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Linda Bergthold Headshot

If McCain and Palin Can't Blink, the Voters Must!

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Among the many criticisms of Sarah Palin's qualifications to be Vice President (or President), perhaps the most powerful is the comparison of her personality and behavior to that of President George W. Bush. It is not a flattering comparison.

In a review of Bob Woodward's new book The War Within in the New York Times, Jill Abramson notes the following comments by Woodward:

For years, time and again, President Bush has displayed impatience, bravado and unsettling personal certainty about his decisions. The result has too often been impulsiveness and carelessness and, perhaps most troubling, a delayed reaction to realities and advice that run counter to his gut...

When George W. ran for the Presidency in 2000, he had had more experience than Sarah Palin. He had been a Governor of a larger state for a long time. He had run a major league baseball franchise and had been an oil executive. He had flown airplanes and himself been a member of the Texas Air National Guard. We knew little about his personal leadership style, however. Many people voted for Bush because they liked him. They thought they could have a beer with him (although he doesn't drink beer any more). They didn't really investigate his prior decision making. They didn't know about his impulsiveness, his bravado, his over-confidence, his lack of respect for facts and evidence. Those qualities of George Bush helped to get us into war in Iraq and into deficit spending by the then Republican-controlled Congress.

Some of the same personal likeability adheres to Sarah Palin among the Republican base voters. But she has eerie and unsettling similarities to George Bush in her simplistic takes on good and evil (remember the Axis of Evil?), and an insistence in dividing the world into good guys and bad guys.

Sam Stein writes about her simplistic approach to Israeli-Iranian relations that ... emanates of Bushism in a recent Huffington Post piece. Palin says:

It is obvious to me who the good guys are in this one and who the bad guys are. The bad guys are the ones who say Israel is a stinking corpse and should be wiped off the face of the earth. That's not a good guy who is saying that. Now, one who would seek to protect the good guys in this, the leaders of Israel and her friends, her allies, including the United States. In my world, those are the good guys.

No doubt this black and white view of Israel and Iran rings true with many voters. After all, there is core truth in those statements. Israel is our ally. Ahmadinejad has made some inflammatory statements. But not everything Israel does is good and Ahmadinejad is not the only leader in Iran and certainly does not represent the complexity of views within Iran, even though he is the main spokesman. If the world were indeed such a simple place of good guys and bad guys, Bush would have been a highly popular President, both at home and abroad. But his wrong-headed policies and awkward and embarrassing foreign policy gaffes made us the laughing stock of much of the world and lost us the support of key potential allies in our quest to make the Middle East a more stable place.

Bush's rigid sense of certainty about the rightness of his ideas, even in the face of incontrovertible facts to the contrary, at times has provided solace to the American people. But as the "don't confuse me with the facts" began to erode the certainty, Americans turned against him. In June his popularity was at an all time low of 23%.

In her first prime time interview with Charlie Gibson of ABC News, Palin displayed the same sense of overblown and oversimplistic view of what it takes to not only run for office but actually govern in office , when she cited shared values as the main thing it takes to be ready to be Vice President of the United States. Not knowledge. Not experience. Not a respect for the facts.

Palin, 44, whose political career began with the PTA and a city-council seat in Wasilla and who obtained her first passport last year, told Gibson that she was up to the challenge of being Sen. John McCain's vice president. Palin said she knew immediately that she was prepared to run as vice president when McCain offered her the job. It is a core of shared values and drive that makes them a good team, she said. I answered [McCain] 'yes,' because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink.

Jon Stewart took on this certainty with a sharp and perceptive piece on the comparison between Palin and Bush.
"Total certainty would be such a refreshing change of pace in the White House," Stewart commented ironically.

"In order to stop Islamic extremists," Palin told Gibson, "we must do whatever it takes, and we must not blink."

"Yeah!" yelled Stewart. We're going to freak out them terrorists with our no blinking! ... She really is bringing a fresh, new idea to this presidential season." Stewart then launched into a series of clips of speeches by President George W. Bush during the weeks immediately preceding the invasion of Iraq.

On March 15, 2002, Bush stated, "This mighty nation will not blink" On March 13, he said, "I can assure you, I am not going to blink." On February 11, he proclaimed, "Either we defend freedom ... or we blink. And if we blink, the rest of the world will blink as well."

So, we have a President now who is certain he is right and always has been, is as impulsive as ever, has bizarre delayed reactions to problems, waiting until the very last minute to declare a financial emergency and scare the bejesus out of everybody with his speech the other night; and demonstrates his unblinkingness by submitting to Congress a foolish and radical plan to bail out Wall Street with no oversight by anyone.

We have a set of candidates in McCain and Palin, who as much or more than Bush, act on impulse, have an aggressive view of foreign policy based on bravado, an irrational certainty of what is good and evil, and an unwillingness to blink before taking action.

This week we will see very little of Sarah Palin until the debate on Thursday night. She will be holed up in a crash exam prep course on how to answer complicated questions with simplistic, sound bite answers. No doubt there will be more zingers like lipstick on a pig.

Hopefully, what Americans will begin to see Thursday night is that certainty, simplistic views of good and evil, non-blinking decision-making, are not the qualities a Vice President or a President ought to have. We ought to have learned our lesson and be electing calmness, judgment, willingness to collaborate and consult the views of others and a deep knowledge of the global challenges we face. What we will see in Joe Biden Thursday night is judgment and experience, tempered by his own personal tragedies and triumphs. The comparison should be quite dramatic.

If Sarah Palin does not blink in her decisions, the voters must.