I’ve got into a bit of a scuffle commenting on a post over at The Gypsy Scholar; I made some unkind remarks about the Republican vice-presidential nominee, and elicited a snappy rebuke.

I will cop to the charge of using fairly strong language, bordering on incivility. I may even be showing symptoms of what some GOP partisans have been calling “Palin Derangement Syndrome”. I confess in open court that the shocking fact, and ludicrous spectacle, of Ms. Palin’s vice-presidential candidacy does indeed arouse in me an uncomfortably itchy irritation, and an unwelcome emotional mixture of sadness, embarrassment, and vexation.

I cannot say that she represents the worst of America; that, I’m afraid comes in many ugly forms, and if anything I reserve far deeper contempt for those who, sheltered and nourished by this country’s unique liberties and opportunities, see fit only to insult and belittle it. I do not imagine Sarah Palin to be a racist, or a gangster, a pederast, or a reality-TV producer. (She is not even a member of Congress.) I do believe that she has a deep love of country, and genuinely has what she imagines to be America’s best interests at heart.

She is, however, emblematic of many things that I do not admire about a large segment of American culture: suspicion and distrust of intellectuals; populist contempt of “elites”; a blithe and incurious tendency to see even the most subtle and complicated issues in the starkest and most binary terms; crudity and carelessness of language; disdain for manners and cultivation; thralldom to simplistic, fundamentalist religion — and a cocky and arrogant swagger that is not only unembarrassed by ignorance, but seems actually proud of it.

That such a person as Sarah Palin should confidently assume herself a suitable choice to take the nation’s helm at a time of immeasurable economic, cultural, military and political global turmoil — when the future not only of this noble and extraordinary historical experiment, but also of Western culture, and indeed the human race, are at stake, and when it is essential that America be led by its finest and subtlest minds, and that it have a president who can not only confront the many nations and cultures of the world, but also understand and communicate productively with them — is so breathtakingly presumptuous, so absurdly vain, and so mulishly, solipsistically self-centered, that it evokes in me, as I have now just confessed, a resentful indignation, to which I have on several recent occasions given splenetic and intemperate voice.

But enough already. I’ve had my say, I’ve made my point, and so now I will shut up, henceforward, about Sarah Palin.

Unless she wins.

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  1. Charles says

    I’ve cast my vote, done my duty. Nothing more I can do right now but pray.

    I wonder what Sarah Palin would think if she knew that a person raised in the same denomination as her was praying desperately for her defeat…

    Posted October 30, 2008 at 5:17 am | Permalink
  2. She’s not a pederast?

    Boy, is my face red.

    Posted October 30, 2008 at 6:58 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm, your first caveat with regard to Mrs. Palin, “[her] suspicion and distrust of intellectuals” suffers with the sort of language difficulty that would keep a roomfull of the sillier sort of intellectuals arguing away for a week or more! The problem lies in the meaning of the word ‘intellectuals’. It is, I suggest, rather like the word ‘clever’, it is not quite a compliment in the English language although the French, I believe, would delight in either. (Well, they would, wouldn’t they, and their leaders are often so described but a fat lot of good it has done them!)

    I have never been certain what people mean when they use the word; indeed, I, myself, use it in a variety of ways, sometimes as a compliment, when I add the prefix ‘the better sort of’, or, as above ‘the sillier sort of’. This is a necessary qualification because intellectuals come in both varieties. Churchill, for example, was scholastically hopeless, regularly finishing bottom of the class and was only saved from total ignorance by an all-consuming love of history and politics but had you asked him the meaning of life he would have offered you another cigar and brandy and changed the subject.

    Surely the president of the USA is surrounded by intellectuals of the first rank – all those smartly-suited ‘experts’ in the State Department, for example, who will offer you so many, er, “subtle” variations on what to do in this or that situation that your head will spin, unless, of course, you are an intellectual yourself, in which case you can argue the whole thing round and round into the wee small hours, a particular delight of most intellctuals, I hear, and a practice indulged in by former President Carter who sank in a sea of deatail. However, I would suggest that the prerequisite for being a great statesman is first of all to be a shrewd judge of character. No president will know everything about everything and will require advice from all quarters. The ability to choose good advisers is thus essential. The (apparent) fact that Mrs. Palin blew out the McCain advisers she was saddled with indicates shrewdness on her part. I would suggest that life in a small town with small politics is a better training ground for a statesman than the hallowed halls of Yale and Princeton.

    However, I am ‘far from the madding crowd’ and my view is restricted.

    Posted October 30, 2008 at 8:12 am | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    David, I hesitated before using the word “intellectuals” for just the reasons you mention.

    I quite agree that good judgment of character is essential in an effective leader. But so is good judgment of intellectual quality: when those advisers are chosen, it matters that they actually understand — at an intellectual level — the complex matters upon which they must offer counsel. And it is equally important that their advice be listened to, and not dismissed as the wonking (and wanking) of pointy-headed “elites”.

    And no, small-town politics is not sufficient training for understanding the economy of the Caucasus, cultural warfare in Central Asia, or prioritizing funding for scientific research.

    Posted October 30, 2008 at 9:59 am | Permalink
  5. the one eyed man says

    Who needs wonking and wanking when you have Palin winking?

    Posted October 30, 2008 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  6. Kevin Kim says


    Your Palin derangement puts you in good company, for one of my favorite wacky celebrities also “can’t stand” her.


    Posted October 30, 2008 at 1:07 pm | Permalink
  7. “And no, small-town politics is not sufficient training for understanding the economy of the Caucasus, cultural warfare in Central Asia, or prioritizing funding for scientific research.”

    But no-one understands *all* of those things, and most of your postwar presidents haven’t, either. A president has ‘intellectual’ people to explain it to them as they arise. It is then up to the judgment of the president concerned to choose. I am reminded of two things. Churchill once minuted the First Lord of the Admiralty and asked for his forecast on the develpment of the Royal Navy over the next 20 years – *on one side of foolscap paper*! Also, I would bring to your attention the career of Ernest Bevin, who had only 2 years of formal education before starting work as an agricultural labourer but who rose through the union movement:
    “In May 1940 Winston Churchill invited Bevin to become Minister of Labour in his coalition government. The following month Bevin won a by-election at Wandsworth and joined the House of Commons. Bevin successfully achieved mobilization of Britain’s workforce and became one of the most significant members of Churchill’s war cabinet. When the Labour Party won a landslide victory in the 1945 General Election, Clement Attlee appointed Bevin as his Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Bevin, who held strong anti-communist views, played an important role in the acceptance of the Marshall Plan, the creation of of NATO and Britain’s decision to develop nuclear weapons. ” He didn’t need a double First in PPE to instantly assess the cut of Joe Stalin’s jib! http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUbevin.htm

    I really believe that you can never tell how anyone will cope high office until they’re in the job.

    Posted October 30, 2008 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says


    I quite agree that there are plenty of “diamonds in the rough”. But I think we have seen, over the past eight years, the sort of insufficiently-curious and overly-decisive mind I am talking about. To be effective, a leader must have adequate intellectual gifts, an interest in learning, and above all an appreciation of how much he doesn’t know, to be able to understand and evaluate the advice he is given by his boffins. Simply “shooting from the hip” and “going with yer gut” just won’t do.

    Churchill, whom as you know I admire enormously, had one of the hungriest intellects in history. Whenever he came into contact with expertise that bore on his duties or interests in any way, he sought avidly to acquire it for himself. Churchill was also one of the greatest masters of the English language ever to lift a pen. Sarah Palin, to put it mildly, is not.

    But yes, I do agree that wisdom is not a matter of manners, nor is education necessarily conferred with a diploma. What I am upset by is the extent to which so many American minds are closed to intellectual curiosity and cerebral endeavor, and damned proud of it. It is hardly what we need.

    Posted October 30, 2008 at 2:24 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    Kevin, that’s not exactly who I would have picked to buttress my argument, but thanks.

    Posted October 30, 2008 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  10. I sometimes think that the best use politicians are put to is as comic foils- so I love the rascally Sarah!

    That she has a world view as myopic as a (I will for decorum’s sake leave this blank) is scary to me – we live in a global community and seeing Russia from any geographical perspective is just not getting to the heart of the place… etc etc…
    I say-we’ve tried stupid now lets move on to intelligent -rather than intellectual- yes that is not shrewd nor self-serving but is rather like the ancient native american idea of working for the 7th generation- forward thinking…

    love to all and happy Halloweeen!

    Posted October 30, 2008 at 3:58 pm | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    I think that a good look at what we mean by “intelligent”, “intellect”, and “intellectual” may be in order…

    Posted October 30, 2008 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  12. Kevin Kim says


    Yeah, but if you’re like me, you want her for her amazing legs and over-the-top comic delivery. Grace Jones transcends all politics in a way Sarah Palin never will. Here’s Skippy on Sarah Palin:

    Can somebody please explain to me what Palin is a hawk on? That’d be nice. She’s certainly not a fiscal hawk, given her practise of wealth redistribution, which looks an [awful] lot like Barack Obama’s and is predicated almost entirely on screwing the other 49 states with high gasoline prices. And I have a hard time believing that anyone who can’t properly pronounce “Iraq” and “Iran” is a foreign policy hawk. She’s an idiot who needs to change her underwear every time Jesus is mentioned, which seems to be enough in the modern Republican party.


    The American people are so goddamned swept away with hockey moms and wanting to have a beer with an alcoholic president that it’s natural that it’s all the GOP has left to offer. I don’t blame the Republican party for that as much as I blame the American people for punishing the idea that a candidate might actually fucking know something at the polls. You’ve spent the last 40 years wanting someone who’s “just like you” to run the country, but most of you are having trouble holding on to your fucking houses. Maybe if [you’d] had someone better than you running [the] show, things wouldn’t be where they are.

    The American people have twice elected a ticket that has three drunk driving arrests between them, yet demand that someone take care of Lindsay fucking Lohan at the same time. And that’s really all you need to know about American democracy. A good percentage of Americans look at Barack Obama as being the next John F. Kennedy, but those same Americans can’t tell you five things that Kennedy did as president. More often than not, they attribute Lyndon Johnson’s accomplishments to JFK.

    That, my friends, is Sarah Palin’s America, and that’s why she has such a bright future in front of her. She’s utterly detached from reality and completely prepared to shoot the man who brought her out of obscurity in the back. She’s almost shockingly disloyal and her fuckhead supporters couldn’t like it more.


    Look, I’ve made a lot of fun of Mike Huckabee (who I think is a very nice man that I would never vote for) and Mitt Romney (who is not), but I’m pretty sure that I could leave either one of them in a room with a reporter without them actually drooling on themselves. Palin can only pull that off when she’s talking to Sean Hannity, who makes her look like Albert Einstein in comparison.


    You wanna know why the McCain campaign doesn’t let that crazy bitch talk to anyone who isn’t an idiot? Because they’re terrified of her being asked how her state’s being the single largest recipient of federal welfare, which turns around and gives people who don’t pay state taxes a shitload of free money, makes her a fiscal conservative. You know how Sarah Palin runs around yelling about how her government gave each and every Alaskan enough free money to buy their own snow machine? Well, the other 48 states in large part paid for it. Once Ted Stevens is safely in jail and their welfare is cut off, those fucking people will be resorting to cannibalism within a week.

    Not only is Sarah Palin not a fiscal conservative, she juggles around federal pork and oil company taxes and pretends to be Ronald Reagan. She’s America’s greatest welfare queen and somehow this makes her a super hero to the Jesus crowd.

    For those not familiar with Skippy: Skippy’s a Canadian conservative who’s been sharply critical of the Bush administration’s management of financial policy, the war in Iraq (which Skippy supported and still supports), and foreign policy. He’s no friend of Obama, and he loves John McCain. He’s a student of both Canadian and American politics, and is deeply disappointed with the course the GOP has taken during the Bush years. I hope this puts his rant– pungently worded as always– in some perspective. Debate him at your peril; if you’re an American, it’s likely he knows twice as much about American history and politics as you do, which is why I, history- and politics-illiterate that I am, don’t do much more than read his material.


    Posted October 30, 2008 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
  13. JK says

    You know something Malcolm?

    After some extensive thought (and three beers and a fistful of downs) I think that perhaps Kevins offerring was precisely the sort of person that you should use to buttress the argument.

    Both after all could see foreign lands from their respective homelands.

    Posted October 30, 2008 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  14. “……She is, however, emblematic of many things that I do not admire about a large segment of American culture: suspicion and distrust of intellectuals; populist contempt of ‘elites’; a blithe and incurious tendency to see even the most subtle and complicated issues in the starkest and most binary terms; crudity and carelessness of language; disdain for manners and cultivation; thralldom to simplistic, fundamentalist religion — and a cocky and arrogant swagger that is not only unembarrassed by ignorance, but seems actually proud of it……..”.

    Beautifully said.

    But you didn’t mention Sarah’s voice. I don’t know how it is with you, but the sound of it causes my teeth to itch, and it’s screechiness causes the paint on my living-room walls to peel off.

    Posted October 31, 2008 at 3:29 am | Permalink
  15. Malcolm, off topic (you might be glad to know!), but this week, at the request of my reader, I have enlarged my font size in order to make my blog easier to read. I wonder whether you would consider doing something similar here, particularly in the comments which are miniscule. It may be alright for young eyes like yours but the likes of ‘JK’ and myself, with ancient, rheumy, gin-soaked retinas, are forced to make a mess of our screens as we press our noses against them.

    Posted October 31, 2008 at 5:45 am | Permalink
  16. Malcolm says

    Hi Christopher,

    Thanks. Yes, her voice makes my flesh crawl too, but I didn’t want to pile on.

    Posted October 31, 2008 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  17. Malcolm says

    “Young eyes” like mine indeed! I must remind you that I am a bibulous 52-year-old who spends most of each day peering at lines of code on a computer screen from about 12 inches away.

    But yes, I’ll see about modifying the WordPress code to make the font bigger. Meanwhile, if you are using IE or Firefox on Windows, you can try holding the Control key and rolling the mouse-wheel to make the text render in a larger size. (I expect similar things are possible with a Mac.)

    Posted October 31, 2008 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  18. “I am a bibulous 52-year-old”. Hah! A mere sprig of a lad!

    Posted October 31, 2008 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  19. Malcolm says

    Awwww… how you do go on, David. I’ll give you just twenty days to cut that out.

    Posted October 31, 2008 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  20. Peter Lupu says

    It is really very simple:

    Bush is a superficial thinker that mouths and believes principles he does not really understand. He is someone who cannot speak English clearly when he must deviate even an inch from sloganizing.

    He surrounded himself with very clever political engineers (those who manage political careers); I wonder whether his father had something to do with these choices; but very inefficient, arrogant, and occasionally somewhat unintelligent cabinet members and other functionaries that need to manage the country; he did so because he only cared about ideological affiliation rather than the good of the country.

    Hence, we are in this mess on all fronts.

    Palin is just like Bush except she is a much superior demagogue. Hence, she is potentially more harmful to the country in the event she would become president.

    How did it happen?

    McCain learned from loosing to Bush in 2000 that to win you’ve got to hire political engineers that are ruthless and do not care about anything but winning. These political engineers either do not care about the country at all, which is bad enough, or even worse they think that they are the only ones who know what is best for the country and are willing to use any means to achieve it, even if these means gradually but surely undermine the institution of democracy, including voting, the presumption of truth telling, etc.

    So McCain hired Bush’s crew from 2000 (or their cronies). He won the GOP nomination and learned how to think like a political engineer. The selection of Palin was a political engineering move par excellence.

    And so he veered from his most important treasure as a politician: a core honesty and principal interest in the good of the country. Instead, he adopted the Machiavellian mentality of his political engineers.

    It is interesting: he was a viable candidate in 2000 because he did not adopt such a Machiavellian mentality. He lost to Bush because of that. In 2008, he is likely to lose precisely because he did adopt it and the electorate lost patience with these dirty moves: they want someone who they feel really cares about the problems of this country. If in 2008 he would have stuck with his 2000 mentality, he might have been in the position to win. But, then, he would never have even entertained to select the Palin as a VP: never!

    Those who defend right now the Palin choice in the media do so because they do not wish to undermine McCain’s chance, as slim as it may be, to win by criticizing the most important presidential-like decision a nominee can make. After the election is over, and McCain loses, especially if he loses big, they will all gradually begin to admit how tragically mistaken this choice has been; for McCain, for the GOP, for the country, and even for Palin herself.


    Posted November 2, 2008 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  21. Malcolm says

    Good points, Peter. In particular I agree that Ms. Palin’s natural ability to communicate so effectively with the sort of people she wishes to cultivate makes her potentially more worrisome than Mr. Bush.

    Posted November 2, 2008 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  22. Let us be thankful that McCain did what he did as he did it- don’t tell me there is no god looking out for us! What possessed him to be so foolish as to select such a gal with no vetting?

    If he had chosen wisely… well, we may have been in for 4 more years of “Tinkle”-down economics,
    I for one am very tired of being p-ed upon by the powers that be…

    as it stands even if Mccain manages to somehow win with an electoral squeeze by and loose the popular vote by millions -then good old Mr. Ayers will be called upon to reteach us the meaning of revolution!

    Just kidding… maybe- but I can’t believe the GOP is crazy enough to even attempt to steal this one… they will be fed to dogs if they try!

    Posted November 3, 2008 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  23. Malcolm says

    I know you asked me no to tell you this, Pat, but:

    There is no god looking out for us.

    Posted November 3, 2008 at 1:11 pm | Permalink
  24. Well sobeit -whatever caused his snap-judgement was a blessing of some sort!

    Posted November 3, 2008 at 1:19 pm | Permalink