I had initially decided not to watch Sarah Palin’s speech to “Tea Party Nation” Saturday night. Unfortunately, being the political rubbernecker that I am, I caved in and eventually watched nearly the entire address.
My first instinct was the correct one — it was a thing to be skipped. Palin deals in warmed-over conservative feel-good cliche, and she had at least 46 minutes worth of those Saturday evening, addressing the attendees of the “Tea Party Nation” in Nashville, who had each paid something like $600 per ticket.
Palin had clearly been prepped, but felt enough in her own element that she seemed to go “off-script” occasionally, often losing track of where she was in a sentence, and escaping by adding a string of dependent clauses which she would use to trail off wistfully before launching into a new statement.
Predictably, she made countless references to Ronald Reagan — which brings me to her first instance of where Palin should have felt a strong sense of cognitive dissonance. Early on in her speech, she lambasted President Barack Obama for the administration’s response to what has come to be known as the Christmas Day Panty Bomber incident. She decried the fact that the would-be bomber, one Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has been granted legal representation. She drew cheers as she repeatedly stated that Abdulmutallab had “lawyered up,” and suggested that he will now not be providing law enforcement with intelligence about where he was trained, who he had worked with, or if any more plans for attacks were in the works.
I said she should have felt strong cognitive dissonance, and here’s why: Palin paints herself as a strict constitutionalist, and that is apparently where a significant portion of her appeal to Tea Parties lies. But in the very same constitution she professes to hold so dear, it says this:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
(That would be the Fifth Amendment, in the Bill of Rights. Emphasis is mine, of course.)
This is one of those cases where the constitution is actually pretty clear. Notice how the amendment does not specify “citizen,” it says, “No person shall.” It’s a crucial difference. Palin, however, reads into the constitution, and adds the popular idea that this document was only ever meant to apply to citizens. The idea of this “inalienability” was an important concept for the original Tea Partiers — the “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal,” and that the ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence are universal, not particular.
But never mind the constitution for now. Her hero Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have approved of her approach to the Christmas Day terrorist. Indeed, it was the official policy of the Reagan administration to treat terrorists as common criminals by trying them in civilian courts. (H/t to Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald).
Furthermore, it seems that since “lawyering up,” Abdulmutallab has begun offering up “actionable intelligence” to the FBI (same link as above). Palin says she loves the constitution, but she has no faith whatsoever in the system of criminal laws that flow from it, despite the fact that the criminal justice system has evidently gleaned answers to all her questions about the Panty Bomber — using legal, constitutional means instead of patently unconstitutional ones, such as waterboarding or extraordinary rendition or violation of habeas corpus.
Palin, constitution and Reagan fan extraordinaire, soldiered on nonplussed.
She drew more cheers by shouting, “We need a Commander-in-Chief, not a professor of law!” This is another strange statement for someone who professes to have so much faith in the constitution, and ought to have caused more cognitive dissonance. Again, returning to the very document she brings up so often, law is a pretty important element of any nation, and the U.S. constitution recognizes this. It further requires civilian control of the military — see Article II, Section 2. The “professor of law” is the Commander-in-Chief anyway, so this is more or less a meaningless statement.
Palin smiled as she said the current president is “0 for 3” on elections. No trace of cognitive dissonance on the former Alaskan governor’s face, even though as recently as October she had backed failed weirdo Doug Hoffman to represent New York’s 23rd Congressional District, which handed an unexpected seat in the House to democrats. The year before, she managed to pin her star to the failing McCain presidential campaign — and there’s an argument to be made that she herself dashed whatever hopes McCain had left after the financial collapse in 2008.
I found her repeated excoriation of “elites” to be confusing, given that the Tea Party movement seems generally to support the ideas of Ayn Rand, an atheist transplant from Russia, who wrote books about how the only people in the world who matter are elites.
There’s no real need to go on pointing out the glaring incongruities in Palin’s apparent platform. Her fans have demonstrated themselves to be immune from reason, and will not have their minds changed by such pointy-headed intellectuals as will make these observations to them.
But then again, F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that the “true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time.”