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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Some questions for Sister Sarah

Republican presidential nominee John McCain's choice of Alaskan governor Sarah Palin for his running mate suggests the delicious imaginary scenario of a vice presidential debate between Palin and Hillary Clinton.


Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s choice of Alaskan governor Sarah Palin for his running mate suggests the delicious imaginary scenario of a vice presidential debate between Palin and Hillary Clinton.

But such a mismatch was never likely: if Senator Barack Obama had chosen Clinton, McCain wouldn’t have picked Palin, which provides considerable insight into the political calculation behind the choice.

But, so far, it’s turned out to be a wise and successful calculation, and after Palin’s performance at the Republican Convention, it’s not at all clear that a debate between the seasoned Clinton and the national political neophyte Palin would have been a mismatch, at all.

In her debut at the convention, Palin was thoroughly poised, articulate, and confident. Her physical appearance and her attractive family were assets.

And while her experience in public life is much thinner than Obama’s (despite dubious Republican assertions to the contrary), we often elect our public officials based on who they are, rather than on what they’ve done.

The media has a right — and responsibility — to look carefully at Palin’s background, and they haven’t shirked this duty. Some of what they’ve discovered is interesting, but unimportant — for example, her husband’s DUI of twenty years ago.

Or her peculiar connection to the fringe Alaskan Independence Party, mostly through her husband’s membership.

Down here in Texas, we have our own radical, pro-state, secessionist groups, as well; mostly they’re a quaint anachronism that no one takes very seriously. Palin’s connection to the AIP probably doesn’t require much attention.

Concerns about whether Palin can be a good vice president and a good mom at the same time are old-fashioned sexism and should be ignored. A better question might be why the Republican ticket has brought many more than its share of new children into a world that is already beginning to creak and groan under the human burden we’re asking it to bear.

And the Palin family is already making an early start on the next generation.

Other important questions remain, as well.

Every American interested in personal liberty and privacy should be concerned about the allegation that Palin used her power to take punitive action against a librarian who refused to remove certain books from the public library. Women — and men — should have an interest in her uncompromising, dogmatic stance on abortion. Scientists and educators should note her willingness to allow intelligent design — code for creationism — to be taught alongside science in public schools.

And anyone who’s paid much attention to the environment should be concerned that, just as George W. Bush is beginning to come around a little, Palin clings to the oblivious position that global climate change may be real — maybe — but that there’s no reason to think that 700,000,000 cars could have anything to do with it.

In the meantime, "Drill, Baby, Drill" is an energy policy that stands to enrich her home state enormously.

Finally, politics is hardball. Still, the edge in Palin’s eloquent acceptance speech was disquieting.

Like former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, she attacked Barack Obama in unnecessarily sarcastic and belittling terms. It’s impossible to find anything in the four-day Democratic Convention that comes close to the Giuliani and Palin speeches for snide condescension. Palin’s acerbic tone doesn’t presage an era of productive political co-existence.

Even worse, some of the edge in Palin’s speech likely arises from the arrogance of a certain kind of intolerant religious faith that is very much at odds with the humility inherent in the teachings of Christ. People who buy into this version of faith don’t have much patience with those who don’t, and the certitude of their convictions sometimes leads them to take positions that seem doubtful to strictly rational people.

All Americans should be concerned that as recently as last summer Sarah Palin said that our incursion into Iraq was a "task that is from God." How could she know this, when other equally religious and righteous people — for example, the Pope — don’t?

Sometimes politicians say things to religious people that they wouldn’t say in a secular context. Nevertheless, journalists and Democrats should push hard on what Palin meant about God’s attitude toward Iraq. What if God gets upset with Iran, too?


(John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. E-mail him at jcrisp(at) For more news and information visit

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