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The Quotable Palin

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Two of my daughters, Brick and Chance, were perfectly nice things for Halloween but our eldest, Heavenly, wanted to be Sarah Palin. I was proud but annoyed. On the one hand, Sarah Palin seemed like a reasonably clever costume for a fifteen-year-old. (As it turned out, there was only one other pseudo-Palin in high school that day.) On the other hand, where was I supposed to get $150,000?

Heavenly was working on her accent and asked me for some hilarious Sarah Palin things to say. Because I'm a lot of fun I told her:

"Al-Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America ... he's worried that someone won't read them their rights."

Yeah, no, uh, I was more thinking things like "you betcha."

But everyone does "you betcha."

Never mind, I'll look something up on line.

No, see, it's a zinger. She's being sarcastic about habeas corpus. She killed with it at the Republican convention. It's funny because human rights are lame. Extralegal detention rules! Torture rocks! Drill, Marathon Man, drill!

Just say you don't want to help me.


Sarah Palin has her own favorite quote. See if you can figure out what it is.

Explaining the moral flaw in Barack Obama's hunger for "unlimited abortions":

"As defenders of the culture of life, John McCain and I believe in the goodness and potential of every innocent life. I believe the truest measure of any society is how it treats those who are least able to defend and speak for themselves."

Arguing for increased funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:

"Every child is beautiful before God, and dear to Him for their own sake. And the truest measure of any society is how it treats those who are most vulnerable."

Laying out a case for war against Iran:

"It is said that the measure of a country is the treatment of its most vulnerable citizens. By that standard, the Iranian government is both oppressive and barbaric. Under Ahmadinejad's rule, Iranian women are some of the most vulnerable citizens."

On Troopergate:

"We measure society by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. That's why I married a high school dropout and now he gets to fire the police chief."

No, I just made that last one up.

And Todd totally graduated from high school.


Sarah Palin is what you might call "intellectually incurious." I think when Joe the Plumber is talking to Sarah Palin he has to slow it down. So where'd she come up with such a fancy pants all-purpose bromide about measuring society by its treatment of whomever she's addressing at the time?

This is one of those quotes that seems to have gone rogue from whoever coined it, and now only exists in Rotary Club newsletters and after-dinner speeches at Operation Rescue. It has any number of original authors. According to the Yale Book of Quotations, Sarah Palin picked it up from her extensive reading of either:

Pearl S. Buck
Hubert Humphrey
Ramsey Clark
Helen Keller
Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson

(This is a pretty demanding reading list. No wonder she had all that friction with the librarian.)

But the Yale Book of Quotations has still missed one.

It's a 1943 letter from Winston Churchill to Herbert Morrison. Because it's a funny old world, he's talking about prisoners' rights.

"The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to law, and particularly to deny him judgment by his peers for an indefinite period, is in the highest degree odious, and is the foundation of all totalitarian Governments, whether Nazi or Communist. It is only when extreme danger to the State can be pleaded that this power may be temporarily assumed by the Executive, and even so its working must be interpreted with the utmost vigilance by a Free Parliament. As the danger passes, persons so imprisoned, against whom there is no charge which courts and juries would accept, should be released, as you have been steadily doing, until hardly any are left. Extraordinary powers assumed by the Executive with the consent of Parliament in emergencies should be yielded up when and as the emergency declines. Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of civilization."

I wonder if Churchill would have enjoyed Sarah Palin's joke about reading prisoners their rights, or if he would have thought she was kind of an asshole.

I know this sounds nitpicky. But she's the one who keeps bringing it up.