Palin Derangement Syndrome

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I think the only way to describe what's going on with Sarah Palin is that Bush Derangement Syndrome has now been transferred to Palin. There's no other way to explain how such blatant misrepresentation and distortion could so consistently and comprehensively turn so many of her views and actions into something completely different (even leaving aside the deeply insulting personal remarks, rumor-mongering, and sexist double-standards).

I'm glad someone has put together a numbered list of these myths, because so many of them have been perpetuated by major news organizations that I find myself repeating myself over and over. Directing someone to this site and a number in the list will be much easier. Here are a few highlights:

1. Yes, she is Governor of Alaska. No, she's not the Lieutenant Governor. No, she's not currently Mayor of Wasilla. Yes, she was Mayor of Wasilla, some years ago. [I add: Yes, that last link does go to a direct quote from Obama himself (and not just the campaign or supporters) belittling her experience by treating her as if she's still no more than the mayor of a small town.]

23. No, she's doesn't believe that the Iraq War was directed by God. Yes, she did pray that proceeding with the war was God's will: "they should pray 'that our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God, that's what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan, and that plan is God's plan.'" (Ever hear the phrase "Not my will, but Thine, be done"?) Yes, this apparently freaks some people right out.

37. No, she didn't cut funding for unwed mothers; yes, she did increase it by "only" 354 percent instead of 454 percent, as part of a multi-year capital expenditures program. No, the Washington Post doesn't appear to have corrected their story. Even after this was pointed out in the comments on the story.

38. No, she didn't cut special needs student funding; yes, she did raise it by "only" 175 percent.

50. No, she doesn't believe in "abstinence only" education. Yes, she thinks abstinence is an effective way of preventing pregnancy. Duh. Yes, she believes kids should learn about condom use in schools.

66. No, she's not a "global warming denier", and when the crush dies down remind me to explain why the very phrasing "global warming denier" is anti-scientific, anti-intellectual, and a clear sign of a desire to impose your beliefs by coercion. But in the mean time, while I do believe that she has expressed some skepticism that warming is wholly human-caused, the existence of the Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet and the Alaska Climate Change Strategy work demonstrate that she's considering the problem and has brought together people more expert than she to advise her.

But you've got to read it yourself to see some of the crazy rumors, especially 8 and 10. I'm not sure what 22 is doing on the list, but I had a similar response to 21.

14 Comments

Excellent sites. Thanks for that.

Thank you SO MUCH for posting this, I needed to find something like this list.

I suspect many such mistakes are a result of simple overgeneralization or schema misapplication. People with little else to go on use their background stereotypes (in this case, about evangelical Christians / the religious right) to fill in the gaps in their knowledge about her -- possibly without even realizing it -- cf. the psychological literature on schemas and the construction of false memories. None of that is to excuse sloppy misrepresentations, but I don't think you need to invent a new "syndrome" just to explain this.

Also (even leaving aside, um, sexist double-standards), I worry that partisans may end up using labels like this to poison the well against entirely legitimate criticisms -- e.g. of her foreign policy ignorance and incompetence.

The term isn't exactly seriously meant as a syndrome. I'm just pointing out that this situation is similar to how people treat Bush in ways that go well beyond how other politicians get misinterpreted, taken out of context, and so on when they'd give the benefit of the doubt to other politicians. There's an animus behind it that excuses it in people's minds.

I don't think your second charge is fair, but I'll have to respond to that when I get more time.

I wanted to address the Daily Show sexist double-standard claim first.

1. Conservatives are not backtracking from claims of Obama's inexperience. They've consistently said that Obama is less experienced than Obama. So there's no backtracking. Obama clearly does have less executive experience in government, since he has none. He's also the top of the ticket, and his selection of Biden was, to many minds, his own acknowledgment of that problem, much as Bush's selection of Cheney was. Now he does have more experience dealing with foreign policy than Palin, but most presidents don't have more than she does on that. What's more important, conservatives are claiming (and I think they're right), is experience doing the kinds of things a president does. I don't think the experience argument is all that big a deal myself. (As Wink pointed out last week, just look at my comments about Harriet Miers a few years ago if you think this is a new view of mine.) But I don't think the current position of Palin defenders is inconsistent with the earlier one.

2. I can't figure out how it's inconsistent or hypocritical to say that teen pregnancy is worth fighting, all the while accepting a mother of a pregnant teen as a political figure worth admiring. I just don't see any argument there. Now I know the people making this argument are the ones who claim that those who think gay sex and homosexual relationships are immoral must hate gays, but that's also a faulty inference. I'm now wondering if there's something common to the two examples. Evangelicals and conservatives are regularly stereotyped as haters, so maybe it's just a common bigoted response to assume that when evangelicals or conservatives oppose an action and see it as worth preventing they must hate everyone associated with it.

3. To make the Rove argument work, you'd also need to argue that Kaine has done at least as much as Palin during their time as governors and that his personal characteristics bring similarly important things. I'm not sure that's true. You'd need to figure out exactly what Rove saw as intensely political in a hypothetical Kaine pick and how similar or different it is to the claims of Palin's pick as political. Not everything political is bad, and not every degree of politicality is bad. I'd need to ask Rove some questions to know if he was really being inconsistent on this. I can see characteristics of Palin that McCain would be attracted to that weren't true of anyone else who has been said to have been on the short list. It's possible Rove is really inconsistent, but more needs to be said, including some clarification from him. (I'm not going to defend O'Reilly, though, and the article says so little about Morris that I have no idea what the charge even specifically is.)

Now I presume your reason for calling this a sexist double-standard is that you think it's because Palin is a woman that people are defending her, when they attack men in a similar position. Maybe he Kaine example could fit that, but surely not the Britney Spears or Hillary Clinton examples. More likely in the Kaine case, if it is a double standard, is that it's a political standard. People are more willing to give the benefit of the doubt for people they agree with on other things, particularly if the person's views are so much of a breath of fresh air because she was chosen by someone you've been lukewarm about. This has been the anti-Obama campaign for many Republicans, just as 2004 was the anti-Bush campaign for many Democrats. I think that, where there is an inconsistency, it's much better explained by political animosity than by sexist double-standards, given that the comparisons aren't all men. I don't think all the anti-Palin sexism claims can be dismissed so easily. People don't generally obsess about how male candidates are dressed when they disagree with them, and they don't ask questions about childcare of men as easily as they do of women. There's a real claim for sexism here.

I hadn't had a chance to see or read the Charlie Gibson interview until now, but it's clear to me that he's the one it reflects more badly on.

He repeated the ridiculous claim that she said this war is God's will, and when she said that's not what she said, all he had to say for himself was "exact words", when it's been pointed out by many people that the quote left out the most crucial part of what she said, leaving it communicating something very different from what she said. Then he refused to accept this when she even presented it herself.

When she wanted clarification on which thing he meant among the many things called the Bush Doctrine, he repeated the term. So she defended his general approach. He finally clarified what he meant, which turned out to be the docrine of preemptive self-defense, as opposed to my first thought that it would be the doctrine of spreading democracy in the Middle-East, something she also thought he must have meant.

I can't say much better about Publius' evaluation either. She says she supports including the Ukraine and Georgia in NATO. He points out that that might mean having to defend them against Russia. She says it's best to use sanctions and other pressure and avoid war and another cold war if at all possible. Publius accuses her of saying specifically that we'd go to war with Russia. It was Gibson who said their presence in NATO would require that. Palin tried to minimize that.

Gibson pushed her to answer whether we should invade Pakistan against the government's consent. She showed considerable resistance to this, but he kept pushing, and she finally said she won't rule out any options a priori. Publius doesn't seem to recognize that, and I don't think he sufficiently recognizes that the McCain statement he's comparing it to allows for more openness about things being on the table than he's allowing. What he said is that he's not going to chase bin Laden into Pakistan. He didn't say there'd never be a scenario when we might invade Pakistan to pursue someone against its wishes. He's just very resistant to it, as she is. Now maybe he's more resistant than she is, but I don't see an absolute in his words, and I don't see all that openness to it in hers.

Now what I did notice is that the way she described militant Islamic terrorists was not typical. Unlike many Democrats, she recognizes them as Muslim. Unlike many Republicans, she points out that it's a small minority of Muslims who will do things like this (even if she doesn't say that a much greater percentage tolerates or even supports it).

I should note that she takes a less extreme view than Bush on the preemptive issue. I don't agree with her. I think Bush is right. But that's worth pointing out. Bush thinks it's ok to defend yourself before the threat is imminent, which is what he consistently defended before attacking Iraq (despite being regularly misrepresented by his opponents and the media as basing the attack on a claim of imminent attack). She doesn't go that far.

I also noticed that she's savvy enough to recognize that most vice-presidents have little experience in foreign policy. She should have pointed out that many presidents do too.

Finally, I'm back for the last thing I want to say. You're right that the sexism charges are being misapplied in cases where it's highly implausible that sexism has anything to do with it. It's not sexism to ask hard questions in general, provided they'd be asked (and in similar ways) to any VP candidate. I do think a lot of what's gone on wouldn't have happened had she been a man, and I think the site I linked to has been fairly judicious in including mostly legitimate worries of sexism, at least on the day when I checked it. It's got a high rate of new posts appearing, so the quality may have changed since then. I haven't been back yet, but I'll probably head over there when I'm done with this.

I don't think that's a reason to complain about sexism charges in general, because there do seem to me to be a number of clear cases and quite a few more that are at least plausible worries of sexism lurking behind the scenes explaining unusual behavior and assumptions. The fact that the sexism charge has been misused unfortunately undermines the credibility of the sexism debate in terms of people's perceptions of it, but that's a perception I want to fight. I do think some of the unfairness toward her has been because she's a woman.

The left often does itself a disservice by making itself look crazy.

I thought she had a reasonable core response to the bush doctrine question and that the critique as it stood was unwarranted. Still - I got the same feeling about the talking points that Publis got and I am inclined to think even if one can bat away individual critiques of Palin on foreign affairs I doubt even the Republican administration thinks that is her strong suit. Particularly when one hears arguments like "Alaska is near Russia" as an argument.

Also I think the key issue when addressing the daily show skit is not that their positions are not defendable - I'm sure they are (with some mental gymnastics). But more that that isn't the reason why those people have those opinions (i.e. in a hypothetical world where Palin was a democrat they would not defend her in that way). Sure I am begging the question but does anyone seriously think Rove (or, to be fair, anyone performing the same job as him) has an incredibly nuanced position that just happens to always suit his party as opposed to a flexible/internally contradictory one?

I think the point about being close to Russia is that Alaskans are thus forced to think about them a lot more, which increases the likelihood that they've given more careful and informed thought to them than is probably true of other countries we might have difficult dealings with. As far as that goes, it is relevant.

Maybe, but if Anyone in Alaska is spending too much time thinking about Russia's relations to their state I'm not sure what the topic is.

There isn't many people in that area of Russia so Russia is well outside Alaska's top 20 trade partners, Biden's state (to take a random example) seems to have more than twice as much trade with Russia as Alaska does with a fairly similar population. Alaska also has none of the top 100 Russian communities (by population) in the USA.

And the nearest major city (where the out of date fleet is) is about the same distance from Anchorage as New York is from London.

I suppose many US states don't boarder any countries at all and there may be a few ethnically Russian whaling/fur villages in Alaska but it does seem the point is very stretched.

Right, but keep in mind that until the end of the Cold War the threat of nuclear attack was a lot more fearsome for Alaskans than for many others, not necessarily because it was the most obvious place to attack but more because of proximity. Whenever Russia does anything remotely like the old KBG, which it has done a lot of recently, Alaskans are probably more tuned in to it than a lot of others. All I'm saying is that I don't think it's irrelevant. I don't think it's an incredibly strong argument, but it's not nothing either.

Thanks for the link.

On the subject of Palin's experience, I think Victor Davis Hanson said it best (slightly paraphrased): "How is it a half-term Senator is qualified to be President, but a half-term Governor is unqualified to be Vice President?"

Charlie (if you might still be checking in on this discussion): Let me address your/Hanson's question as someone who plans to vote (*fairly* happily) for Obama but is very worried about Palin (as well as those who reacted to her so positively so quickly), even though he's on the top & she's on the bottom of their respective tickets. (The top/bottom difference is a bit less important than usual, given McCain's age and health history, but is still a very valid consideration.)

For me, the difference isn't really one of qualifications -- though that *may* be b/c I'm inclined to use "qualifications" more narrowly than some others seem to.

Obama has given what many people think are some excellent speeches. And now Palin has given a speech that many people seem to think was excellent, too (though it's largely a different group of people -- though with some overlap -- that think her speech was excellent). And no doubt many of Obama's supporters have shallow grounds for their support of him, having been moved almost exclusively by his speeches. For my money, the speech he gave at the Dem Convention when he was a state senator is still his best. But I certainly didn't conclude that he'd be a good President based on that speech. Most I think someone could have sensibly said at that point was "Maybe he'd be good -- We'll have to see." Nor would I have drawn that conclusion by adding the other good speeches he's made since. That doesn't go very far, I think, if you're being sensible. But now, we have a lot more. I wouldn't call them "qualifications." But we (or at least I, and anybody who's wanted to find out) now know his positions on a very wide selection of national issues, and we've seen him defend his positions on those issues -- without the use of teleprompters -- in debate after debate -- so many, in fact, that it got to be too much, and in some unscripted, challenging interviews (most recently, by Bill O'Reilly, not the sharpest critic one can imagine, but that interview was somewhat challenging, and worth watching imho). Now, the debates & interviews weren't all all that great in terms of format and the quality (& degree of challenge) of the questions asked. But put them all together, and people have some idea of how the man thinks, and at least know what his positions are and how he's inclined to defend them. It's largely b/c of that, & certainly not just because of his scripted speeches, that I feel a bit better about drawing a still somewhat tentative positive judgment about Obama. (I'd feel a whole lot better still if I had been given the chance to play the part that Rick Warren played, and got to press Obama on various points that bother me -- or if he had some policy positions I like better than some of his actual positions.)

I don't *think* most of the people who were so hot for Palin so quickly had anything like that -- and I (who am not so hot for her) certainly don't. They *seem* to all be like the shallow Obama supporters I spoke of above, who have little more than scripted speeches to go by. I don't see how they could have any basis for any conclusions beyond "Maybe she'll be good -- We'll have to see." (If Palin had some challenging debates or interviews when running for governor or something, and if she's somewhere addressed in some detail the wide range of national issues Obama has taken careful positions on, my apologies to any of her supporters who've dug that all out and are basing their support of her on that. You're not among the shallow I'm talking about.) Now she has had some interviews, at least one of them a bit challenging. My own belief is that she did very poorly. (And her slide is favorability ratings are some indication that I might not be alone in that.) I can understand someone making the case that her performances have not been all *that* bad, but I'd have a hard time understanding someone holding those up as examples of excellent performances, or even as performances that should do much to ease one's doubts about her. If someone disagrees with that evaluation, then fine, we disagree. But my worries (beyond my ideological differences with her) are that I have little basis to trust her knowledge and intelligence, and her interview performances, in my judgment, haven't helped on that.

Keith, I knew a lot about her before McCain picked her, and I thought she was a great choice. It amazed me within hours how quickly people had started to paint her as something other than what she is, and I still think most of the criticisms of her are extremely unfair. I don't find the experience argument remotely moving, as I've said, but I do think executive experience would be more helpful than legislative experience in terms of the day-to-day responsibilities of the presidency. Making decisions and managing people is hard to avoid. Advisers can help anyone understand what the issues are, and if they're chosen wisely they can reflect a diversity of opinions within the general range you might find worth listening to. (One of Bush's problems has been that he hasn't paid enough attention to some of his advisers because other advisers have dominated.) So I can understand why some people making the experience argument are going to favor Palin. Her strongest draw for McCain is what she managed to do as governor in moving away from the excesses of the Murkowski and Knowles administrations.

I have seen one gubernatorial debate, by the way, and I thought she understood the issues very well and had good responses to her opponents (one of whom was a bit over-willing to talk down to her, and I thought she responded well to that). There was a lot of unclarity on her views because of all the misrepresentation going on, but I thought what she needed to do more was not appear the sort of person who couldn't stand up on the national scene, and she needed to energize people the way McCain can't seem to do. I thought she did that really well, and I wasn't disappointed all that much about the lack of detailed policy. I'm not sure that's the VP candidate's job anyway.

My impression of what people liked immediately about Palin, at least in the conservative base, is that she's obviously stronger on pro-life issues than McCain comes across, something many conservatives have been worried about with him, and the reports of how extreme she's supposed to be (but turns out not to be) on so many social conservative issues has probably actually helped with this group. They're not wonky policy types who want the picky details on economic issues. They just want someone who's pro-life who shares several of their key concerns, and there's enough information in Wikipedia for social conservatives to see that about her. So I just don't think it's true that so many people are basing the entirety of their support for her on that one speech. What the speech did is show them that this isn't just someone who agrees with them. It's someone who agrees with them who can be a strong voice for their views, and women in particular are glad that she comes across as what they see as feminine amidst being strong in that way. That isn't true of all women in politics.

You probably know already that I disagree with you on the Gibson interview. I thought she did all right on that despite being asked several "have you stopped beating your wife?" style questions, including the awful Bush doctrine one. I haven't had a chance to look at any others. I heard she was on Hannity, but I haven't been able to check it out yet.

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