Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Palin’

Palin: Didn’t Know Africa Was a Continent

November 6, 2008

I’m truly amazed by the reports coming out of the McCain campaign. Now, according to the New York Times, McCain’s advisers admit that they were blind-sided by Sarah Palin’s lack of knowledge and reluctance to prepare for interviews. The reporting of Carl Cameron of Fox News goes even further, saying the Alaska governor did not realize Africa was a continent:

We’re told by folks that she didn’t know what countries that were in NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, that being the Canada, the US, and Mexico. We’re told she didn’t understand that Africa was a continent rather than a country just in itself … a whole host of questions that caused serious problems about.

It’s true that in the wake of a failed campaign there’s always going to be finger pointing. I’m sure Palin feels that Team McCain is attempting to throw her under the bus: the ill will was clear when McCain permitted Tina Fey to take a shot at his running mate over her 2012 ambitions with him on set. 

At some point, however, blame has to be assigned at the ticket’s top. As soon as McCain picked Palin, I suggested it would be a disaster for the Republicans.

To me, it’s a desperate and reckless pick. The Republicans seem to be ready to throw away their best argument, experience, for the novelty of somebody new. 

Given the all but nonexistent briefing of Palin, we now know how true that was.

The issue all these aides, Palin and McCain himself need to confront is how did they let this happen? Aides owe a duty to their principals to give them their best advice and then their loyalty. McCain had an obligation to the country to select a running mate ready to be president. And Palin had a responsibility to herself and to her country to decline a top post if she knew she wasn’t prepared for it.

EDIT. I’m adding a quote I’ve subsequently located from an anonymous McCain aide describing Palin’s $150,000 shopping spree: “A “Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast.” Note that when members of the Blue-Coastal Media and blog community made similar comments around Labor Day, they were dubbed culturally-biased and anti-feminist by the pro-McCain forces.

Bogus Rumor: Sarah Palin Is Jewish

October 27, 2008

David Bernstein included a curious anecdote in his insightful long article on Sarah Palin — that tears came to Palin’s eyes when a supporter likened her to Queen Esther of the Bible. In the story of Purim, Esther is a Jew who keeps her identity hidden until put into a position where she can save the lives of her fellow Persian Jews. (Bernstein’s piece, incidentally, represents the best of journalism in the Phoenix, a long article that combines reporting, color and analysis.)

Now comes a rumor in a strange new light. Several websites make the assertion that Sarah Palin, like John Kerry and Madeleine Albright before her, has hidden Jewish roots.

Ron Kampeas, the Washington bureau chief for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, has investigated the claim and come to the conclusion that it is false. Kampeas links to a genealogy of Palin that appears to put the story to bed. Kampeas has every incentive to check this story out. When I was the Washington bureau chief for the Forward, a national weekly Jewish newspaper, I spent a month trying to discern whether Hillary Clinton had a similar story in her background. (She had a Jewish step-grandfather.)

Having said that, I think Bernstein’s Phoenix piece provides some detail as to why the claim is resonating on the right. By the way, it seems to also be circulating among those suspicious of the “Israel Lobby’s” power on the Left as well.

I found the contraband signs in the damp grass. They had been rounded up and now lay in two piles by the opening in the chainlink fence where security and campaign officials had screened the 5000 or so people who came to see Sarah Palin speak at Salem High School’s Grant Field this past Wednesday, October 15. It was the third Palin rally in New Hampshire I had attended that day, and I knew that the security guards were keeping out more than just dangerous weapons — campaign staff was also filtering out signs, pins, and shirts that might, to a now highly attuned national audience, appear harsh or offensive.

So, while the crowd was still cheering Palin, who had finished her 30-minute speech and had begun signing autographs, I headed to that entrance and found about a dozen handmade cardboard signs. I don’t know whether other rejected slogans had already been removed, but most in these piles were pretty tame. The only potentially offensive phrase on one was “NOBAMA.” Another read “CONSERVATIVE WOMEN HAVE RIGHTS TOO.” “ACORN IS NUTS,” one claimed, while another, carefully lettered, declared “PALIN — BABIES GUNS JESUS.”

But the two most striking were adorned with Jewish stars. One read “PALIN — TRUE NORTH.” The other, “SARAH — FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS.”

That last phrase comes from chapter four of the Old Testament Book of Esther. Apparently, the idea of Palin as the Queen Esther for our time has made it to New Hampshire.

The theory has been around since before John McCain picked Palin in late August — it was circulating on religious Christian blogs in early June when news outlets reported that she was on McCain’s short list. After the announcement, it picked up steam — particularly after it was reported that Palin, at the suggestion of her pastor, had, upon becoming governor of Alaska, patterned herself after Queen Esther.

Soon after the Republican National Convention, an e-mail went viral in conservative Christian circles, in which Pastor Mark Arnold claimed to have found himself next to Palin at a rally in his hometown of Lebanon, Ohio. According to the account, Arnold came face-to-face with Palin, and God spoke through him, telling the governor that “God wants you to know that you are a present-day Esther. . . . Keep your eyes on God and know that He has chosen you to reign!”

Palin, according to the account, immediately began to cry — as did her husband, Todd, when Arnold then repeated the news to him. Arnold also told McCain that the Palins are “called of God and she is an Esther.”

Esther, for those not up on their Old Testament, was a Jewish woman plucked from obscurity to become Queen of Persia after winning a beauty contest. This placed her in the right place, at the right time, to intervene in a plan to annihilate the Jews. In a nutshell, when she revealed herself to be Jewish, the king halted the slaughter and instead hanged Haman, the official behind the plot.

Jews recount the tale on Purim with much gaiety and, for most, little concern about historical accuracy.

Palin, of course, was a beauty-pageant participant (while McCain has oft commented that he “never
won Miss Congeniality in the Senate,” Palin won that title in the 1984 Miss Alaska contest), now plucked from obscurity to be in a position to advise the powerful should John McCain become president.

The big question, of course, is for what vital role — what “time such as this” — is Palin being groomed?

One common theory among the Christian cognoscenti is that, just as Esther stopped a threat in Persia to wipe out the Jews, Palin must stop a threat from modern-day Persia — Iran — to wipe out Israel (which would be anathema to conservative Christians, who believe Jews must control that land when Christ returns).

Jon Wiener, blogging last month on, took note of this suggestion and pointed out that, in the Biblical account, Esther also got the king to grant the Jews the right “to destroy, to slay . . . every people and province that oppress them,” including women and small children. Wiener suggests that, to the Christian fundamentalists, the Book of Esther appears to authorize the bombing of Iran — regardless of civilian casualties.

Palin v. Biden: Betcha Darn Right Maverick Wink Hockey Six Packs!

October 3, 2008

The big points here are as I expected: nothing game changing took place. Joseph Biden wisely restrained himself from falling into the Rick Lazio trap. He stated and repeated the theme that I believe will win the election for Obama: George Bush’s economic policies have lead to near ruin for America.

As for Sarah Palin, she survived. She had no major blunders — a word she repeated a number of times. I found her language almost hypnotic — gerunds modifying gerunds, archaic phrases interlaced with colloquialisms, such as “like”, an E.E. Cummings-like string of talking points.

Her lack of substance really hurt in points she did not even know how to make against Biden. A good example came when Biden launched a furious attack on the Iraq War attempting to link John McCain to Dick Cheney. When her rebuttal time came, she missed a tremendous opportunity. A candidate with some semblance of knowledge of Washington would have sensed the opening and taken the time to repeat for the public the story of McCain’s war with a major figure of the Iraq War, Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld was the primary administration figure responsible for the low number of troops at the start of the Iraq War. McCain took Rumsfeld on at a time when he still wielded considerable power in Washington and had the full support of Dick Cheney. (“I blame Rumsfeld. It’s his failure that we didn’t have enough troops in Iraq, because he ignored the advice of the military. We never had enough troops over there from the beginning, and that’s where most of our problems come from,” McCain told Esquire.)

That saga is an extremely helpful detail to McCain in distinguishing himself from both Cheney and Bush. Yet the Maverick from Alaska never said anything about it. I doubt she even knows the story.

The Palin-Biden Debate

October 2, 2008

Undoubtedly tonight’s debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin will be among the most watched political events on television this year. Interest in Palin is huge, and voters will be watching to see if they will encounter the sassy, charismatic Palin of the Republican National Convention, or the stammering, unsure Palin of the Katie Couric interview.

I don’t think it matters. With the unraveling of the American economy during the last two weeks, the presidential race has fundamentally changed. While previously the campaign existed on the level of personality and atmospherics, now it is down to one very simple issue — the economy. The Republican, John McCain, comes from the same party as President Bush and owns the poor economy. Obama, the Democrat, represents something different — to use a phrase that has been worked to death, change.

Before Obama’s personal style — not race, mind you — served as an impediment to attracting votes in the Rust Belt; now, the economic upheaval has crowded out both the positive and negative aspects of his political persona. Obama’s grandiose speeches, his sweeping rhetoric, the slight mood of revolution surrounding his campaign — none of that matters any more. Obama may have needed those qualities to challenge Hillary Clinton, but now they just get in the way. For Obama to win, he needs merely to be a steady Democratic hand, a Hubert Humphrey.

That might be a tough sell for Obama, but, to his good fortune, he’s got Hubert Humphrey on the ticket. Well, Joe Biden, a reliable Democrat who can deliver a solid Democratic message at a time when American voters are fed up with Wall Street and a Repubilcan president. A restrained — but not robotic — Biden will do the job tonight. No dazzling displays of foreign policy are necessary. He shouldn’t overreach, which will risk turning some voters off. Merely show up.

The best Palin can do is make an emotional play to the Joe Six Pack audience. It won’t likely advance the cause of the McCain-Palin ticket, but it’s the best hand she has to play tonight.

Second Thoughts on Sarah Palin?

September 24, 2008

Now almost a month after John McCain selected Sara Palin as his running mate, does it still seem like such a great idea? The latest polls show Barack Obama ahead of McCain by 9 percentage points, and the difference, no surprise, is the economy.

“More voters trust Obama to deal with the economy, and he currently has a big edge as the candidate who is more in tune with the economic problems Americans now face. He also has a double-digit advantage on handling the current problems on Wall Street, and as a result, there has been a rise in his overall support. The poll found that, among likely voters, Obama now leads McCain by 52 percent to 43 percent. Two weeks ago, in the days immediately following the Republican National Convention, the race was essentially even, with McCain at 49 percent and Obama at 47 percent.”

Even with the tremendous show of support that Republican activists demonstrated for Palin, the unravelling economy has exposed McCain on his weakest issue. Neither McCain nor Obama has been particularly strong in recent days — being forced to the sidelines by unexpected events. But Obama has the benefit of being from the opposition party. By definition, he represents a change in approach; McCain, more of the same.

Given those conditions, I stand by my earlier argument that Mitt Romney would have been the best running mate for McCain. Furthermore, I’ve heard the same thing — unsolicited — from committed Obama supporters.

It’s the Economy Stupid

September 18, 2008

The Sarah Palin boomlet has subsided. Barack Obama is gaining traction on the basis of economic upheaval. Today’s Real Clear Politics poll numbers show a dramatic turn-around since last week. A CBS/New York Times poll has Obama beating John McCain by 5 points.

This underscores too things: 1) All along I’ve said the big issue in this race is the economy. Let alone Hillary Clinton, if the Democrats had nominated Richard Gephardt, they would be winning big at this point; 2) The importance of unanticipated events. The Talmud says people make plans, G-d laughs. This is true in politics as in life. Few pundits foresaw the tumultuous business conditions we have undergone in the past several weeks, such as the disappearance of Lehman Brothers from the American landscape.

Gitell on CN8’s Art Fennell Reports at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.

September 16, 2008

 Art Fennell

I will be a guest on CN8 — channel 3 on Boston’s Comcast cable — at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. The host is Art Fennell. The segment will compare the foreign policy experience of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

Lipstick on a Pig: Bill Clinton’s Revenge

September 10, 2008

A turning point in the primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama came after Bill Clinton used the words “fairy tale” to describe Barack Obama’s rise to fame. Hillary Clinton’s campaign sputtered after that, and Bill Clinton’s reputation suffered.

Clinton always maintained that Obama’s supporters, who sensed in the comment a racial remark, had it wrong. His comment, he maintained, was directed at the story of Obama’s opposition to the war in Iraq. “Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen,” Clinton said. Here per Politico is

Clinton’s explanation of what he said:

“I pointed out that he had never been asked about his statement in 2004 that he didn’t know how he would have voted on the war resolution,” Bill Clinton said.

“It disproves the argument that he was always against it and everybody else was wrong and he was right.”

Now — and here is the delicious part — Barack Obama finds himself in almost the exact same position over his use of the phrase “lipstick on a pig” while talking about Sarah Palin. And, also by way of Politico’s Ben Smith, Obama’s no happier about it than his erstwhile foe was.

“See, it would be funny, but the news media decided that would be the lead story yesterday. This happens every election cycle. Every four years, this is what we do. This is what they want to spend two of the last 55 days talking about…Enough!” he said.

Kindof like Bill and Hillary Clinton felt last January.

John Sununu vs. Jeanne Shaheen

September 9, 2008

My foray into New Hampshire gave me something more than a sampling of Stonyfield Yogurt’s tremendous dairy products and an amazing sampling of Middle Eastern food in Londonderry — a look at one of the hottest senate races in the northeast, John Sununu vs. Jeanne Shaheen. I wrote about it in the New York Sun:

New Hampshire is important this election season. Mr. Sununu’s seat is a key one for the Democrats to take over in order for their party to reach the 60-member milestone they need in order to gain a filibuster-proof majority. Moreover, New Hampshire, along with Pennsylvania, is a rare northeastern state that is critical to winning the presidency for this election. The Democratic vice presidential candidate, Joe Biden, will campaign in the Granite State tomorrow, and Senator McCain will be here on Sunday.

The election threatens to put a nail in New Hampshire’s reputation as a home to a flinty form of New England Republicanism focusing on individual freedom and low taxes. But in the last four years, New Hampshire’s governor’s office, congressional seats, and both branches of the state legislature have all become Democratic.

For Mr. Sununu, who beat Ms. Shaheen in 2002 U.S. Senate race, the energy coming from the current national Republican ticket of Mr. McCain and Sarah Palin is a lifeline. In an interview with the Sun, Mr. Sununu was quick to embrace Mr. McCain, the winner of the 2000 and 2008 New Hampshire primaries. Mr. Sununu alluded to President Bush once, and only in a negative context to explain his own stance on the Patriot Act.

“John McCain is very popular in New Hampshire. He’s campaigned here many times. He’s always succeeded when he’s campaigned here. People like him. They respond to him. He knows how to campaign in New Hampshire,” Mr. Sununu said after touring the National Passport Center in Portsmouth. “He is always well received and I know Sarah Palin will be as well. They’re an outstanding ticket for New Hampshire.” He called the pair “people who are [as] committed to reform as I am.”

Montana Senator John Tester on Sarah Palin

September 7, 2008

I showed up at the Londonderry, New Hampshire headquarters of Stonyfield Yogurt for a Jeanne Shaheen campaign appearance. While loitering around the pastel-colored employee cafeteria, I helped myself (on invitation) to a free strawberry smoothie (delicious!) and a Greek yogurt with honey, which I was finishing when Shaheen arrived with Senator John Tester of Montana.

Tester, who was elected in 2006 is an organic farmer and is in touch with the kind of Western blue collar voter with whom Sarah Palin is supposed to appeal. I asked him how he thought she would play in his home state, up for grabs in the 2008 presidential election. Here’s what he told me:

I don’t know.…I don’t know Sarah Palin any more than you do. I saw her on t.v. I do know Joe Biden. Joe Biden is a great guy. He’s got incredible skills to be president. That’s what it’s about. You’ve got to look at the skill level. I think ultimately this race needs to be about Obama and McCain. I think McCain’s decision process on picking somebody from a small town, far, far, far less experienced than I, even more less experienced than Barack Obama, I don’t think bodes well. How…she’s going play, I don’t know. It depends on how they’re going to market her.

Given Tester’s unique personality among the Democrats, I think we’ll see a lot of him on the campaign trail both throughout the West and rural areas, in general.