January 24, 2011
Sarah Palin and the Legacy of Republican 'Idiocy'
Sarah Palin may be the reigning Republican "idiot," but she shares in a proud legacy that dates back to at least Dwight David Eisenhower, if not earlier.
The "idiot" talk began as soon as Palin was named McCain's running mate. As I drove to the 2008 Republican Convention in St.Paul -- my first -- the radio blared all Palin all the time and just about all negative. The talking heads were busy telling Republicans how they ought to think and what they ought to do -- namely, dump Sarah Palin. What with that Marge Gunderson accent and University of Idaho diploma, not to mention the single mother daughter, Sarah Palin was no more ready to serve as vice president than Ellie Mae Clampett.
None of this surprised me. The left, through its control of the media, including the entertainment media, has been rigging political IQ tests for the last half-century, if not longer. Those Republicans who were not evil geniuses -- Nixon, Cheney, Rove -- the media have painted as blithering idiots.
Dwight Eisenhower, the architect of Operation Overlord, was doddering and incoherent. Gerald Ford, perhaps the best athlete to occupy the White House, was a bumbling fool. "I wanted [Jimmy] Carter in and I wanted [Ford] out," comedian Chevy Chase would later admit of his mocking Ford impersonation on "Saturday Night Live," "and I figured, look, we're reaching millions of people every weekend. Why not do it?"
Ronald Reagan, the century's best president, was, in the memorable words of Clark Clifford, an "amiable dunce." Former CIA Director George Bush was so out of touch that he was ambushed by a grocery scanner. Dan Quayle could not spell "potato" (in fact, the word was spelled "potatoe" on the teacher's flash card). George W. Bush inspired the popular bumper sticker that reads, "A village in Texas is missing its idiot" as well as charming websites like "presidentmoron.com. And now Sarah Palin -- the hillbilly who could allegedly "see Russia from my house" -- was being anointed Bush's idiot successor.
In a 2010 tour of the White House, my former favorite Beatle, Liverpool High grad Paul McCartney, would capture the pop zeitgeist perfectly both in terms of content and dopy condescension. Said McCartney, in a graceless dig at George Bush -- an avid reader and Harvard MBA with a librarian wife -- "After the last eight years, it's great to have a president who knows what a library is."
Democratic politicians, by contrast, have been "scary smart," too bright for an undeserving American citizenry. Adlai Stevenson was an "egghead." JFK was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Eugene McCarthy was professorial and a poet to boot. George McGovern was cerebral. Bill Bradley was a Rhodes scholar. So was Bill Clinton.
Hillary Clinton was the smartest woman on the planet. Gary Hart, Michael Dukakis, and Al Gore were all big-brained wonks. John Kerry was so finely educated that when smearing American troops, he remembered to pronounce "Genghis" "Jenjis." And Barack Obama, of course, as historian Michael Beschloss put it, is "probably the smartest guy ever to become president."
Most Americans never got to hear that Ted Sorensen wrote Kennedy's Profiles in Courage (and lied about it under oath) or that Bill Bradley scored a lowly 485 on his SAT verbals or that John Kerry's grades at Yale were "virtually identical" to George W. Bush's. And while the Associated Press alone would dispatch a swarm of reporters to fact-check Sarah Palin's memoir, Going Rogue -- eleven, to be precise -- the media were no more likely to fact-check Obama's Dreams from My Father or The Audacity of Hope than they were the Koran. As to Obama's grades and SAT scores, Jimmy Hoffa's body will be unearthed before they are.
In Going Rogue, Palin would not shy from crediting Lynn Vincent for "her indispensable help in getting the words on paper." And yet the story is told honestly and sincerely in Palin's voice. There is no artifice, no postmodern mumbo-jumbo, not a sentence in the book Palin could not have written herself. My personal favorite: "I love meat." I suspect that, unaided, journalism major and former reporter Palin is a better writer than Obama.
The media chose not to see this. Chris Matthews, "Hardball" host, showed the self-willed depths of his blindness when he learned of Palin's book deal. "Sarah Palin -- now, don't laugh -- is writing a book," sneered Matthews. "Not just reading a book, writing a book."
In the week of Going Rogue's release, the New York Times house conservative David Brooks would call her "a joke." Dick Cavett, the Norma Desmond of TV talk, would dismiss her as a "know-nothing." Ex-con Dem fundraiser Martha Stewart would brand Palin "a dangerous person." And literally thousands of lesser liberal lights would deride her as "stupid," an "idiot," or a "moron" (8.5 million Google hits for "Palin" "moron.")
Unlike Palin or John McCain, but like Hillary Clinton, Obama refused to credit his ghosts. "I've written two books," Obama told a crowd of teachers in Virginia in July of 2008. The crowd applauded. "I actually wrote them myself," he added with a wink and a nod, and now the teachers exploded in laughter. They got the joke: Republicans were too stupid to write their books.
Obama's dissembling was obvious to anyone who cared to look. The articles he wrote before Dreams -- and for the next ten years as well -- were awkward and amateurish. He is simply not a writer.
Left to their own devices, as I got to see up close, Palin is also a better speaker than Obama. Before Palin emerged for her big Wednesday night convention speech, I watched a whole parade of female speakers do their thing -- Meg Whitman of eBay, Carly Fiorina of Hewlett Packard, Governor Linda Lingle of Hawaii. All were a bit dull and stiff but competent. They read their teleprompters without incident. I remember hoping that Palin could just do as well as they did.
As history will record, she did hugely better. She was sharp, sexy, funny, and utterly charming. Under enormous pressure, she served up the most dazzling convention speech in modern political history -- including Obama's 2004 keynote -- and she did so with just a few days' preparation before a malfunctioning teleprompter. "I knew the speech well enough that I didn't need it," she would say.
Had Obama's teleprompter malfunctioned at the 2004 convention, he would not be president. He has always depended on the eloquence of others. So thoroughly hooked on the teleprompter is Obama that the irrepressible Joe Biden jokes about it. "What am I going to tell the president?" Biden asked the crowd at the Air Force Academy after a teleprompter blew over. "Tell him his teleprompter is broken? What will he do then?"
Jack Cashill's book, Deconstructing Obama, will be published on February 15.