Newsweek's Jon Meacham thinks that Governor Sarah Palin is too much a commoner and too stupid to be allowed to become vice president of the United States of America and apparently his employer agrees with him. The October 13 cover of Newsweek features a close up photo of the Governor with the headline "She's One of the Folks (And that's the problem)," and Meacham writes the accompanying cover story. Be clear about what this means: This is a direct attack on Mr. and Mrs. America. We are all too stupid to be president in the elite opinion of Jon Meacham and Newsweek magazine.
Meacham finds Palin to be incurious, unprepared, and even finds it "dangerous" if she were to become our vice president but he offers us nothing but his opinion to judge by. And it's all because she doesn't measure up to his personal standards. Sadly for Meacham's elitism, however, Palin easily satisfies the standards that the Founding Fathers set as criteria for stepping into the highest office in the land. Curiously, Meacham does not once mention the actual Constitutional requirements to run for office in his entire sarcastic attack on Sarah Palin. Like most of his ilk, the Constitution seems meaningless minutia to him.
To be sure, there is an argument raging among the iliterati concerning who should be allowed to be president or vice president and it all centers on the experience issue. Whether a long resume of government positions makes one "qualified" for president or not has taken center stage, especially since Gov. Sarah Palin was chosen for his VP candidate by John McCain. Hypocritically, this "experience" issue didn't bother these same members of the chattering classes when Barack Obama announced his quest for the White House with his less than 200 days in federal service now behind him. But now these same worriers find themselves suddenly concerned.
Before we begin, we need to find out the true qualifications for president of the United States as we see in the U.S. Constitution, Article 2, Section 1:
No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
That's it. The Founders wanted no test, no requirements but these so as not to restrict the people in their choice. They, unlike someone like Jon Meacham it turns out, trusted the American people.
Early in the piece, Meacham sets up the argument in favor of Palin, yet even as he does he attacks.
A key argument for Palin, in essence, is this: Washington and Wall Street are serving their own interests rather than those of the broad whole of the country, and the moment requires a vice president who will, Cincinnatus-like, help a new president come to the rescue. The problem with the argument is that Cincinnatus knew things. Palin sometimes seems an odd combination of Chauncey Gardiner from "Being There" and Marge from "Fargo."
This is but one of the many slams that elitist Meacham engages in here. Not to belittle the selfless life of Cincinnatus, but to merely assume that he "knew things" and that this assumption somehow speaks against Palin hardly passes the smell test. In fact, the figure of a Cincinnatus does, indeed, seem to elicit a comparison with Sarah Palin. But Meacham does not elaborate on the "things" Cincinnatus "knew" and why it is that Palin doesn't measure up. He assumes that a mere dropping of an ancient Roman name will be enough to convince that he's on to something.
To elaborate for the uninitiated, Cincinnatus is known as the Roman dictator that left his small farm to lead Rome to victory in a short war and then, in a perfect example of public virtue, resigned his dictatorship and returned to his plow. He is known for simplicity of life, virtue in duty, and fairness in leadership. He is not, however, known as some great philosopher king. He was just a dutiful, humble citizen that knew how best to get the job done. Why is Cincinnatus so much different than a Sarah Palin? In any case, Meacham doesn't bother to say, leaving the charge hang there unexplained.
The crux of Meacham's argument is in favor of elitism of a sorts, though he claims it is not one of station.
Is this an elitist point of view? Perhaps, though it seems only reasonable and patriotic to hold candidates for high office to high standards. Elitism in this sense is not about educational or class credentials, not about where you went to school or whether you use "summer" as a verb. It is, rather, about the pursuit of excellence no matter where you started out in life. Jackson, Lincoln, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton were born to ordinary families, but they spent their lives doing extraordinary things, demonstrating an interest in, and a curiosity about, the world around them. This is much less evident in Palin's case.
Meacham argues that the past presidents he mentions were so obviously more qualified by their "pursuit of excellence" and that Palin has no such history. But, for many of those he mentions, we only know of these pursuits in retrospect. At the time they ran, several of those Meacham mentions were just as blank a slate to the public as he claims Palin to be to us now. Lincoln, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson and Ford were all thought to be either extremely common of intellect or not well educated by most people when they achieved office. In fact, in Andrew Jackson's case, he was quite uneducated to which any look at his writings can quickly attest (Spelling and punctuation was unknown to him it is obvious). That they all turned out later to have been misunderestimated is the stuff of history, but using these folks as arguments to prove Palin's unfitness for office is rather shaky grounds.
Meacham even attacks Palin for presenting herself as one of us.
Even devoted Republicans doubt whether the Sarah Six-Pack case is the best one to make. After the vice presidential debate, a senior figure in the party, who asked not to be named because he was telling the truth, told me that Palin should talk less about being "just-folks" and more about being governor of a large state.
I love how Meacham asserts that this unnamed source was “telling the truth.” Telling whose truth is the question that remains unanswered.
William F. Buckley, Jr. once famously quipped that he'd "rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University." This remark, albeit a humorous one, holds the germ of true American principle at its heart and it is a principle that Meacham is arguing against. For his part, Thomas Jefferson agreed with Buckley's intent that the common American was suited for any office in the land, a notion that the Meacham's of the world seem to be arguing against.
Jefferson once said, that "whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights." The election of a Sarah Six-Pack like Sarah Palin can easily be considered a corrective action by the American people tired of being ridden by those imagining themselves “born booted and spurred" to dictate the terms of our lives from on high.
The main problem with Meacham’s position is that it would tend to create a permanent political class from which we would draw our leaders. This is a concept quite outside of what the Founders wanted.
Then Meacham conjures up the death of McCain as so many are wont to do.
... it is only prudent to ask whether she is in fact someone who should be president of the United States in the event of disaster. She may be ready in a year or two, but disaster does not coordinate its calendar with ours. Would we muddle through if Palin were to become president? Yes, we would, but it is worth asking whether we should have to.
Besides his pronouncement that she is stupid, we really don't find much in Meacham's column to doubt Sarah Palin's capacity to be president. We have to take as given that she is unfit because he does not really do much to settle the question. Assuming he's right, maybe it would be a bad thing to have a Sarah Palin as next in line for the Oval Office. But, there is nothing in this piece that compels one to agree with Meacham's premise. He fails to prove his case.
He saves his best slam for last; she's "dangerous."
I could be wrong. Perhaps Sarah Palin will somehow emerge from the hurly-burly of history as a transformative figure who was underestimated in her time by journalists who could not see, or refused to acknowledge, her virtues. But do I think I am right in saying that Palin's populist view of high office -- hey, Vice President Six-Pack, what should we do about Pakistan? -- Is dangerous? You betcha.
As far as ninety-nine percent of the country was concerned, Abe Lincoln, the rough-hewn western hick, was a surprise as president. Few people respected Andrew Jackson as an intellect. Truman was thought a country bumpkin. Ike was perennially depicted as a golf-playing dunderhead and Ford the well-meaning fool. In retrospect they turned out to be far better than their detractor's worst claims. Meacham wants us to see Palin in the same dismissive light that these American presidents were cast in until they proved their mettle. Sure we should seek a good, qualified candidate. But why is it that Palin isn't one?
If Meacham meant to convince us that Palin presented the worst-case scenario that was suspected in past American leaders, he failed to do so. But he did insult every normal American out there as he made the attempt.