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In Defense of Palin and Sanford

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In Defense of Palin and Sanford


NY Times, Stanley Fish



I did not vote for Sarah Palin in the November election, and had I been a resident of South Carolina, I wouldn’t have supported Mark Sanford. But I find their failings and, in the case of Sanford, sins more palatable than the behavior of the pundits who are having so much fun at their expense.


Both Republican governors made rambling and sometimes halting statements of about 18 minutes (is that the canonical length for this kind of thing?), and in response the commentators speculated endlessly about why they had said what they said. The one explanation they didn’t seem capable of coming up with was that they meant it, that their words were coming from the heart, from an interior that may have been fissured and rocky, but was nonetheless (dare I use the word) genuine.


Palin had barely finished speaking when MSNBC paraded analysts from both sides of the aisle (Matt Lewis and Chris Kofinis) who agreed that (1) it was a disastrous performance and (2) they couldn’t for the life of them figure out why she had delivered it. Kofinis: “It’s hard to understand why she’s resigning.” Lewis: “What she’s essentially done is guarantee that no pundit could make any intellectual defense of her.”


Later, Joe Scarborough pronounced in the same vein: “It’s hard to find a compelling reason.” The former majority leader of her own party, Ralph Samuels, chimed in, “I’ve had a million calls today from friends, all political junkies, and everyone is asking the same questions. Is it national ambition, or does she want time to write the book, or is she just tired of it. Don’t have a clue.”


Maybe he should look at the video and pay attention this time to the reasons she gives. It is true that her statement was not constructed in a straightforward, logical manner, but the main theme was sounded often and plainly: This is not what I signed up for. I’m spending all my time and the state’s money responding to attack after attack and they aren’t going to let up because, “It doesn’t cost the people who make these silly accusations a dime.”


The accusations had been coming from all sides, from investigators of her ethics, from Alaska Democrats and fellow Republicans, from officials in the McCain campaign, from scathing magazine articles, from what she termed the mockery and humiliation directed at her son Trig, from late-night comedians taking potshots at her daughters.


She dated the beginning of her trials and tribulations from the moment in August, 2008, when “political operatives descended on Alaska digging for dirt.” She complained that “millions of dollars go down the drain in this new political environment.” She signaled repeatedly her weariness with the “superficial political blood–sport” politics has become. She returned to her own sport, basketball, to explain that because she had become a distraction she was going to do what a good point guard always does, pass the ball to someone (her lieutenant governor) in a better position to make the shot. And in the end she earned the declaration that “I have given my reasons plainly and candidly.”


But the pundits didn’t want to hear them or, rather, they were committed to believing that the real reasons lay elsewhere, and were strategic. They couldn’t fathom the possibility that she was just giving voice to her feelings. It must, they assumed, be a calculation, and having decided that, they happily went on to describe how bad a calculation it was.


They did this even when reporting on something that might have given them pause. It was generally agreed that because the statement was structurally chaotic, even formless, Palin had written it herself. No self-respecting political operative would have produced something so badly crafted. One would have thought that this would be seen as evidence of the absence of calculation, but instead it was received as evidence of her Alaska-limited understanding of politics. (Doesn’t she know, they asked, that resigning is no way to run for president?) Rather than reasoning from what they took to be the political ineptitude of her performance to the possibility that it wasn’t political, they just continued on their merry, muckraking way.


They did the same thing when Mark Sanford followed his disjointed confession with other confessions and with lyrical, over-the-top statements about the love of his life and crying in Argentina. (All this against the backdrop of the e-mails that were giving media would-be comedians a field day.) Why doesn’t he stop talking?, the pundits asked. Why doesn’t he shut up? Doesn’t he see the damage he’s doing to his career and his party?


Maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t, but it didn’t matter because he wasn’t doing politics; he was doing cri de coeur, serial meanderings about sin, weakness, mistakes, duty, responsibility, irresponsibility and, above all, passion.


The ineptness of his remarks on every level was staggering; politically he was busy digging his own grave; personally, in terms of his family life, he was digging another. He declared in one breath that he was trying to fall back in love with his wife, and in the next he told the world that this was a love story, “a forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.”


The commentators thought they were covering the latest chapter in the male-politician-who- can’t-keep-his-pants -zipped saga. What they were really covering (although they just couldn’t see it) was the latest chapter in the “all for love” saga, with earlier chapters featuring Antony and Cleopatra, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky. (O.K., so his stage is not as large as theirs, but it displays the same drama.) Sanford’s actions were without doubt foolish, reprehensible and incredibly maladroit, but they were also real.


So what’s the bottom line story? Simple. Sanford is in love. Palin is in pain. Sometimes what it seems to be is what it is.

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Zahra Bilan as Ducaysane calls her waa qof jirta. She is the easiest way Obama can win again. As for the governer waa nin qaldamay.


I usually read anything Fish writes

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