Stop covering Palin until she gives a press conference.
The new line of the day, taken by many conservative intellectuals, is that criticism of Gov. Sarah Palin is essentially a blend of snobbery and sexism. This, I presume, is intended as a sort of strike against the considerable number of conservative commentators, from David Frum to Christopher Buckley, who have openly said that the woman is not qualified to be vice president. There is, of course, also the question of whether she is qualified to be governor of Alaska. Writing about her when she was first put forward by Sen. John McCain, I rather feebly took the line that one should give her the benefit of the doubt and not be condescending, but it does now begin to look as if most of what she claimed for herself, from the "bridge to nowhere" to the "troopergate" business, was very questionable at best, and much of what her critics said was essentially true.
The emphasis on experience is in many ways the wrong one (rather as it has been when directed at Sen. Barack Obama). The problem with Gov. Palin is not that she lacks experience. It's that she quite plainly lacks intellectual curiosity. It is not snobbish to harbor grave doubts about somebody who seems uninterested in reading for pleasure or recreation and whose only interest in her local public library is sniffing round its shelves for books that ought to be removed for expressing impure ideas.
Nor is it snobbish, let alone sexist, to express doubts about someone who, as late as March 2007, could tellAlaska Business Monthly, "I've been so focused on state government, I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq. I heard on the news about the new deployments, and while I support our president, Condoleezza Rice and the administration, I want to know that we have an exit plan in place." This statement deserves to be called mindless, because, first, it is made up of stale and received and overheard bits and bobs from everyday media babble and, second, because you cannot really coherently say that you support both the administration and an "exit plan." The same vaguely cunning wish to have everything both ways is to be found in her suggestion that both evolution and creationism be taught in our schools. In one way, this seems fair enough—if the Scopes trial is taught in history class, then the views of William Jennings Bryan and those of Clarence Darrow and H.L. Mencken must necessarily be given equal time. But that is not the same as saying that classes in biology or geology be diluted by instruction in what is laughably called "intelligent design." It would be like giving equal time to alchemy and astrology. "You know, don't be afraid of information," as she so winningly phrased it in a gubernatorial debate. "Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."
I would like to ask her whether by this she means that creationism ought to be given equal time in scienceclasses. And I have a follow-up: How many years old does the Republican nominee for the vice presidency of the United States believe the Earth to be? There are several other questions I would like to ask her, as, no doubt, would you. Lots of luck with that, because it seems that the Grand Old Party intends to go all the way to Election Day without exposing the No. 2 person on its ticket—the person who would become chief executive if President John McCain succumbed to illness—to a press conference. I have been as fair as possible in quoting Gov. Palin. I have used only sentences from her that make some sort of grammatical sense. It would have been easy enough—and relevant enough—to cite answers that she gave to Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric that appeared to be uttered in no known language.
At numerous rallies where the atmosphere has been, shall we say, a little uncivil, Gov. Palin has accused Sen. Obama of accusing our forces in Afghanistan of simply bombing villages. Only a moment's work is required to discover that the words complained of were never uttered in that form and that they occurred in a speech that stressed the need for more ground troops as opposed to more airstrikes (a recommendation, by the way, that begins to look more sapient each week, at least in respect of the airstrikes). Again, I have a question: Did Palin know that she was telling a lie? Or did her handlers simply assume that she would read anything that was put in front of her, however mendacious? And which would be worse? And when will she issue the needful retraction? There seems no way of putting her in a forum where these points could be raised. So, continued media coverage of her appearances is no better than lending a megaphone to a demagogue, the better to amplify her propaganda.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., an honorable man with a high place in the McCain campaign, when asked about Palin's failure to do so much as a Meet the Press appearance, told the Washington Post: "We're asking the American people to pick the next president and vice president, and we do not expect the American people to do so—'Trust me'—blindly. She will have to do what's expected of people in this business. … In countries where that does not happen, I do not want to live." That highly admirable statement was made Sept. 2. Something of McCain's own reputation for honesty and honor is now involved in keeping Sen. Graham's implied promise. If it is not kept, then why should the press and the networks continue to cover a candidate who could, for all we know, be Angela Lansbury?
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Screen grab of Sarah Palin and Katie Couric by CBS News.