Friday, November 20, 2009

A Word about Sarah Palin

Mrs. Palin has just released her biography and is now on a book tour promoting her book Going Rogue.

When she was announced by the McCain campaign as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, I thought is was a stroke of genius at the time. She truly energized the conservative base of that party - a vital segment that was pretty unhappy with the moderate McCain. Indeed her introduction to America was pretty amazing. I contrasted her with the verbose and boring technocrat Biden - a policy wonk if there ever was one.

That announcement - if I recall correctly - gave the McCain campaign a nice bump in the polls. As did her speech at the RNC convention.

But then something strange happened. Sarah Palin went from being the star of the McCain campaign to becoming a liability. At first she was kept from the media. Questions were being raised about her true competence. Why was she hiding from the media? Once made available to a couple of high profile news anchors she performed very poorly – looking quite ignorant if not outright stupid. And then the campaign held her back some more – denying her any chance to redeem herself.

Never one to miss an opportunity to bash conservatives and looking for material for their show, the writers of Saturday Night Live (SNL) started parodying her ‘ Alaskan accented’ English and mimicking her poor performances in the media magnifying those terrible interviews and making her seem truly dumb, ignorant and backward.

She was the perfect foil for them. Tina Fey, the comedienne/actress who portrayed her on the show did an excellent job of making her look as stupid and incompetent as possible – a virtual clown of a candidate! SNL's past portrayals of former President Bush as a buffoon paled in comparison. Those Palin skits were so popular that SNL’s ratings went through the roof. So they parodied her every week - each time reinforcing her image as a backward ignoramus. Those skits were very funny. But they were a lie.

But that is the image that remained with the public. Reinforced time and again by other comedians like Leno and Letterman who made similar jokes about her. When people saw Sarah Palin they could not help but think of Tina Fey’s parody of her. After that no one took her seriously anymore and considered her a big liability for the campaign. Perhaps she was – although that isn’t the reason the McCain campaign lost the election. That is a whole other post.

She was a liability - not because she was stupid or ignorant. She was a liability because of how she was portrayed in the media. That was the way people saw her. When ‘the man (or woman) in the street’ was asked about whether she was capable of being President the answer was invariably, no. Why? Because when they saw Sarah Palin - they thought Tina Fey.

But Sarah Plain is not stupid. She is in fact quite intelligent. Her knowledge of foreign affairs is not as Tina Fey portrayed it - with the now famous line ‘You can see Russia from here’ . That was a parody of an answer Mrs. Palin gave to a question about her experience in foreign affairs as governor of Alaska. Her answer was that that one should not overlook the fact that Russia is in close proximity to her state and that had implications of security, energy, and commerce.

Which brings me to her views on Israel. She was recently interviewed by Barbara Walters on ABC News. She was asked about what she thought of the President’s policy with respect to Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Here was her answer:

I disagree with the Obama administration on that," Palin told Walters. "I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don't think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand.

The segment where she said this can be seen below.

This is the kind of President I wish we had. One who clearly holds poistions that are in the best interests of Israel. One who sees Israel’s interests as coinciding with US interests. She is right. No foreign government has the right to tell any sovereign nation how to settle within its own borders. Certainly not when issues of national security are involved.

That said, I will admit that I still think Israel ought to pay attention to what the Obama administration says. He is the President now. Not that it has to capitulate to his every demand, but that it is wise to try and be as close to the US position as possible on every issue that does not threaten its security. I’m not sure how close Israel and the US positions are right now. There are mixed messages coming out of both quarters.

But I would have loved to see a President like Mrs. Palin take who takes the stand on this issue that she does. That would have given Israel far more leeway to do things the way it sees fit.

How smart is Sarah Palin? I don’t know but given the chance I think she would do just as well as President Obama has so far – which isn’t really saying that much.

I don’t know if she will run for President. Her image may be irreversibly tarnished. But one thing I do know is that she is a lot smarter than she is given credit for and a highly principled woman.