Thursday, September 11, 2008

Grade inflation

Well, apparently the early word on Sarah Palin's initial interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson is that she gets high marks. Why? Not because she displayed any great depth and breadth of knowledge or thought on foreign policy issues. Not because she could speak off the cuff on a wide variety of topics. No, not at all. She gets high marks because she didn't make any major mistakes. Because she didn't flunk, she gets an A. And, hey, she said many times that she wants to get the terrorists, which is apparently all a lot of people care to hear.

Just like with George Bush debating in 2000. The bar was set so low for him because he was acknowledged to be such a poor speaker that when he actually managed to string together complete sentences for an hour and a half, he won. Nobody looked too deeply into the substance of his responses (or lack thereof). The actual answers didn't matter; the mere fact that he managed to answer was all that was necessary to declare him a winner.

I guess I'm just an old fogey 'cause I don't think that's the way we should grade the performances of the people who want our votes for president or vice president. I don't want a president I can relate to or I can knock back a beer with. I don't want an "average joe" president. I want the president to be smarter than me! I certainly don't feel qualified to address the wide range of issues that the president has to address and I'm pretty smart. I think the person who does have the ultimate decision-making responsibility ought to have more knowledge than I have, ought to have a broader scope of understanding than I have, and ought to be more thoughtful about the ramifications of all the possible decisions. And if the president sometimes has to talk down to me a little bit to help me understand, well that just reassures me that the person in that job is up to the task.

Sarah Palin gave what were obviously rehearsed, canned answers. When Gibson tried to push her away from those answers, she looked out of her element until she could find some way to get herself back on the path of those pat answers. She clearly had no idea what Gibson meant by the "Bush Doctrine" which demonstrates that she hasn't been paying much attention the last 6 years. I don't expect most voters to know what the Bush Doctrine is, but I do expect it of a person who wants to be president or vice president. That doctrine of preemptive war has been a guiding principle of the current administration. Most of this election is focusing on what new paths the two tickets propose for the nation, including in terms of our fundamental approach to foreign policy. In that sense, it's critical for the candidates to know what the current guiding principles are so they can address whether they would alter or abandon altogether those principles. Palin, though, demonstrated that she's pretty much clueless.

But as long as she didn't make an obvious mistake, well, she passed with flying colors! That just can't be good enough. Haven't we all learned that it wasn't good enough with George Bush? Talking tough is not foreign policy. Bombing everything in sight certainly isn't sound policy. We need to stop accepting this idea that not screwing up colossally is succeeding and we need to get over this idea that "anyone" can be president. The president shouldn't just be any person, it should be a great person, a superior person, with more knowledge, better understanding, and a greater intellectual curiosity than the vast majority of us. I know an awful lot of average joes; I don't personally know anyone I think has the capacity to be president.


Stacy said...

I can accept your point that the President should be superior ... but then my question to you becomes ...

You really think that Obama is that brilliant?

And when it comes to speaking off the prompter, Obama isn't all that great either. He has a commanding presence when he's on the mark, and he's passionate, yes ... but does that make him brilliant? Is he that much smarter than John McCain?

And if foreign policy is something that sways voters ... I really don't think Obama (with none) is all that great shakes either. Not trying to be argumenative or anything ... I'm just saying. I completely respect your admiration and support of him.

I didn't see Palin's interview, so I can't comment on it. I know they are keeping a tight leash on her ... why I don't know. But you're report of it is probably accurate. Though, I don't really think she's an idiot. I think she's being told what to do in the extreme, and is afraid to stray from that. Which - eh.

No one asks me what I think otherwise there'd be a lot more yelling at these things. :)

S said...

I do think Obama is brilliant. That may be my law school bias, but one does not graduate magna cum laude from Harvard Law without earning it. And the two colleges he attended, Occidental and Columbia, are top tier schools.

I have not read either of his books yet, so I can't judge those.

As for his speaking off the prompter, I do think he's great. What I think is great is that he really thinks before he speaks. I believe we've lost sight that thoughtfulness before responding is a good thing. I don't want snap answers, I want good answers.

As for foreign policy, my concern with that isn't with "experience" per se. (Though I believe Obama has been on the senate foreign relations committee, which has to count for something.) I think a lot of presidents have relied, and relied heavily, on their cabinet choices for the bulk of their experience in foreign affairs and I think that's appropriate. My concern for the P and VP candidates is their general outlook, their comprehension of the scope of many issues in the global community, etc. That's where I thought Palin came up woefully short yesterday.

To this point, John McCain scares me with his willingness to use military options. Others swear he wouldn't use the military lightly, and I do believe that. I just think his idea of what's using them not lightly is a whole lot different from mine.

I am not impressed by tough words like we've had for 8 years from the current administration. I don't think "getting the terrorists" should be our end goal. I don't think "talking" or using diplomacy is "appeasement." And even if it is, I think that discretion is the better part of valor and sometimes we should accept that we can't bend the whole world to our will if the only way to get our way is through force. I don't want World War III to start because I'm terrified of how it would end.

The point of all of the above is that I GREATLY prefer Obama's much more thoughtful approach to foreign policy than the McCain/Palin tough talk, aggressive approach.

I think Palin is on a tight leash because she quite simply is not up to speed on many of the issues that are important on a national stage. I would hope they would get her up to speed soon, but what I saw last night did not provide much reason for me to believe that she really will have a handle on all of the issues I think a P or VP should.

Language Lover said...

Thanks for your comprehensive review. I wasn't able to watch the interview, but from the clips I saw later, I think I'd agree with your assessment. I'm completely in agreement about wanting your national leader to be someone you trust to lead you, not your best friend!

And FWIW, I also believe Obama is brilliant. But these last eight years are starting to make me believe that the most important quality in a leader is not experience or even intelligence, but humility, which goes hand in hand with thoughtfulness. I haven't seen a whole lot of either from the McCain/Palin ticket.

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