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Thursday, September 25, 2008


Glenn Greenwald reevaluates Sarah Palin's intelligence after viewing the CBS interview, downgrading her a bit from his original “satisfactory” to “could do better”. He writes:

I still think Palin is probably perfectly smart. And in this age of dynastic and nepotistic political power centers in both parties, I admire the fact that she created her political career out of nothing, with no parental connections or vast family wealth assisting her (the fact that Barack Obama did the same thing was, in my view, one of the very few meaningful differences between him and Hillary Clinton). I still think her selection was a very politically shrewd move by the McCain campaign. And I remain largely unbothered by her so-called "lack of experience" for the same reason that this has never bothered me about Obama -- someone's judgment, intellect and views are infinitely more important than how long they've held various political posts, and the fact that someone largely exists outside the Washington establishment is, in my view, a positive -- the further away the better.

Then he goes on to say that in the clips of her being interviewed she appears terribly ignorant, but—oddly—he proposes several explanations of varying transparency for this fault, as if it's too harsh to conclude that she is just not up to the task.

Then he has a few updates saying, Yes, her incompetence is a problem that should be attacked.

But this dumbness should have been obvious from the beginning, and not some sort of unencountered and therefore unjudgeable phenomenon. We have seen this before, and we're going to keep seeing it all over the place. It's probably going to be the signature of our time, the limitless power afforded to the limitlessly ignorant. It's more or less acknowledged, for example, that John McCain doesn't know anything. He admitted to knowing nothing about economics a while ago, and that might be important, so he took the huge step of reading a whole book about it, disposing of the problem handily. Of course, he can't be expected to be up to speed on who's currently prime minister of Spain, or whether he needs to be snubbing him. But the only thing that would exclude him from consideration for office is actual, physical brain damage, in the event that he has a stroke or something.

And that's how I took Mr Greenwald's phrase “I still think Palin is probably perfectly smart.” He means only that she is not mentally deficient. She is capable of functioning normally. She may be unaware that her home state shares no border with Russia, but why would she need to know that? It's trivia. She's perfectly competent.

I think that Mr Greenwald, like some other very able commentators, has a peculiar idea of intelligence: something like the ability to master a given set of facts and their implications in a short period of time, or for a particular purpose. It doesn't seem to include anything more general, such as a curiosity about things, or the habit of analysis, or a desire for understanding. To equate Palin's “so-called ‘lack of experience’” with that of Obama is indicative of this narrow view. It only makes sense if you think that the pair of them equally lack the presidential skillset.

However, I still think he's probably perfectly smart.



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