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Bret Stephens: Palin and the 'Experience' Canard

Roundup: Media's Take




If nothing else, the media meltdown over Sarah Palin's candidacy for the vice presidency has exposed the not-unsuspected truth that, when it comes to historical ignorance and political amnesia, our cultural panjandrums are in a class by themselves.

ABC's Charlie Gibson is only the latest to offer himself upon the altar of self-parody with his pop-quizzing of the Alaska governor during their interview last week.

Gibson: "Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?"

Palin: "In what respect, Charlie?"

Which was a sensible answer, given that no higher authority than Jacob Weisberg of Slate has counted six versions of the thing (including "absence of any functioning doctrine at all"). Further pressed on the subject, Gov. Palin explained that "what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism," which better sums up the gist of Bush policy than Mr. Gibson's cramped definition of the doctrine as "anticipatory self-defense."

And so the candidate, without so much as the benefit of a junior year abroad, managed (maybe luckily, though luck is often a function of wit) to get the better of the anchorman, Princeton '65.

Still, Mr. Gibson's high-toned condescension pales next to that of former Dick Gephardt speechwriter Matthew Dallek, who managed a loud guffaw over Mrs. Palin's supposed inexperience in an interview with Politico.com. "It would be one thing if she had only been governor a year and a half, but prior to that she had not had major experience."

Mr. Dallek is also a presidential historian, so he must have some acquaintance with the career of Calvin Coolidge. When Coolidge was named to Warren Harding's ticket in 1920, he had been governor of Massachusetts for less than two years. Aside from a largely powerless stint as lieutenant governor and other smaller legislative posts, his chief previous government experience was as mayor of Northampton, to which he was first elected in 1910 by a Wasilla-like margin of 1,597 to 1,409.

Another year-and-a-half governor to be nominated for the vice presidency: Teddy Roosevelt. It's true that TR, as a former assistant secretary of the Navy, had more foreign policy experience than Mrs. Palin, though one wonders what today we would make of a candidate whose proud boast was that he had killed an enemy soldier "like a jackrabbit."

Then there is Harry Truman, to whom Mrs. Palin compared herself at the Republican convention. "He had only to open his mouth and his origins were plain," wrote David McCullough in his biography of the 33rd president, in lines that might also have been written about Mrs. Palin. "It wasn't just that he came from a particular part of the country, geographically, but from a specific part of the American experience, an authentic pioneer background, and a specific place in the American imagination."...
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