October 20, 2008
Judging Who is Smart
Apparently, the skill most highly prized in a President is articulateness in extemporaneous public speaking. In fact, it is so highly prized, it is considered a necessary condition to assume the Presidency, and probably even a sufficient one. At least if you believe Big Media and an ever-increasing herd of conservative pundits.
I use Sarah Palin as an example. Throughout her life, she was chosen by her peers for leadership roles.
- In high school she was chosen to be captain of the basketball team. Her team won the State Championship when she was captain. In fact, she sank the winning shot in the championship game - with a broken ankle.
- In high school she was chosen as leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
- When she showed up at PTA meetings in support of her own children's education, her peers said she should run for councilman. She did and she won.
- As a councilwoman, her peers said she should run for mayor. She did and she won.
- As mayor, her fellow mayors thought she should be President of the Alaska Council of Mayors. She won that election too.
- The Alaska governor appointed her as chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
- Her peers thought she should run for governor. She did and she won.
- John McCain selected her to be his Vice Presidential running mate.
Just for grins, count the word "won" in the above list.
At every step, she did not push her way up; she was pulled up. And not by the rich or powerful. She had no champion or mentor, no big-money backers. She was simply recognized for her competence, integrity and leadership by people who weren't finding it elsewhere.
Her years as councilwoman, mayor and governor add up to 12 years of elective office, one year more than Barack Obama has had. Her years as mayor and governor add up to eight years of executive experience in public office, compared to zero for both Obama and Biden.
All that, plus beauty queen, hunter, fisher, bush-pilot, etc., yet she's written not a single autobiography.
Is Sarah stupid? In high school she was in the National Honor Society. She was inducted into the Sigma Beta Delta Honor Society as a student at Alaska Pacific University. She graduated from the University of Idaho. The only factoid that I can find that would indicate any stupidity on her part is that her college major was journalism. But that does not necessarily make you stupid.
Since she has eight years experience in elected, executive office, we should know how stupid she is by how much she screwed up in those positions, right? Trouble is, she didn't screw up. In fact, her popularity has been in the 80-90% range, the highest of any public office holder in the country.
Is being Governor of Alaska or being chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission just a sort of easy gig, something a stupid person could sleep-walk through, like, say, voting "present" 130 times in the state legislature? As governor she negotiated a gas pipeline deal that had been held up for years. She had to negotiate with Big Oil and with Canada to do that, by the way. And Big Oil was not happy with the deal. I guess just any stupid person could do that.
In recent years Alaska produced 20% of all the oil and gas produced in the US. You think there might have been some pressure in such positions, given Big Oil, big money, crony politics, environmental and business regulations, and international trade were involved? Sarah resigned from the Oil & Gas Commission at one point to protest the ethics of a fellow Republican. That Republican later resigned his position and paid a fine.
Was she stupid for that? Could you imagine, say, Joe Biden resigning from an influential commission because a fellow Democrat on it had questionable ethics? (Hint: he's still in the Senate, where he chaired the Judicial Committee for 16 years.)
Maybe some people think Sarah's stupid or incompetent from what they saw on the internet or forwarded email. If so, take two aspirin and try Snopes.com.
- A black man fathered Bristol Palin's baby? FALSE.
- That list of books she banned from the Wasilla library? FALSE.
- Piper Palin flipped off a little boy? FALSE.
- That picture of Sarah in a bikini holding a rifle? FALSE.
- Quotes from Sarah concerning Creationism? FALSE.
- That quote from the transcript of her interview with Katie Couric? FALSE (It was really from Saturday Night Live.)
- And that report card showing Sarah getting low grades and an SAT score in the Paul Wellstone range? FALSE .
Her biggest gaffe? Changing her mind on the bridge to nowhere. Her biggest scandal? Getting a state employee fired for the possible reason of not firing a state trooper who drank on the job, tasered Sarah's 10-year-old nephew, and threatened to kill her father. Even if she did it for exactly those reasons, she committed no crime. This, in a state swimming in Big Oil money and federal grants. The guy who hacked into her private email account could not even find anything "juicy," despite his best efforts to do exactly that. On the clean scale, Sarah is pegged at "squeaky." They have to make stuff up to get even close.
By everything we know about Sarah Palin that is factual and verifiable, she is intelligent, honest and competent. So why then do so many people think she isn't? The answer boils down to one and only one thing: her extemporaneous public speaking. The Couric interview. The Gibson interview. The VP debates.
We can illustrate with examples. Below is an excerpt (a real one) from the VP debates that I received in a forwarded email from someone who used it to prove how stupid Sarah is. My version is taken from CNN.
Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education and I'm glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right? ... My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.
(It was CNN that did not capitalize the "G" in "God", not me.)
Here is what the ellipsis ("...") in the email left out.
I say, too, with education, America needs to be putting a lot more focus on that and our schools have got to be really ramped up in terms of the funding that they are deserving. Teachers needed to be paid more. I come from a house full of school teachers. My grandma was, my dad who is in the audience today, he's a schoolteacher, had been for many years.
So let's parse Sarah. She used "again" twice in the same sentence. She said "preferenced" when she meant "prefaced" (one supposes). She said "doggone it," "God bless her" and mentioned "heaven." She gave a "shout out." She said "needed" when we're sure she meant "need." She said, "I know education you are passionate about," which is a little too close to the sentence construction of Yoda in Star Wars. And that last sentence, the tenses are all over the place and the subject is a little hard to find.
So you see, Sarah is just not articulate. It took her 11 sentences to say teachers should be paid more. Barack Obama could have done that in as few as eight sentences, with perhaps as few as five of them being about himself, and with much better tense agreement and with zero doggone-its. (But he might have mentioned his grandmother.)
Now let's look at Joe Biden in that same debate.
Here's what the president said when we said no. He insisted on elections on the West Bank, when I said, and others said, and Barack Obama said, "Big mistake. Hamas will win. You'll legitimize them." What happened? Hamas won. When we kicked -- along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, "Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don't know -- if you don't, Hezbollah will control it." Now what's happened? Hezbollah is a legitimate part of the government in the country immediately to the north of Israel.
You'll notice that each of Joe's sentences has a subject and matching verb. Tenses match. He used short, clear constructions such as "What happened?" and "Hamas won."
The only problems with Joe's excerpt here is that Hezbollah was never kicked out of Lebanon, by anybody, much less the US and France, and that no one, including Barack or Joe, recommended NATO control Lebanon. That would have been far-fetched, actually. (But what do I know? Joe chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.)
Unlike Sarah, who took 11 sentences to say teachers should be paid more, Joe took only nine sentences (by my count) to make multiple untrue statements and to express his view against elections in the West Bank. That efficiency of language is a hallmark of smart people.
You see? Sarah is not articulate enough to be President. Her experience in elected office, her experience in executive elected office, her being in honor societies in both high school and college, her being repeatedly encouraged to take on leadership roles by her peers, her successes as objectively measured -- none of that matters. She just sounds a little too, um, low class and a little too, uh, religious. She isn't a lawyer. And she hasn't even written an autobiography yet! (Then again, maybe neither has Obama.)
To be serious for a moment, when we treasure smooth talking over everything else, including truthfulness, what we will get is demagoguery and then tyranny.
Thomas Jefferson said, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." Now that's articulate. And scary.
Randall Hoven can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his web site, kulak.worldbreak.com.