Politics & Media
Nov 18, 2008, 04:34AM

Sarah Palin is Not Secretly a Genius

And other obvious truths that shouldn’t need proving.

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Some very smart, very serious people have been spending a lot of time lately working themselves into a tizzy trying to defend their ongoing romance with the Governor of Alaska. “Okay,” they seem willing to admit, “Palin might be a little weak on foreign policy, domestic policy, energy policy, financial policy, the economy in general, the fundamental workings of the state and federal government, geography, rhetoric, history and basic grammar, but these are just gaps in her knowledge, easily fixable by a spending a few hours in front of Wikipedia or flipping through flash cards. They don’t in any way cast doubt in some fundamental way on her intellect or character.”
This is such a bizarre and indefensible thesis that one almost feels bad responding to it, as one would the taunts of children or the developmentally disabled. I had hoped that as the election subsided the Governor’s defenders would shrink away chagrined, the bitter morning light revealing the object of their affaire de coeur a false Aphrodite, her nails pasties and her luxurious hair a weave. But the choruses of “Palin 2012” have not abated and thus it becomes necessary to dispense with this whole “Palin is smart but untutored” meme once and for all.

First, Gov. Palin may be young for a politician but she is not in fact actually young. Forty-four is a lot of years to have spent walking the earth without having learned all the countries involved in the North American Free Trade Agreement (there are three, and she’s a governor for one of them.) The suggestion that she’s some sort of prodigy who just hasn’t been exposed to basic civic information is absurd. If this woman were anywhere near sharp enough to be put in charge of any major undertaking she would have picked up this information solely by osmosis after nearly a half-century.

There is also the assumption that all of these nuanced policy-related questions are somehow out of her bailiwick, as if someone sprinted up to her and demanded in-depth information about how to caulk a faucet or snake a drain. But Palin isn’t ignorant as compared with say, the head of the CIA or the Secretary of Education—she seems to lack fundamental knowledge about basic information. Her inability to name a Supreme Court decision in the Couric interview, or obviously the whole is-Africa-a-continent thing—this isn’t like being unsure of the sub-chairmen of the Pakistani senate. Any reasonably intelligent individual, interested in the workings of the society in which they operate and the world in which they reside would have been able to pick most of this stuff up. To return to the previous analogy for a moment, this is the equivalent of expecting her to know that excrement goes in the toilet and not the sink—you don’t exactly need to be Joe the Plumber to have hashed that one out.

All this, of course, is putting aside the obvious truth that she is not only a politician but also an elected official, and thus expected to be capable of coherent speech about politics in general and the government that she serves in particular. The entire purpose of a representative democracy is that the people elect an individual of appropriate intellect and character who is (or at least becomes) an expert on the issues they face. Her ignorance therefore of political issues represents not simply a disturbing lack of intellectual curiosity for the executive of a state but an actual failure on her part to faithfully discharge the duties of her office.

Against these varied and reasonable objections her defenders can offer little. At best they mistake charisma for intellect, at worst they rant endlessly about elitism, as if only latte-sipping New York theater critics consider being able to present one’s thoughts coherently a prerequisite of leadership. If possible they prefer not to enter into the debate at all, fiating simply that by virtue of having obtained her post she must be an individual of substantive intellectual standing. This is a cheap form of argumentum ad populum, and its introduction into the debate is sophistry. I have no idea why the citizens of Alaska elected this woman governor—likely they intuited she wasn’t exactly the reincarnation of Isaac Newton but felt her sufficiently equipped to cut them their oil money check.  Mass democracy is a poor method of assigning merit. Hitler was elected chancellor. The people of Washington, DC elected Marion Barry governor (twice). One does not accept consensus opinion over the reporting of one’s senses and the judgments of objective reason.   

It is understandable that people like Gov. Palin; she's quite likable. I kind of like her. But it's unreasonable not to recognize that the qualities one finds attractive in Palin are not the qualities that would serve the country in good stead as a national politician. Foremost amongst those traits not in the meaty section of the Venn Diagram between “Successful Leaders” and “Sarah Palin” is the ability to process and synthesize raw information. While it is true in the abstract that intellect and knowledge are not identical, in practice they are two horses that generally pull in the same harness. Ignorant people tend to be stupid, and stupid people tend to be ignorant. In my mind, any reasonable observer watching Palin’s performance since entering the national stage would have to conclude that she is both.

  • I'd like to forget about Palin. I'm fairly amazed that some Republicans still believe she has a future, that she's not a national joke to a majority of the country. A modern Dan Quayle (although, to be fair, he had more on the ball). On the other hand, I don't think Palin's stupid; she was just woefully unprepared when McCain, on impulse, picked her as his running mate. If you survey the 50 governors and all members of Congress, as for intelligence, Palin would probably end up in the middle of the pack. But politically she's ruined, at least nationally.

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  • Like Timothy, I'm sick of Sarah Palin. Although I would love for her to be the Republican nominee in 2012 (because I know she'll lose), for now, I want to focus on Obama and his upcoming stint in office and not the political prospects of a mediocre politician with questionable qualifications from Alaska. Sue me.

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  • Not only is it a cheap form of argumentum ad populum, it's a cheap form of post hoc, ergo propter hoc. She's a genius BECAUSE she made it into office, and as we all know, only really smart people become public officials. How would it look if someone who made even our OWN education system look bad (a feat in and of itself) were in, say, one of the highest political posts in the country. Oh wait, it looks AWFUL. The rest of the world is right to look down their noses at us. People like that shame our country.

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  • Daniel said: It is understandable that people like Gov. Palin; she's quite likable. I kind of like her. But it's unreasonable not to recognize that the qualities one finds attractive in Palin are not the qualities that would serve the country in good stead as a national politician. IMO, this is the accidental genius of Sarah Palin, which I recently posted about here http://ohcrapihaveacrushonsarahpalin.blogspot.com/2008/11/sarah-palin-appreciation-moments.html : the cute act seduced all the wrong people. We can cast her as a dumb jock or a ditzy beauty queen, but like all women who know what we've got and just how priceless it is, she used it and ended up causing the Republican party to lose. I think it's great, in a kind of bifurcated way. Sometimes, she is a confusing person. I like that about her, certainly not as a politician, but as a public figure.

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  • Brilliant article. As for some things being said, the world having a right to look down their noses at us is a bit harsh. In January when obama takes office he will do so without incidence. There will be no protesting or resistance from the current administration. This is more than 85% of the world can say. To me, Sarah Palin just is a testimony to the fact that politicians are by and large not people. Our current concept of democracy makes people vote on charisma and people's 'character.' This is a bit loathsome indeed....

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  • whoops 'not people'= not leaders above....sorry

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  • I liked the first way more.

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  • What she did do was appeal to the evangelical Christians. The Christian Right is all about putting God back into politics. They have been doing this since the 80's when Ronald Reagan courted them into the Republican fold. Since then you will notice that "family values" have become some of the main issues of debate for the general elections. This is what the GOP was trying to input into the election this time.

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  • Sarah Palin = Paris Hilton = No Substance

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