The hysteria in the media and among the drawing room intellectuals of American politics over Sarah Palin’s perceived lack of qualifications for national candidacy is growing at about the same rate as the realization that she has completely changed the dynamic of a presidential campaign that the conventional wisdom said was a sure thing for the Democrats.
The fact that Democrats and pundits alike only weeks ago thought this election was a "piece of cake" only to see it in danger of crumbling because of a self-proclaimed hockey mom governor has stimulated an increasingly frantic effort to prove that she is unfit to be anywhere near the Oval Office.
We are told some fresh bit of astounding news in nearly every morning edition. Her mayoral duties were far less important than she has indicated. She was a tough customer with her enemies while favoring her friends. She spent her Alaska per diem money even when she was spending the night at home, which is perfectly legal in her state. She has exaggerated her opposition to the bridge to nowhere. She tried to get her former brother-in-law fired from the State Police. Her husband has been subpoenaed to testify in the investigation as to whether she used improper influence in that case.
She didn’t even know what the Bush Doctrine was. My goodness! Who did?
Herds of reporters, including the highly respected ABC television anchor, Charles Gibson, have been trampling the flora and fauna across the storied North to discover the "true" Sarah Palin. It is a quest for that sensational morsel that will prove her unworthiness for the job. So far they have been limited to insignificant scraps found on the table of any local politician and pitched their way by her enemies in both parties. It seems in all, Palin has doled out her brand of "reform" to Republicans as well as Democrats on an equal opportunity basis. Death by a thousand cuts so far seems their only hope of putting this election where they think it belongs.
But nothing at this stage has diminished the enthusiasm for her shared by growing numbers of women of all ages and walks who clearly see her as the symbol of retribution for a history of political exclusion in this country. Even her vice presidential opponent, Sen. Joseph Biden, who has been relegated to near anonymity in her shadow, says Barack Obama probably would have been better off picking Sen. Hillary Clinton as his running mate, an assessment in which Palin not only concurred but added, "I bet he (Obama) wishes he had." That opinion seems to also have been expressed by other Democrats.
Biden was one of those safe bets, a denizen of Washington comparable to vice presidential selections through the ages who have attested — until the current administration, at least — to the correctness of John Nance Gardner’s statement that the number two office is not worth "a pitcher of warm spit." At least that’s the cleaned up version. Franklin Roosevelt, who subscribed to that wholeheartedly, made presidential qualifications a small consideration in his selection of a running mate, preferring to choose men who were no threat to his own stature.
Yet no one is willing to discount the possibility of a presidential heart that stops beating, and that prospect requires strong examination of the next person in the line of succession. Every one else in the race seems to have been thoroughly vetted. Fine.
But bombarding us with the picayune rather than the momentous, of trying to make chicken salad out of chicken feathers or to use smalltime, subjective disparagements to build a profile of someone who is not who she says she is, is not the answer. That approach only certifies that it is what it seems, mean spirited, and it lends credence to allegations of sexism.
Gibson, a good reporter and interviewer, unfortunately let his professionalism slip by succumbing to worries that he would be accused of pitching softballs at Palin. So he fell into the "gotcha" mode by asking a fair question in an unfair manner. Had he asked Palin whether she agreed with the "Bush doctrine of preemptive strike" rather than just "the Bush doctrine," it would have been far more effective. As it turned out, the doctrine of preemptive strike is only one of several such policies espoused by President Bush, muting the impact of her perceived befuddlement.
Palin still has a long way to go but she is changing the political landscape as few have. Those hammering away at her haven’t dented her yet as frantically as they have tried.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)