As many know, in her Oct. 3 "do-over" interview with Carl Cameron of Fox News, Sarah Palin claimed to read the New York Times and the Economist.
Then a few days later we learned what she really reads.
Or rather, as observers quickly pointed out, and as Madeleine Albright confirmed on this blog, she misreads coffee cups.
People shook their heads and moved on. But as Kathleen Parker later pointed out in a sit-down with Howard Kurtz, Palin's initial inability or unwillingness to answer Couric's question about reading was perhaps the most disturbing Palin moment that we've seen. (Even scarier than the witch-doctor).
It was unnerving, as Parker noted, because it suggested that perhaps the Governor of Alaska simply doesn't read.
Literacy is important. To bow to the word-fad of recent years: "literacy matters."
While I'm not suggesting that Palin can't read - she reads her teleprompter gamely enough - it's not the first piece of evidence to suggest that she's no great friend of the written word and it all points to an alarming lack of intellectual curiosity. (As does getting her first passport a year ago.) I'm not saying she's stupid, but intelligence without intellectual curiosity is a blind and reckless force at best.
Listen to the profoundly empty "Joe Six-Pack", "Hockey Mom" blather that she's injected into the campaign, as John McCain's designated culture weapon, and it's no wonder that the Republican Party is shedding intellectuals faster than Karl Rove sheds subpoenas.
As conservative columnist David Brooks of the New York Times pointed out, Palin is the latest "cancer" to result from the virulent strain of populist anti-intellectualism that has come to define the modern Right. With Parker, and then Christopher Buckley both being tarred and feathered by their conservative brethren, simply for voicing dissenting opinions and now with Brooks coming as close to a outright endorsement of Obama today as he likely ever will (unless he wants to change his home address) - one has to wonder how we got to such a crazy place; a place so crazy that brains have become a wedge issue.
It didn't start out this way.
Once upon a time we had leaders who were both highly intelligent and intellectually curious. While our current president struggles with English, our Founding Fathers spoke four to five languages. They weren't just politicians but diplomats and inventors, scientists, authors and public intellectuals.
And they were, to a man, extremely well read.
In college, Thomas Jefferson often read fifteen hours a day - and he read important works in the original - as it was a given that, along with mathematics, history and philosophy, an educated person should know Latin, Greek and French. There was a crazy idea at the time that if you wanted to play a role in the affairs of the world, you should learn a thing or two about it first.
There was a time when America's leaders neither aspired to be average nor pretended to be. They weren't Joe Six-Pack (or more aptly - Josiah Six-Ale). They were the best among us. They were the elite. In fact, they were our leaders precisely because they were the best among us. And that kind of made sense.
There are a number of qualities essential to good leadership. Courage is important, to be sure, but a cool head and a firm hand are important as well. Knowledge both wide and deep and the judgment to wield it- wisdom in other words - is perhaps the most essential quality of all.
Plato talked about the "philosopher king" ...well we've had almost 8 years of an idiot-king who flew by the seat of his flightpants and it's nearly ruined us; leaving us mired in two wars abroad with quaking markets and a gaping deficit at home.
Now, in a highly touted "change" election, one party is running a former D student who himself admits to being hot-headed and impulsive, whose low-road campaigning has tarnished both the electoral process and his own reputation and whose political ideas become less credible with every emerging reality. As his running mate this man has, either recklessly or cynically, chosen a woman who believes instead of thinking, who knows little of the world and whose every tortured sentence is an affront to the logic of language itself.
Forget the White House. The only public building these people should be heading for is the library.
At the worst of times we need to turn to our best. So bring on the bookworms, bring on the deep-thinkers, bring on the leaders who make decisions with their minds and not with their guts or their bibles.
It's time to turn the page.