The many failures of the electoral process

It has been almost two years since the presidential race began its marathon of campaigning and the race is finally coming into the sprinting phase of the election.

The race has taken many twists and turns and surprises, such as the Democratic ticket in fierce contention between the first African-American (although he is actually biracial) and the first woman. The race also took a surprising turn when Sen. John McCain selected Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican vice president. The pick was surprising for many reasons. First and foremost, she is a woman on the Republican ticket. The second surprise in the decision was that I had never heard about her and, because I follow the race very closely, I thought I had at least a list of four potential candidates of which one had to have been chosen. But maybe the most horrifying surprise was that Palin is the least experienced and least knowledgeable person on the most important issues of the presidency: foreign policy and the national economy.

Palin’s political credentials are as follows: She was the mayor of Wasilla, population of approximately 6,300, from 1996 until 2002 and then became governor of Alaska in December of 2006. The only uncontested political stances I could find (because the earmarks reform and lobbyist reform is in much contention and for good reason) was that she has an extreme anti-abortion stance in which she believes that pregnancies that were the result of rape and/or incest should not result in a choice for abortion.

Palin’s religious views are also quite extreme. She believes in creationism and also believes that it should be taught in public schools alongside evolution. She also believes that sex education should be abstinence-only (a method that has shown not to work in preventing pregnancy and STDs and is showing its ineffectiveness in the form of Palin’s oldest daughter).

My assessment of Palin is as follows: considering the fact that McCain is 72, has had bouts with skin cancer and, when looking at the actuary tables, has a one-in-three chance of dying in his first term as president, Palin’s position as the next in line scares the living hell out of me.

I tried to make logic of McCain’s decision. This is a man who said in January that, when picking his VP, would pick someone with experience and knowledge about foreign policy to help combat terrorism. Does Palin match the criteria in McCain’s statement? Absolutely not. I thought, surely any informed Republican would be furious at this choice, but the talking heads on the news stations tried everything they could to talk about how Palin was the “perfect pick” and McCain “hit it out of the park” all the while I’m shouting at my TV, “Are you serious?!”

It was only Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy when, off the air, stated their disbelief about the Palin pick. Noonan called it “political bullshit” about narrative and Mike Murphy chimed in talking about how the pick was going against McCain’s greatest strength which was “no cynicism.” Vindication at last!

But this was off the air. The public was not meant to hear their comments (thank God for Youtube). Why is it that the Republican talking heads are paranoid to concede any ground at all, especially when the subject is about something as important as the vice presidency? I was then reminded of something John Stewart said in 2004 on crossfire. He said that what the media does is not honest debate, it is political theater. Four years later, this crap was still going on. But our problem is worse than that.

FOX News and conservative radio shows are convincing their listeners that any questioning about Palin’s qualifications as vice president is the result of a left-wing media conspiracy. What’s worse is that a lot of people are buying it. Of course there are crazy conspiracy theorists talking about Palin’s fifth child not being her own, but there are also real arguments such as the fact that she has no issue stance on foreign policy or the national economy on any third party fact-checking Web site. I have had many a headache about these problems but perhaps the “straw that broke the camels back” was the first part of Palin’s interview with Charles Gibson and more specifically the questions about foreign policy.

When asked if she agreed with the Bush doctrine, she paused, leaned back, put her hands together and asked, “In what respect, Charlie?” Strike one.

Gibson stuttered a little in what I could imagine was disbelief and realized that talking to Palin was no longer about her stance on the policy, but if she even knew what it was. Gibson continued, “What do you attribute it to be?” In which Palin responded quickly “His world view?” Strike two.

The desperation on her face was apparent. Her second attempt had the tone and look of “Oh God, please let me be right” but she wasn’t. Gibson was in no mood to be merciful and clarified what he was referencing without actually giving away what the policy was, “The Bush doctrine, enunciated in 2002 before the Iraq war.” Like a professor giving a clue to a struggling student, Gibson had given her a clue about the policy referring to Iraq.

Palin then did what I have sometimes been guilty of doing in intro to IR exams: making a broad statement about what you do know and hope that what you have mentioned addresses some of the question that was asked. She made a general statement about Bush’s commitment to fight Islamic extremists. Strike three.

The professor had heard enough and finally let the student off the hook Gibson explained that the Bush doctrine was the policy that the United States could launch a pre-emptive attack on a state if there was an imminent threat of an attack. Palin, being finally able to comment on the policy, essentially told Gibson that she agreed with the Bush doctrine. What was only one minute and ten seconds must have felt like an eternity for Palin.

Seeing this part of the interview made me think two things immediately: first of all, Palin doesn’t know the most basic and important policy that was created by her party leader and which was the key argument for the United States to invade Iraq. Second of all, I know more about foreign policy and international relations than Palin. It is when we don’t educate ourselves appropriately about politics and our country as well as when we only get our information from what is rightly described as political “Theater” that we do our country a disservice as well as desecrate the symbol of our citizenship.

This is Nick Robison’s first editorial . He can be reached by sending coments to