The (half)wit and (un)wisdom of Our Sarah

Palin only seemed articulate against the background of low expectations. She did not send away unfed those who came to her performance hungry for word salad.

Watching the debate last night, I thought that Sarah Palin mostly came across as articulate, though of course utterly wrong-headed. But as I look at the transcript and read various commenters, I now see that I was unconsciously grading her on the curve. In fact, she served up several substantial bowls of word salad, which most of us mentally discounted because that was our baseline expectation for Palin after Katie Couric was finished with her.

Viewing a piece of the debate for a second time without trying to take notes, I also noticed how often she looked down, seemingly at note-cards. Perhaps her apparent ability to frame a coherent sentence was merely the ability to read one out loud and make it seem as if she were speaking it. We’d learned that much at the convention.

Here are some samples:

Education credit in American has been in some sense in some of our states just accepted to be a little bit lax and we have got to increase the standards. No Child Left Behind was implemented. It’s not doing the job though. We need flexibility in No Child Left Behind. We need to put more of an emphasis on the profession of teaching. We need to make sure that education in either one of our agendas, I think, absolute top of the line. My kids as public school participants right now, it’s near and dear to my heart. I’m very, very concerned about where we’re going with education and we have got to ramp it up and put more attention in that arena.

Of course, we know what a vice president does. And that’s not only to preside over the Senate and will take that position very seriously also. I’m thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate and making sure that we are supportive of the president’s policies and making sure too that our president understands what our strengths are.

[Focus on the last bit, starting with “and making sure.” It’s not that I think Palin is expressing her meaning clumsily; I doubt that there is any meaning she’s trying to express.]

Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president’s agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we’ll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.

[Note that Palin really doesn’t seem to get that “A is attributed to B” and “B is attributed to A” express different ideas.]

Ready to be President? Really? Only by the Roman Hruska standard that there are lots of mediocre people out there, so we need some mediocre office-holders to represent them.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: