A Matter of Experience

Oct 05, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

It is not Sarah Palin's shortage of experience, but her lack of sophistication that is most troubling. It was a cute applause line, describing herself as a pit bull with lipstick. She and her political handlers on the night of her nationwide television debut may have thought her message would resonate across the country. But my guess is that her nasty digs at Barack Obama and her reminder of just where she came from did not have that much of a nationwide impact. Her delivery was slick enough, given the fact that it was honed in her days as a sports reporter for an Alaska television news program when she read copy written for her from a teleprompter.

But what exactly did Palin and the talkers who preceded her have in mind when they railed against Washington? Her threats and those of Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson warned us that once in power, the McCain-Palin Administration would clean out the nation's capital. Of what? Republicans? Taken literally, their threat would turn Washington into a ghost town given the fact that after eight years of George Bush's presidency, just about every bureaucratic job in the District of Columbia was handed over exclusively to Republican faithful, to neo-cons or conservative ideologues. That did not even include the Bush appointees to the Supreme Court or for that matter every other federal judgeship.

In his keynote address that set the stage for Governor Palin's appearance on stage, Giuliani's snide remarks about Obama's principal experience as a community organizer smacked of blatant ignorance and racism. As the former mayor of New York, he certainly knew what community organizers did to help the occupants of the poorer neighborhoods in his city. He was well aware that the responsibility of that job was to help those people, mostly African Amerians, trying to emerge from poverty and to find ways to better jobs, housing and improved health care. The cheering mockery of the mostly white party faithful at the convention betrayed a stupidity that was an embarrassment and a reminder that black delegates are fewer this year than four years ago..

Palin's acceptance speech surely aroused the party faithful gathered in St. Paul. But that does not mean that moderate Republicans and independent voters across the country would be pleased with her social agenda or her record as the mayor of a tiny town and governor for a limited term of our most distant state in the union.

The assumption that Palin managed with one speech to introduce herself to America was an exaggeration, circulated mainly by the media mouths on cable television and the GOP handlers. Aside from her adherence to family values and controversial views on abortion, the death penalty, gun control, offshore oil drilling and the teaching of creationism in the public schools, we don't know much about Sarah Palin except that she is short-tempered, vindictive in treatment of people who disagreed with her and once belonged to a political party that actually advocated the secession of Alaska from the United States.

Palin did not offer any evidence of how she might address other issues that trouble mainstream America; issues enough that made George Bush the most unpopular president in recent U.S. history. Given that John McCain has sided with the president more than 90% of the time, the public should have been told what as vice-president, Palin's solutions would be if she were suddenly handed the responsibility of dealing with bread and butter issues that concern most Americans day and night.

I arrived in Alaska the first time as a reporter to cover the great earthquake of 1964, just two months after Sarah Palin was born. Flying with bush pilots and outdoorsmen who knew the land with their eyes closed, my impression then and now was that a spectacularly beautiful part of America was populated by rugged individualists who had the courage to pull themselves up from the ruins of an enormous natural disaster. But they were isolated from the realities of the other 49 states. That was the environment in which Palin grew up and her values were shaped.