10/08/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Palin, Mencken and Us

Much has been made in recent days about Sarah Palin's astonishing refusal to face the press. I suspect McCain's aids tried to prepare her by asking some of the questions she would likely get from reporters, were horrified by her ignorance, and sequestered her as a result. It's worth noticing that this is not the first time Palin has hidden from scrutiny on a campaign trail in order to cover up her lack of knowledge. Here, for example, is a quote from an Anchorage Daily News editorial written during the 2006 governor's race:

"Ms. Palin has undeniable charisma and outsider appeal, but she has little statewide experience and a weak command of the issues she would need to master as governor -- a flaw she conceals by routinely skipping campaign forums with her opponents."

Another story from the same paper reported,

"Palin missed a few scheduled events and, at others, came off as unprepared or over her head. After an education forum last week, she was mocked by her opponents for submitting a folksy three-year-old essay about her schoolteacher father instead of a plan for improving schools."

Of course, this tactic seems to have worked two years ago, and the GOP clearly hopes it will again. It remains to be seen whether Americans will be satisfied with the same kind of cursory vetting that McCain found sufficient. After the debacle of the last few years, it seemed that the country might have finally figured out that there are more important qualities in a leader than the appearance of glib conviviality. One of the things that has been so thrilling about Obama's high-toned approach to politics has been the way he has begun to disprove the axiom often attributed to H.L. Mencken: "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." Obama's campaign has been a gamble that Mencken was wrong. McCain's has been a bet that he was right.

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