Monday, September 22, 2008

Does McCain Really Believe Himself?
Here's the first part of the "60 Minutes" report last night with John McCain. Note, at about 12:30 into the segment, the gulf between the words he speaks and his body language on the question of whether Palin is ready to serve as president...

Even at this late date, enough of McCain's old reformer cred comes through in the interview--the nugget about moving the political office out of the West Wing was a nice touch, as was the idea of naming Andrew Cuomo (much as I dislike the guy personally) as SEC chief--that I still find him clearly preferable to sociopaths like Romney or, god forbid, Il Douche Giuliani. But this is a guy in his 70s, with a history of skin cancer, who endured something unimaginably taxing and horrific as a younger man. And Palin is more frightening than either Romney, who at least is smart, or Giuliani, whose paranoia and autocratic tendencies are much better documented. It makes me sad to think that McCain probably grasps all this on some level--and is willing to run the risk in order to boost his own chances to sit in the big chair.

This Newsweek piece on the meaning and risk of the Palin candidacy, by the atheist writer Sam Harris, strikes me as right on.

What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. Watching her deny to Gibson that she had ever harbored the slightest doubt about her readiness to take command of the world's only superpower, one got the feeling that Palin would gladly assume any responsibility on earth:

"Governor Palin, are you ready at this moment to perform surgery on this child's brain?"

"Of course, Charlie. I have several boys of my own, and I'm an avid hunter."

"But governor, this is neurosurgery, and you have no training as a surgeon of any kind."

"That's just the point, Charlie. The American people want change in how we make medical decisions in this country. And when faced with a challenge, you cannot blink."

The prospects of a Palin administration are far more frightening, in fact, than those of a Palin Institute for Pediatric Neurosurgery. Ask yourself: how has "elitism" become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated.

Perhaps it's time for "our side" to start fighting the culture wars in earnest--to make the case that, yes, education and skills and judgment and temperament all matter, and should be celebrated rather than disparaged. And that, whatever Palin's (or Obama's, or anybody's) faith, the country must run itself on the common ground of shared secular values.


Brian said...

My wife had also noticed the same thing- she looked at me and said, "He's saying, 'yes' but his he's shaking his head 'no'."

David said...

I hesitate a little to put too much weight on that sort of thing. But given how much of a stretch I think it must be for any intelligent person (and McCain is that) to say what he said with conviction...

I'm also just pumped that I successfully embedded a video clip here--a first.