Monday, October 06, 2008

Listen to what Sarah Palin is saying – and then be afraid

I am following up the USA presidential race with anticipation of the first black to be in the WHITE house. Race is still a major issue in USA politics and is still predominantly white-centric, therefore, perhaps as we speak, it will still a long way to have a black in the WHITE house.

The recent vice presidential debate was nothing much to gauge except Sarah Palin is one of the dumbest candidates, not because of she is a woman. Hillary Clinton is much better in terms of charisma, experience and intellectual capacity, hence a Presidential candidate material.

Then again, this is USA and the election would spring a surprise and Sarah could be the first female VP of the USA and even the first female president of the USA, if in the event of the death of McCain while in the WHITE house.....
Read this article from The National (Abu Dhabi's english newspaper):

Media commentators were breathless in anticipation of the Vice Presidential debate between the Democrat Joe Biden and the Republican Sarah Palin. Given Mrs Palin’s repeated gaffes in television interviews, there was an expectation that she might self-destruct in this nationally televised event.
This did not occur. Instead, Mrs Palin followed a disciplined debate strategy. She did not answer most of the questions asked (at one point she announced: “I’m not going to answer the questions the way the moderator or my opponent would like me to”) but delivered a series of prepared mini-speeches.
Palin was friendly and folksy, if somewhat disturbingly flirtatious (with winks etc). She sprinkled her answers with colloquialisms (“doggone”, “you betcha”). But because her speeches had been prepared in advance, she didn’t stumble into gibberish, as she had in her earlier interviews, and appeared to be competent enough to please her supporters. I had expected as much.
I had noted before the debate that in watching and evaluating Sarah Palin’s debate performance, it would be important not to focus exclusively on what she doesn’t know about critical foreign policy issues. More useful, I believed, would be filtering out what she does know. She began this process with a largely blank slate on foreign policy.
One could dismiss her claims of having learnt about international affairs by living, as she does, between two foreign countries. The geography is undeniable; but living across the Bering Strait from the frozen wastes of Russia’s Siberia, or across a land border from Canada’s Yukon, provides more a sense of isolation than it does foreign policy experience.
Similarly, Mrs Palin’s sole foreign trip, last year, to US military installations in Germany and Kuwait (and a quarter of a mile into Iraq) to visit members of Alaska’s National Guard may have helped the Governor to better understand the needs of her constituents deployed abroad, but would not have left her better informed about Kuwait or Iraq. And it is questionable how much useful information she culled from her speed-dating exercise with world leaders in Manhattan (other than the sorry fact that some of them could be fawning or embarrassingly sexist).

In selecting Mrs Palin, McCain’s operatives understood her obvious assets: solid “Christian” conservative credentials, unlimited ambition, effective stage presence and, yes, that she is a woman. But recognising her equally obvious weaknesses (primarily a lack of policy, especially foreign policy, credentials), the McCain team sequestered their number two in an effort to give her a crash course in world affairs. Led by the arch neo-conservative and lobbyist Randy Scheunemann (who was an ever-present chaperone during Mrs Palin’s New York adventure), the team drilled their “quick study” in the ways of the world.

In the interviews that marked brief breaks in her sequestration, the fruits of their labour have been on display; much could be learnt from her answers. Some were nearly unintelligible, to be sure, but sifting through the jumbled syntax and incoherent babble revealed her “talking points”. These answers deserve scrutiny, as do the prepared lines she delivered during the debate, because they provide a guide to the world view of her handlers, which they hope to advance through her.
Having no independently developed experience-based foreign affairs knowledge of her own through which to sift this “received knowledge”, Mrs Palin’s recitation of her lessons revealed a raw and unfiltered neo-conservative view of the world. It is, at times, banal and oversimplified; but it is also, in many ways, perfectly clear.It is absolutist and Manichean. There is good (“us”) and evil (“them”). “We” stand for democracy and the “spirit of freedom that is found in every human heart”.
Since the clash between good and evil is both desirable and inevitable, “our” role is to bring “our values” to a waiting world and defeat evil. And, in this conflict, “our” victory is preordained. Compromise with evil is unthinkable and so traditional forms of diplomacy are to be rejected as a sign of weakness and surrender. In this world view, diplomacy means working with those who agree with us, not finding ways to bridge differences with those with whom we disagree.

Simple? Yes, but also dangerous. This was the world-view embraced by the current administration, especially during its first term. (It is the consequences of this disastrous course that the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, has worked diligently, if unsuccessfully, to correct.) And, despite its many failures, it appears that this hard-line neocon course is embraced by Governor Palin’s running mate and his advisers.
Now, Mrs Palin is no mere pawn. In many ways her Christian fundamentalism has prepared her for her role – since neo-conservatism is but a secularised version of her faith’s absolutism. But while the theology provides a fit, it is the language and its application to complex world affairs that is new. And so, while the basic framework (good vs evil, etc) makes sense in Mrs Palin’s mind, she is not yet comfortable with the new phrases that have been written on the previously near-blank slate. This is why I say that it is important to listen to what she does say, not how badly she says it. And don’t make fun: be afraid.

Dr James J Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute.

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