WASHINGTON — Has Sarah Palin learned anything since she was plucked from obscurity almost two years ago? Not that I can tell.
It was not Palin’s fault that she was woefully unprepared to be the Republican vice presidential nominee. For that one, blame the petulant, impetuous John McCain.
But Palin has had ample time now, outside the crash course of a presidential campaign, to develop and exhibit some understanding of the issues. Her learning curve, from all the available evidence, is a flat line.
Three unattractive Palin traits have, if anything, been amplified since the election: her unwillingness to buckle down and do the necessary preparation; her tendency to adopt what McCain adviser Steve Schmidt described as a “down is up and up is down” version of reality; and her enhanced sense of injury at the hands of what she oh-so-cleverly refers to as the “lamestream media.”
That would include me.
I’ve started to write this column several times and put it aside. I worried: Was I being harder on Palin because I disagree with her politically? Was I being harder on Palin than I would be on a man spouting similar pabulum? In a world where everyone already has firm opinions about Palin, pro or con, is there a value in pointing out that the Empress has no clothes?
Palin’s appearance on Fox News Sunday pushed me over the edge.
First, there was Palin on Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul, whose candidacy she had championed. Anchor Chris Wallace asked straightforward questions: Was Paul right or wrong in his view that the 1964 Civil Rights Act went too far in banning discrimination in private establishments? What did Palin make of the controversy? He got typically Palinesque answers, rambling and aggrieved:
“I think there is certainly a double standard at play here. When Rand Paul had anticipated that he’d be able to engage in a discussion, he being a libertarian-leaning constitutional conservative, being able to engage in a discussion with a TV character, a media personality, who perhaps had an agenda in asking the question and then interpreting his answer the way that she did, he wanted to talk about, evidently, some hypotheticals as it applies to impacts on the Civil Rights Act, as it impacts our Constitution. So he was given the opportunity finally to clarify, and unequivocally he has stated that he supports the Civil Rights Act.”
Actually, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and other interviewers did not ask Paul about “hypotheticals.” They asked whether he supported prohibiting private business owners from keeping blacks off their premises. Paul said he “would have tried to modify” the public accommodations part of the law and that “when you blur the distinction between public and private ownership, there really is a problem.” He had every chance to clarify in real time — and he didn’t. A double standard? Call me when a Democratic nominee for a Senate seat questions the Civil Rights Act and liberal commentators drop the ball.
Then there was Palin’s best-defense-is-an-untrue-offense response to questions about the oil spill in the Gulf. The cheerleader for “drill, baby, drill” suggested that President Obama was in the pocket of Big Oil:
“The oil companies who have so supported President Obama in his campaign and are supportive of him now — I don’t know why the question isn’t asked by the mainstream media and by others if there’s any connection with the contributions made to President Obama and his administration and the support by the oil companies to the administration. If there’s any connection there to President Obama taking so doggone long to get in there, to dive in there, and grasp the complexity and the potential tragedy that we are seeing here in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Facts are stubborn things. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the McCain campaign — that would be the McCain-Palin campaign — received $2.4 million from oil and gas interests to Obama’s $900,000. BP employees did give more to the Obama campaign — $71,051 — than to McCain’s — $36,649, but this was a pittance in the context of Obama’s fundraising.
There are fair questions about the administration’s handling of the spill. There is not a fair question about whether campaign cash put Obama in BP’s pocket. Not that this matters to Palin.
“There were numerous instances that she said things that were … not accurate,” Schmidt told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in January. “And I think that that is something that continues to this day.” Indeed.