12/18/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Sarah Palin in The Eye of The Beholder

I was puttering around today, going through my late husband's library of books collected during and after his eight years studying at Yale Divinity School, and I had the TV on in the background, Wolf Blitzer interviewing Sarah Palin, and I thought to myself, why don't you try to listen to what she says instead of just muttering under your breath and thinking about Tina Fey, so I actually settled in to pay attention, and after five minutes or so, I thought, what is this like? My brains feel as if someone injected scrambled eggs into them -- or no; it was noisier than that and more hectic, it was like being in a fun house. I remembered afternoons at the Jersey shore, where my parents used to take us, my brother and me, to visit my grandparents in Belmar during the summer, and if we were really lucky, some grown-up cousin or uncle would take us to Asbury Park, where they had rides in little cars with bumpers and we could get in, drive around, and crash, screaming and ecstatic into each other hard as we wanted to, and they had crazy mirrors there that made you look funny, fat and stretched out weirdly, so that you were Shmoo-like, oddly shaped, and there were always lots of really loud sounds, right there, in, ya know, the fun house.

Sarah Palin, I thought, somehow creates a verbal representation of that kind of mental chaos, it seems, effortlessly. She just opens her mouth, and this stream of stuff flows out that starts out sounding as if it's actually aimed at some destination and as if it's going to make sense, and then little by little, or sometimes instantly -- like, 'ya know, on the spot -- disintegrates into a word salad that pours out and then spews around, and then slows down and after a few bumps and pot holes ends up dangling and then disintegrating mid air, a little like a -- I know it's banal -- but really, like a bridge or maybe a road to guess where? Nowhere.

Why this blather is riveting to the number of Americans who find it so, is a puzzle, but the fascination must, I figure, have something to do with speed of the verbal ejaculation coupled with the sublime confidence this woman has in herself, supported -- all of it -- by the absolute absence of recognition on her part of her own embarrassing foolishness and incompetence. And I mean incompetence of several sorts. She cannot think or speak logically; she knows astonishingly little just in terms of, say, grade school information and worse, does not seem to have a clue how little she knows; she appears to have no memory of what she's said a week earlier or even sometimes thirty seconds earlier; she has no recognition of the fact that somehow Joe McCarthy has risen Lazarus-like from his tomb to inhabit her and sans permit (to give her the benefit of the doubt) is firing the synapses in her head to make her hold forth not like a patriot (which position would seem to be her most desired) but rather like one of those (you should excuse the expression) actually "un-American" rabble rousing jackasses from the 1950's. She says the same nonsense over and over until one is tempted to throw a pot at the TV to shut her up, but one is inexplicably riveted, and so the TV stays on, and the listener keeps listening while she keeps spewing language of whatever sort, just as fast as she can. And mindlessly.

Of course, if she had a mind, if she had even the most modest veridical assessment of herself, her abilities or, more to the point, lack of them, she would have declined the nomination fast and in no uncertain terms, if only to spare herself , not to mention John McCain, her family, and the Republican Party, humiliation.

I try to picture her ugly, maybe morbidly obese? With really bad acne, a Mohawk, and maybe a nose ring, tattooed, missing some teeth in front, smoking. Would the media be after her everywhere she goes? Would substance matter then? Clearly, it doesn't matter now. Would it matter then? Well, would it? Would McCain have picked her in the first place? How shallow are we?

Or, maybe -- here's a new thought -- our basic values are upside down. There. That's it. Maybe we should re-think altogether what we say we deem important. Maybe we ought to value the look of the thing rather than the substance. Maybe brains and knowledge and plain simple good sense, and principles, class and character and temperament and thoughtfulness and empathy and kindness and good manners and such stuff as say, oh, for example Obama seems to embody, ought not to be valued as much as the very simple look of the thing.

Like, picture Sarah, ya know? I mean, compare her to Eleanor Roosevelt. Is there any contest?

I rest my case.