This is not just “gotcha”. Palin’s clear lack of familiarity with what “the Bush Doctrine” means tells us something about who she is, as James Fallows explains in the Palin interview.
But first, let’s go to the tape:
Each of us has areas we care about, and areas we don’t. If we are interested in a topic, we follow its development over the years. And because we have followed its development, we’re able to talk and think about it in a “rounded” way. We can say: Most people think X, but I really think Y. Or: most people used to think P, but now they think Q. Or: the point most people miss is Z. Or: the question I’d really like to hear answered is A.
Here’s the most obvious example in daily life: Sports Talk radio.
Mention a name or theme — Brett Favre, the Patriots under Belichick, Lance Armstrong’s comeback, Venus and Serena — and anyone who cares about sports can have a very sophisticated discussion about the ins and outs and myth and realities and arguments and rebuttals.
People who don’t like sports can’t do that. It’s not so much that they can’t identify the names — they’ve heard of Armstrong — but they’ve never bothered to follow the flow of debate. I like sports — and politics and tech and other topics — so I like joining these debates. On a wide range of other topics — fashion, antique furniture, (gasp) the world of restaurants and fine dining, or (gasp^2) opera — I have not been interested enough to learn anything I can add to the discussion. So I embarrass myself if I have to express a view.
What Sarah Palin revealed is that she has not been interested enough in world affairs to become minimally conversant with the issues. Many people in our great land might have difficulty defining the “Bush Doctrine” exactly. But not to recognize the name, as obviously was the case for Palin, indicates not a failure of last-minute cramming but a lack of attention to any foreign-policy discussion whatsoever in the last seven years.
As someone who has been noticing the disturbing similarities between Sarah Palin and George W. Bush, I also liked this part of Fallows’ piece:
A further point. The truly toxic combination of traits GW Bush brought to decision making was:
2) Lack of curiosity
That is, he was not broadly informed to begin with (point 1). He did not seek out new information (#2); but he nonetheless prided himself on making broad, bold decisions quickly, and then sticking to them to show resoluteness.
We don’t know about #2 for Palin yet — she could be a sponge-like absorber of information. But we know about #1 and we can guess, from her demeanor about #3. Most of all we know something about the person who put her in this untenable role.
The point about Palin’s similarity to Bush is underscored by another part of her Gibson interview, a part that Fallows had not seen yet when he wrote the above:
Charles Gibson, the interviewer, asked her if she didn’t hesitate and question whether she was experienced enough.
“I didn’t hesitate, no,” she said.
He asked if that didn’t take some hubris.
“I answered him yes,” Ms. Palin said, “because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink. So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.”
She didn’t hesitate. She didn’t blink. Like George Bush before her, she doesn’t let concerns about her own preparedness or suitability for the task at hand get in the way of confidently and forcibly injecting herself into the center of things. But as we’ve seen with George Bush, that sort of self-confidence is not, in and of itself, a predictor of success.
Leadership, as I’ve said before, is not just having the courage of your convictions, a willingness to take a tough stand and stick with it in the face of nay-sayers. To qualify as a visionary leader, you have to do those things, and then be proven right by subsequent events. If that doesn’t happen, if subsequent events make it clear that actually no, it was those people who voiced concerns about your plan, over whom you ran roughshod in your zeal to provide “leadership”, who were right, then you aren’t a visionary leader. You’re just a stubborn doofus who will confidently lead anyone foolish enough to follow over the edge of a cliff.
I find myself thinking about political conservatives’ grumbling about the dangers of school programs that try to teach all children that they have value, to foster a self-esteem that is disconnected from actual objective accomplishments. I wonder what role such programs might have played in the early psychological development of people like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. Does such teaching create an environment in which an insecure person can seize on aggressive self-promotion, the nurturing of an out-of-control, outwardly projected self-confidence, as a tool to rise above those with greater abilities but less hubris?
I think it’s probably not the schools’ fault. I think it’s more likely that it’s the parents that are to blame. Again, I’ve written previously about my belief that Bush’s personality defects were probably the result of a really awful upbringing at the hands of an over-achieving, inaccessible father and a vicious, unloving mother. I don’t know anything about Sarah Palin’s upbringing, but if it turns out that she faced similar challenges as a young child, it wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Here’s a batch of snarky video clips. Consider this my tribute to the restraint the Obama campaign has been showing in not sinking to McCain’s level: