes this strategy to Richard Nixon, who "recognised that the Republicans stood to gain from 'positive polarisation': dividing the electorate over values."